- Be clear about your own objectives/reasons for wanting to write a song.
- Poor Objectives: Fame, Fortune, Helping the World understand You.
- Good: Convey a viewpoint; pass a message (careful about preaching); teach (careful about preaching); describe a situation, sing someone's praises.
- Brilliant: Write the songs you want to hear; the songs you wish someone
- Be clear about who your audience is, put yourself in their shoes.
- Be surprised, like your audience, at the situations you describe; it will help you find the right words.
- Reduce every situation to a single point/message; don't try to do too much with one song.
- Hah! If only I knew the answer…
- FEEL; strong feelings suggest themes.
- Be observant; look for the important and unusual happening around you.
- Reduce every observation to a single point/message; is that message worth telling ?
- Empty your mind, think only of that single message/point. What are the
implications? See it from varying angles; what does it mean to different
- Think: Has this point been made in other songs? If so, what are you going
to add ?
- Let the tune suggest a theme to you (empty mind most important here).
- Let the lyrics suggest a tune to you.
- Unusual chord sequences can be a source of inspiration - experiment with
different rhythms on the same chords until something "breaks out".
Lyrics or tune first?
- Depends on your own tendencies. Generally speaking, if words come easier to you, start with the lyrics; if you play an instrument, tunes probably come easier. But try both ways.
- The rhythm of a tune will suggest the meter of the lyrics.
- The reverse does not always apply (but when it does, it gives the best
Telling the story
- Try to "paint pictures" for the audience.
- Don't be too prescriptive in telling the story; allow the audience room
to fill the gaps - and so, to participate and make the song "theirs".
- Avoid first person ("I", "Me", "Mine"), if
you can, at least at first; it can lead you to personalising a song too
much and even alienate audiences, blocking them from getting involved.
Having said that, there IS a place for songs in the first person ("Yesterday…").
- Don't tell your audience the concluding "lesson" - allow them to arrive there themselves.
- A strong beginning to the story telling grabs the interest. And that means
saying as much as possible with the fewest possible words .
- There must (usually) be a conclusion to your story. Criterion: It should
be impossible to continue the story telling after the last verse.
- Every verse must have a purpose in the story telling. Verses that simply reiterate points made earlier are redundant and should disappear. There should be structure to the story.
- The story structure will be mostly serial. Other structures are possible too, but flashbacks can be hard to make work (though "Anderson's Coast" works beautifully!).
- It is the short piece of lyric, or the short musical phrase, that will
grab people's imagination and they will remember the song from that.
- Lyric "hooks" can be commonplace phrases or popular sayings, rarely more than three words long ("no, nay, never"); single words ("Yesterday"); or strong picture-forming phrases ("Where ravens feed").
- Musical "hooks" are rarely more than 3-4 notes long ("She loves you - Yeh, yeh, yeh").
- Do use rhyming - good non-rhyming songs are hard to write unless you are
- Beware of "false rhymes" - those that look good when written, but not when read.
- Internal rhymes (half-way through lines) enhance the lyrics.
- Don't alter rhyming schemes from verse to verse.
- Don't be afraid to use uncommon words (they can become "hooks"!).
- Use a rhyming thesaurus or websites such as www.rhymezone.com for ideas.
- Ensure the internal rhythm works - that accents fall on the proper syllables.
- Ensure the lyrics can be read easily without "clashes" that make them tongue-twisters.
- The lyrics should be able to read like a poem, following a pattern/rhythm
- Don't compromise on any of the above - compromises become annoying faults.
- It's OK to plagiarise - but only a little
- Ideally, the notes corresponding to the accented syllables should be higher than those immediately before or after ("Yes-terday…"). This helps both delivery and the listener.
- Once you have a lyric, you can use the above rule to help you find an appropriate
- The first tune you can think of for a lyric, may not be the best - don't
get fixed on it.
Developing as a songwriter:
- Over time, identify what it is that makes you different as a songwriter
(not as a person)
- What do people like best about your songs? Milk it. But don't actually
- Listen to other songwriters, and identify what it is you like about their
songs; then try to develop that aspect in your own writing, by practicing.
- ALWAYS complete a song.
- NEVER throw anything away.
- Revisit old "failures" from time to time (at least 6 months later).
The tune or lyrics may give rise to new inspiration or you may be able
to improve the song.
- Don't be afraid to venture into new styles/rhythms/patterns. It's part
of "growing up" .