Songwriter - Pianist

There’s No One Best Songwriting Process, But…

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When you hear a great song, probably the last thing audiences are aware of — or even care about — is the process the songwriter(s) used to create that song. The fact that it’s good usually suffices.

But as a songwriter, your creative curiosity will often make you wonder: what process did the writer use to come up with such a great song?

And perhaps more to the point: “Is there a best songwriting process that I should be using?”

Paul McCartney - White Album SessionsThe short answer is no, there really is no one best process, and the best songwriters seem to use a variety of processes. McCartney often started songs by strumming chords to see what happens. But he also improvised melodies, and even improvised on other songwriters’ ideas to come up with his own song.

If you’re a member of a band, group improvisation is a common way to have songwriting ideas happen and develop. You might find, as Paul Simon has mentioned, that musical ideas often lead to lyric ideas. You might also find that words imply melodic shapes.

As a teacher of songwriting technique, I’m very aware that songwriting instructors often mention that constructing a song is similar to constructing a building: you need a strong foundation, you need something beautiful to lay atop of that foundation, etc.

But where the analogy fails is that it does matter what order you do things when it comes to constructing a building. You can’t put the walls in, for example, if you haven’t done the plumbing and wiring. With songwriting, you can do things in pretty much any order you want. And you can easily take things out, put in new things, and let your instincts be your guide.

So yes, you can use any process you want, there’s a “but” to consider, and it’s this: songwriting processes that start with one particular element will often result in songs where that starting element is the strongest one.

In other words, if you’re hoping for a song where the lyrics are the strongest element, it’s often best to think about your lyric as a starting point of the process. If you want a beautiful, singable melody, putting your attention on that component early on in your process gives you the best chance that you’ll be able to consider that melody uncluttered by other musical considerations.

So while it’s important not to get hung up on what process you should use to write your songs, it’s also important to at least consider the importance of putting one or another component front and centre in your musical thought process early on. That one element may get the attention it needs to stand above the other elements of your song.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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