There are several tried and true ways of starting the songwriting process. And if you’re smart, you’ll experiment with all of them. How you start a song has a lot to do with how it finally sounds in the end. If you find that all of your songs have a similar sound, it could be that you’re not being adventurous or innovative enough with how you begin. There is no one best way to start a song. I prefer melody or lyric first, only because a song’s tune, and its words, have the best chance of being recalled later by listeners. [Continue reading below..]
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But the best advice is to never start two consecutive songs the same way. By changing up your approach each time, you inject a healthy dose of innovation into the final product.
So let’s take a look at five different ways you can start a song, and examine each method’s strengths.
- Melody first. You can do this even if you don’t have lyrics in mind. Simply come up with melodic shapes that have contour. Sing it into a recording device, modify it, record it again, etc. The more you experiment, the more your melody will take shape. Remember that chorus melodies will usually be pitched a bit higher than verse melodies. As you work, you’ll probably find yourself discovering chords that make sense as harmonies.
- Rhythmic background/pulse first. Songs that start with an intriguing rhythm can be surprisingly exciting and creative. Try scat-singing rhythmic pulses, or slap or clap a rhythmic pattern until other elements, such as lyrical snippets and melodic shapes, start to take form. The benefit of a rhythm-first song is that you can avoid having a background beat that’s boring or basic.
- Lyric first. Choose a song topic, and make two lists of words that focus on that topic. List #1 should be positive words and terms, with List #2 focussing on negative terms – words that describe how you’d feel without your topic. If you’re singing about love, your positive list will likely include words such as “warm”, “hold”, “be there”. Your second list will probably have words and terms such as “lonely”, “cry”, “need”, etc. Just making the two lists will start you well on your way to developing a good lyric. An important piece of advice here: don’t work to have your lyric sound like poetry. Concentrate on common, every day words. As you then start to fashion a melody for your lyric, place emotional words higher in pitch to give them special prominence.
- Hook first. Work out a short melodic/rhythmic idea that serve as a cell for your song intro, and for something that can recur throughout your song. As your hook takes shape, borrow melodic ideas from it to create melodies to base your verse and chorus on.
- Chords first. I didn’t place this one last because it’s least important… in fact, you’ll likely find that developing a chord progression first is the one of the most common song starters. But if you fall back on this one too much, all of your songs will develop a sameness. If you do start with a chord progression, don’t neglect melody. One of the biggest weaknesses of chords-first songs is an unremarkable melody.
Written by Gary Ewer