Is There a Song Inside You? An Intro to Songwriting

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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Synthesizer Singer-SongwriterIf you’re an adult reading this, you might legitimately wonder if it’s possible to begin writing songs at your stage of life. Surely songwriting must be something that one does as a younger person. While many of today’s songwriters would profess to have been composing since their early- to mid-teens, you can most certainly start writing music no matter what age you are, and no matter what your previous experiences have been. As humans, we have an innate musical intelligence that can be developed regardless of your age.

So take a shot at it. You may discover that composing music is a talent that you’ve had all your life, but have simply not known how to go about expressing it.

If you’ve ever wondered if there could be a songwriter lurking inside you, you may just be missing a process – a set of steps that can release that skill. You could be sharing your unique music with others.

So what do you do? How do you write a song if you’ve never done it before?

There are many ways to write songs, and most of the world’s songwriters would tell you that they use many different methods. So since there’s no one right way to compose, why not try this:

  1. Since many who feel that there “might be a song inside me” usually have ideas for lyrics, try writing some words to represent your thoughts and feelings. Don’t worry too much at this stage about fashioning them into lyrics; just get them down on paper. Verse lyrics will talk about situations, while chorus lyrics tend to talk about reactions, and the emotional impact of those situations.
  2. If you can play a few chords on guitar or at a keyboard, your next step will be to play a simple chordal accompaniment, and then improvise a melody above it. Don’t rush this step – eventually, when more ideas come together, record yourself humming or singing your ideas.
  3. At this point, you may be getting the sense that what you’ve been humming is either a chorus or a verse. As I mentioned in step 1, it really depends on the nature of the words you’re imagining.
  4. Now start “fleshing out” the rest of your song. Most songs will follow a verse/chorus format, and if you find that yours does, you may want to try inventing a new melody that could serve as a bridge. (Read this if you want to read more about what a bridge is.)

The biggest fear people have is the fear of failing, but you must not worry about this. If you’ve been able to get this far, there is probably a songwriter inside you, and the only element missing is experience.

Don’t be surprised if the next song you write makes you feel that your first song was terrible! As you improve, you’ll see your earlier attempts as possibly being weak or ugly, and that’s a common reaction. Don’t worry about it. The more you write, the better you get. Experience is a wonderful teacher.

And the final step, of course, is to play your songs for others. Even though you may hate the thought of others hearing your songs, it’s an important part of improving. Play your music for people who love you, and ask for their honest opinion. Those that care about you will be kind, and use their comments to help you improve.

And if you’d like to send me something you’ve been writing, please feel free to send me an MP3. I’d love to listen, and to offer any suggestions.


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  1. Thanks for the post, Gary. I started writing (crappy) songs when I first picked up the guitar when I was 16, but I’ve known others to start much, much later.

    I think that, especially in songwriting, people tend to think that either you have it or you don’t– without realizing that songwriting is a skill just like anything else– it can be learned and your skills can get rusty. Sure, some are better than others, but even Lennon and McCarty were a cover band first and grew a lot over the years.

    @ TC- Thanks for sharing the 50/90 challenge. Wish I would have learned about it earlier. Have about the 50 songs in 21 days! haha

  2. This probably could be in response to the take a break post. Summer is an awful time to take a break if you are participating in the 50 Songs in 90 Days songwriting challenge:

    But it’s also a great place to get feedback and play songwriting games. It fosters creativity and supports both success and failure in songwriting. (A person who has never failed has not set his/her sights far enough. We learn more from our failures than our successes etc etc.)

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