Guitar - Songwriter

The Songwriting Process: Determining the Second Step

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Everyone’s got their favourite way of starting songs, even if they try to change things up from one song to the next. Look at ten great songs, and you’ll likely be looking at least 4 or 5 (possibly more) different songwriting processes. So how you start shouldn’t really matter, right?

Except… how you start a song often determines the direction you go. To use an analogy, every time you go for a walk around your neighbourhood, that walk will look different depending on the direction you take at the start.

So starting with any one particular component of a song can affect its outcome, but so can how you proceed from that one element. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you decide you’re going to start your song by working out a chord progression. So you’ve been strumming a set of chords, but what do you do next? What’s the second step?

That decision has an impact on the eventual sound of your song because the rhythmic feel will take a position of prominence if that’s your next area of focus. Or perhaps it’s the melody that will get your attention. In that sense, there are many chords-first songwriting processes.

Or what if you start your song with the lyric? That’s your primary focus, but what’s the next step? If you move from lyric to melody, then melody will have special significance. But if you move from lyric to chords, you will likely find that the mood — since chords so often indicate mood and temperament — becomes vital to the overall sound of your song.

So often when we talk about the songwriting process we talk about where we start. That makes sense, of course, but given that you’ve got several choices as to how to move on from that first part of your process, it’s tremendously important to think about what your second step will be.

In fact, it can be practically every bit as important as determining your first step.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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