There's something magical about songwriting. No matter how many songs I write or how much I know about songwriting, I am still amazed and a little awestruck that it happens at all. How does a song get started? How do you know where to go next? How do you know if your song is any good? Well, I'll answer the first two questions in this article. The third question ‐ How do you know if my song is good? ‐ is answered like this: A song that expresses what you feel is a good song, even if no one else thinks so. A song that expresses your thoughts and feelings in a way that reaches other people, helps them feel something deeper or understand something better ‐ that's a really good song!
What is song craft and why do I need it? Good songwriters use songcraft to give their songs emotional impact and make them memorable. The song‐ building tools and techniques we call "song craft" are not arbitrary; they were not invented just to drive songwriters crazy or force us to create formula songs without depth or originality. They exist because, over hundreds of years, songwriters have found that they help listeners to understand, experience, and remember the emotional message at the heart of our songs. In the following article, I'm going to suggest some song craft shortcuts that will help you add emotional impact and memorability to your lyrics and melodies. (If you want to write lyrics only, I'll point you toward places where you can find a collaborator.) The techniques and hands‐on exercises in this article can be applied to Rock, Country, Pop, and R&B/Soul. These are the four largest mainstream, commercial music genres.
How does a song get started?
This can be one of the most difficult tasks in songwriting ‐ getting started! And it's also one of the most important because if you start well, you'll have a lot less trouble down the line. Once you get past this point, a song tends to dictate where it wants to go ‐ your job is to keep it on course. Like the captain of an ocean liner you probably won't have to make many sudden turns, just watch out for icebergs. Still, getting started is a tough business because ‐ just like an ocean liner ‐ you've got to overcome a lot of inertia. You know you want to write something but you may only have a vague idea or a feeling about what it is you want to express. So what DOES come first ‐ lyrics, melody, or chords? The answer is... none of the above! When you go into a record store or online to buy your favorite song... what do you ask for? When a DJ reads a dedication ‐ something they don't do much anymore, unfortunately ‐ he doesn't say, "This one goes out to Gloria. It's that song about this guy who's wondering whether his girlfriend still loves him 'cause she's acting like maybe she doesn't care anymore." No, he says, "From Steve to Gloria, here's 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling.' " The title says it all. That's what comes first... the TITLE!!! Start your song with a title that appeals to you. Make sure it's a phrase that rings true in your ears. Something that makes you say, "I've got to know more about that!" Because if YOU want to know, others will want to know. The title is going to be the line that everyone remembers. Most important: It's going to define the message of the song. It will be your guiding principle, your beacon, your pole star.
So start looking around for good titles that have emotional energy for you. Action words, images, or short phrases make good titles. Attention‐grabbing newspaper headlines are full of good titles. Here are a few from this morning's paper: "A Dream On The Edge," "The Great Divide," "The Same‐Old Same‐Old," "Easy Does It." Or try listening to yourself. Write stream‐of‐consciousness style: write or type as fast as you can, trying not to think or make judgments, then go back and look for good phrases. When you listen to other people, to the television, or read a magazine, always keep a little corner of your mind alert for phrases that capture your attention. Start making a list. You'll end up throwing out most of these or using some for lyric lines, but others will become the titles that drive your songs. EXERCISE: Start your title list right now. Pick up a book, magazine, or newspaper and start scanning for interesting phrases (one to five words in length). Write down at least five phrases. Mix and match words between phrases, substitute your own words, change the pronouns. Try to come up with at least one phrase that makes you want to write a song. Keep looking for more phrases until you have something you like. Draw a big circle around that phrase!
How a title becomes a lyric.
