Songwriting: Getting the Journey Started

Writing a song is like taking a journey, where taking the very first few steps is the toughest part.

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Singer-songwriter guitaristLet’s say you decide to visit the park in your city. You take some friends along, but instead of telling them where you’re going, you give them the challenge of trying to figure out where you’re heading.

So you all set out on foot. You know you’re walking to the park, but none of your friends know.  You and your friends leave your house, you turn left onto the sidewalk, and you start walking.

At first, you could be going anywhere. But as your journey continues, it becomes more and more obvious what your final destination is going to be. Eventually, the journey is complete, but before its completion, the purpose – the “destination” – becomes obvious to everyone.

The writing of music bears certain similarities to that metaphoric walk. At the start, it’s a journey that could be going in almost any direction. As the song proceeds, predictability plays an ever-increasing role, and that’s a good thing. For example, you not only expect a chorus melody to repeat as a song progresses, you anticipate it – you want that kind of predictability.

As a songwriter, the task before you is rather basic: to write a song. But the most important (and sometimes hardest) part is to simply get the journey started. And that’s the main difference between writing a song and taking a walk. With a walk to the park, it’s best to know the final destination before you set out. With music, the final destination may only become obvious to you once you get going.

But if you are suffering from writer’s block, how do you “get going”? For many who hit that songwriting brick wall, it’s not the end of the journey that’s the problem, it’s the start.

If you find it hard to come up with anything that gets your musical journey – your song – started, here’s a way to begin to put together a verse melody “from scratch”:

  1. Play the progression E  B  C#m  A 
  2. Strum the E chord, and sing a short melodic fragment that uses a catchy rhythm. By short, think of something that is 4-beats long. You can start on any note, but you may want to try starting on a G#.
  3. Strum the B chord, and sing a similar melodic idea to one you created in step 2, but move the melody down in pitch so that it fits the chord.
  4. Strum the C#m chord, then sing a similar melodic fragment, but move your voice up or down to allow it to work with and fit the chord.
  5. Strum the A chord, and sing one pitch and hold it. This is the end of the first phrase of your melody.

If you want to listen to a song that uses this kind of construction, listen to “Everything’s Alright” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” As you can hear, the first part of the verse melody is comprised of 4 very short 4-beat melodic ideas, all strongly related to each other by being almost-repeats.

It may not seem like much of a start, to have 4 bars of music completed with an entire song left to write. But you’ll often find that just getting the journey started with those 4 bars will, like taking a walk, make the rest of the journey and the destination a bit more obvious.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. $95.70 $37.00 (and you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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