Songwriter

Writing Before Knowing

You’d be in good company if you said that every time you sit down to write a new song, you’d like to know what you’re writing about. It doesn’t make sense to start the actual writing of a song without knowing something about what you’re trying to say.

Or perhaps it does.

You might think that musical meaning — what people feel from your music — comes from what’s being said, but that’s not true. And it certainly isn’t true of the vast catalog of classical music out there, much of which is instrumental.


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Haydn would be appalled at the notion that his more than 100 symphonies have no particular meaning simply because there aren’t lyrics for someone to sing.

No, meaning doesn’t always come from words. In fact, you could make the case that the meaning of words are more powerfully affected by the sound of music than by the other way around.

To start the songwriting process without knowing specifically what your song is about means writing before knowing. It means playing with sounds — letting the nuances of a musical phrase guide you as you write the next one.

It means coming up with a song that works instrumentally, and then applying words.

If you’ve never written that way before, you’ll find that it’s astonishingly refreshing. You might also find that you’ve been liberated, particularly if lyric-writing has been the stage where you typically get stumped.

But it means courageously trusting your musical abilities and finding meaning within the sounds of your song, rather than knowing what you want your song to be about, and then writing music to fit.

So if you’re looking for a new way of writing, try this today: Create a song — melody, chords, rhythms, groove, and everything else except title and lyrics — and allow the sounds to create musical meaning for you.

When you feel that you’ve created enough of a song that the mood, emotions and purpose of the song has been revealed to you, start working on a title, on a set of words and phrases, and start to create a lyric that partners with it.

Writing before knowing brings with it an honesty and power that you might never have experienced before. You still end up with a song, but you do it through a process that puts the spotlight on music rather than words.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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