The Many Ways to Start the Songwriting Process

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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Even the most prolific songwriters get that writer’s block feeling… staring at a blank page, with nothing coming to mind. Writer’s block will happen more to songwriters who use the same songwriting formula, song after song. You will become much more successful if you keep changing your approach. Here are some ideas for starting the songwriting process that you may not have considered.

And I only point these out because if you are like most songwriters, you’ll start with the chords, and try to create a song from there. That’s only a problem if that’s the way you start every song. Chords-first songs can lead to problems if you’re not careful, because they often lead to neglected melodies that have no real direction or shape. So think about these starting methods:

  1. Melody first. Try creating a melody from thin air. Sing it into a recording device, modify it, record it again, etc. Make sure that your melody has contour. Chorus melodies should be pitched a bit higher than verses. Once you’ve got a melody that has an interesting shape, think about the chords that would harmonize it. (Read about “How to Harmonize a Melody” here.)
  2. Rhythmic background/pulse first. You may be surprised that this might result in a song, but try scat-singing a rhythmic pattern to yourself. You may be surprised that chords and melodic shapes will result from the inspiration of that rhythmic model.
  3. Lyric first. Try developing the text first, then chart the song by focusing on key words in the text. Single out the more emotion-laden words as being high points for melodic development.
  4. Hook first. Develop a one or two-bar melodic/rhythmic pattern that will serve as a good hook for a song, and use this as the germ for the chorus and for the song’s intro.

In short, try to write a song using any method that differs from your method of choice. In addition to (or along with) the ideas above, try finding a songwriting partner to work with. Getting someone with a completely different take on songwriting can sometimes yield amazing results (Lennon & MacCartney are a great example).

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