Writing Great Songs: How You Start Can Be Crucial

How you start a song has a lot to do with how it ends up sounding.


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Rock band pianoIf you find that all of the songs you write are starting to sound the same, take a look at how you start the songwriting process. From that first moment that musical ideas enter your mind, you’re in large part determining how your song will unfold. And if you start all your songs the same way, with some random strumming of chords or establishing some sort of rhythmic groove, you’re likely going to find that all your songs will have a similar sound and feel.

So it’s a no-brainer that the best way to keep a sense of variety and innovation in your music is to never start consecutive songs the same way. But what are the different ways you can start the songwriting process?

Check out the following list. Some will look very familiar, being the way you always write. So it’s time to change things up. Try starting your next song in a way that you’ve never tried before:

  1. Hook first. Working on a hook often means working on the chorus first, since hooks happen in choruses more so than other sections of your song. A good hook will be short and memorable, using mainly strong chords, so your song’s hook will likely be 1 or 2 measures in length. Once you’ve got a hook developed, fill in the rest of your chorus, then write a verse that sits slightly lower in pitch.
  2. Melody first. Try creating a melody without having a chord progression in mind. Think about the overall shape of that melody. Remember that chorus melodies will usually sit higher in pitch than verse melodies. Once you’ve got a melody coming together, think about the kinds of chords you might use to harmonize it. (If this part of the process stumps you, “How To Harmonize a Melody” might help.)
  3. Rhythmic background/pulse first. It’s very true that no one aspect of a song works in isolation from all the other elements. So the great thing about developing a rhythmic groove first is that you’ll find that melodic and chord ideas will start to materialize. You could easily imagine, for example, that Michael Jackson’s “Jam” (from his Dangerous album) would have started this way.
  4. Lyric first. If you have a poetic side, this is a great way to start. Sometimes, all it takes is a few good words coming together, and you’ll start to hear melodic fragments to accompany them. Try placing emotional words higher in pitch than other words, and the melody will start to materialize.
  5. Chords first. I mention this one last because many songwriters already start most of their songs this way. If this is your normal way of starting, try one of the others. But if you’re one of the few who don’t really think in terms of chords, you might find your music will go in a new unexpected direction. Start simple at first: move back and forth between two chords and see if it generates melodic or lyrical ideas. Some ideas: Dm-Em, F-Eb, Gm-Bb, and so on.

Another way of making sure your songs are unique and fresh is to try to gain some proficiency on different instruments, and then switch instruments from one song to the next. So if you’re always writing music using your guitar, try switching to piano, even if you’re not very good at it. That simple change will ensure that the same chords and melodies that automatically sit under your fingers when you’re holding your guitar will not come into play when you’re sitting at the piano. And the net effect of that is that your music will gain a new, innovative style.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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  1. I used to write only one way: chords lyrics and melody all together, but I recently started doing it in different ways to change it up and I have gotten some good results from it.

  2. Pingback: FEATURED LINK: Writing Great Songs: How You Start Can Be Crucial | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

  3. Reblogged this on Sensuous Enemy and commented:
    Post by JAI

    Award winning composer, vocalist, and superheroine

    Here is a great article about five different ways to start writing songs. We attempt to do this by switching between programming and piano. Recently, John has been starting the songs with a few drum tracks and synth tracks and then I add lyrics and melody lines. This works well for us some of the time. But what I find really works for me as a composer/artist/singer, is to sit down at my piano and come up with a song that I can just transfer to John once the core of it is complete.
    The main struggle for me finding the right time and energy to sit down and play for a couple of hours. It takes a lot of discipline, which I’ve never been very good at when it comes to playing the piano.
    So, after reading this article, we might attempt to begin our songs with a different approach and see how it goes.

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