guitarist - songwriter

Does It Matter Which Process You Use to Start the Writing of Songs?

When a songwriter is asked the question, “How do you start a song?”, they usually mean, “Which element of a song (lyrics, melody, chords, etc.) do you work on as your first step?” That element then becomes the identifier for a particular songwriting process: a “lyrics-first process”, a “melody-first process”, and so on.

No matter which of those elements you choose as a starting point, they’ve all got strengths, and I’ve always believed that the songwriters who can use several different processes with ease are the ones who write the most, and quite possibly the best, songs.

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Of all possible processes, though, you may find that a lyrics-first process is the one that can take you further and give you songs that have more potential to help you build a songwriting legacy.

Since all songs require all elements to work well together, though, why should it matter which one you start your process with? Here are three important reasons:

  1. The starting process identifies the element that gets your initial attention. And in that regard, you’re more likely to work harder and deeper on that one component, be it lyrics, melody or chords.
  2. You can work that one element without the distraction of other elements. If you’re starting with lyrics, for example, you can come up with some powerful imagery, great metaphors, lyrical hooks, etc., without worrying (at least for the moment) about anything else.
  3. You can more clearly differentiate between various songs in your own personal catalogue by regularly changing up the process you choose.

Ultimately, it’s ideal if you can write great songs no matter which process you use. And as you likely know, a process is something that you sometimes don’t choose; it often just happens because you might be playing around with a particular chord progression, or you think up a catchy lyrical hook, or perhaps play around with a melodic shape. In that sense, sometimes the process chooses itself.

The best advice I can give an up-and-coming songwriter is to purposely choose different processes randomly, and then attempt to write a complete song using that process. In so doing, you get more and more familiar with how that process works for you, and you become a much more skilled and consistent writer over time.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Essential Chord ProgressionsSometimes all you need are lists of chords to get the songwriting process started. The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle includes “Essential Chord Progressions” and “More Essential Chord Progressions.” Use the suggested chords as is, or modify them to suit your own songwriting project.

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