Guitarist - Songwriter

The Three Steps to Creating an Emotional Response in Listeners

Sometimes the idea for a song will hit you on the spur of the moment, and you’ll sit down with your guitar and try to flesh out that idea, and see if anything comes of it.

But at other times, you know that you need to write something, but you don’t have a particular idea in mind. When you feel this way (“Got to write something, but what??”), you’ll find that a chords-first method will give you ideas. Why? Because chords tend to convey mood very well, and at least if you’ve established a mood, you know what the song could be about.


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So if you’re generating a song out of thin air, so to speak, your best first step is to think about what you’re feeling right now. Specifically:

  1. What emotions are you feeling right now?
  2. What is causing you to feel those emotions?
  3. What can you do to create similar emotions in your listeners?

I mention this because one of the dangers in songwriting is this: you wind up writing a song that simply tells your audience what you’re feeling. But if you do that, there’s no guarantee that your audience will share those emotions. Just because you feel happy, or nostalgic, or concerned, and you put your feelings into a song lyric, is no guarantee that your audience will feel the same way.

If you really want to use your songs to create an emotional response in your listeners, here’s the proper sequence of steps:

  1. Choose an overall emotion that you want to generate in the hearts of your listeners (Happiness, nostalgia, love, joy, etc.)
  2. Create a story in your mind that describes how that emotion has come about. And if you have to, you might write a literal story, just to get it clear in your mind.
  3. Write a lyric that moves back and forth between describing a story (the verse), and then allowing the emotions of the story to be expressed (the chorus.)

One of the big dangers is when songwriters skip from step 1 to step 3; they ignore the story and jump right to expressing emotions. They hope that by expressing their feelings, their listeners will also feel the same thing.

But when you do that, listeners are missing the story that would create emotions for them.

So for every song you write, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What is the most prominent emotion I want my fans to pick up from this song?
  2. Have I given them a backstory that can serve as a foundation for a listener to feel something?
  3. Has my lyric moved back and forth between describing situations, and expressing emotions?

If you’ve done those three things, you’ve likely written a song that has a good chance of making that all-important connection to your audience.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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