The best way to demonstrate this is to give an example. Let's say I'm interested in writing a song called "California Girl." (The title occurred to me one summer morning when I was sitting on the beach in Santa Monica eating sushi for breakfast, feeling very much like a California girl. You never know when a title will hit ya!) Okay... I don't know what this song is about yet or why this phrase interests me but it does, so I need to find out more. First: Ask Questions. Start by asking the questions this title wants to have answered. Let's say your title is "I Drove All Night." What questions need to be answered: "Where did you go?" and "Why did you do that?" Now apply this idea to '"California Girl": "Who is she?" and "What is she doing?" How I answer those questions will determine what my song is about. Now, you may answer them in very different ways than I do and that's just fine. There could be several songs written with the title "California Girl" and they would all be different! My "California Girl" is no longer the teenager of the Beach Boys songs. I want to know how her life turned out, what she thinks about when she remembers those long‐ago, golden summers. This has a strong emotional pull for me so that's the song I should write. You might want to write a party song or a song about young lovers on a beach. Your choice will depend on which of those ideas has the strongest emotional appeal for you ‐ THAT is the song you should write. Notice that I didn't start this song by wanting to tell a story or relive something that happened to me. Instead, I am just following my feelings. This is how songwriting (or writing poetry) teaches you about yourself. A song is a process of discovery! Second: Make a list of words, phrases, or images suggested by the title. "California Girl" obviously makes me think of sun, waves, warmth, ocean, paradise, beach, sand, etc. Sand makes me think of flowing, changing, so I add the words "flowing" and "changing" to my list, then try to think of things that express "flow" and "change" ‐‐ time, water, dreams ‐‐ and add them to my list, too. After you have a list of related words, make a list of contrasting words, phrases, and images, ones that are opposites of the ones in your first list. My list would include: cold, night, dark, sadness, loss, lonely, etc. this is a kind of free‐association game. Don't be judgmental, just write down whatever comes to you. If you'd like to hear how these related words and phrases become part of
a lyric, you can listen to my song "California Girl" (mp3 Lo‐Fi Play | mp3 Hi‐Fi Play) or read the lyrics. EXERCISE: Go back and look at the title you circled. What questions does it suggest to you, ones that you want to answer in your lyric? After you have a couple of quesitons, make a list of words, images and phrases related to your title. Write them down quickly, in single words or short phrases. Don't think about rhyming or making sense at this point. Then, make a list of contrasting words, images, and phrases. Write as many words as you can think of.
Before going any further, it's be a good idea to get familiar with one very important aspect of songwriting: song structure. The most common contemporary song structure is verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / chorus. Listeners like this song form because it provides enough repetition to feel familiar and enough variety to keep them interested. It also gives you, the songwriter, the chance to add emotional dynamics to your song. Many of today's hits feature a conversational, intimate verse followed by a big, powerhouse chorus with plenty of emotional punch. Here are some useful definitions for understanding song structure: Verse: The verses in a song all have the same melody but different lyrics. The verse lyrics give us information about the situation, emotions, or people in the song. Chorus: We may hear the chorus of a song three, four or more times. The lyric and melody remain the same each time it recurs.The chorus lyrics sums up the heart of the song. The title of the song almost always appears in the chorus section and may be repeated two or more times. Bridge: The bridge has a different melody, lyrics, and chord progression from the verse or chorus. It provides a break from the repetition of verse and chorus. The lyric often provides an insight or revealing moment. Pre‐chorus: Many of today's hits include a short section at the end of the verse that builds energy, letting the listener know that the chorus is coming. By creating a sense of anticipation, the chorus has even more punch when it finally arrives. In the next section of this article, I'm going to suggest that you choose a hit song you want to use for lyric writing practice, be sure to choose one with a strong, recognizable structure. Write out the lyrics and label the verses, choruses and bridge.
Using hit song melodies to practice writing lyrics.
Many inexperienced songwriters begin by writing a lyric that looks like a poem, complete with nice rhymes and a regular, sing‐song meter. But this type of lyric doesn't work well with today's melodies. Take a look at the lyrics to a few recent hit songs in the style you'd like to write in. Notice how the lines vary in length and the rhymes don't always occur where we expect them to. What you get when you write lyrics without music is usually something that sounds more like a greeting card or nursery rhyme than a hit song lyric. So, here's a suggestion: Start becoming familiar with successful, contemporary hit melodies.
EXERCISE: Choose a hit song . Make sure it's a song you like because you're going to be spending some time with it! Play the song until you are familiar with the melody and sing along with the hit. Just doing this exercise will help you begin to acquire a "feel" for contemporary melodies. Read on for more. Next, create a song title you comfortably sing where the hit song title is. Notice, I said "comfortably." Don't drive yourself crazy! You might be able to use one of the titles you created earlier but, if not, look for a new title. Once you have your title, look for the questions it suggests, the ones you want to answer in your lyic, then make your lists of related words and phrases. Sing your title where the hit song title occurs. If it's used more than once, put your title in the same places. Fill in the rest of the chorus lyric by answering the questions and using some of the words and phrases from your lists. This will keep your lyric focused which, in turn, makes it more emotionally effective for your listeners. Don't make a big effort to find rhymes (unless you are writing for animated films or musical theater); it's more important to say what you feel at this point. If you happen to find something that rhymes, and says what you want to say, that's great but don't bend your message out of shape to make something rhyme. Keep things conversational and honest. Once you have a chorus, try writing the verse in the same way. Again, try to use the questions and the related and contrasting word lists. If you used them all in the chorus section, go back and create another list. With each verse, try to give the listener more information. You don't have to tell a linear story but there should be some development. And remember, the listener knows nothing at all about your situation or about you. Invite them into your song buy giving them plenty of information! Here are some questions you can answer in your verses: What are you feeling? Who are you feeling it about? What is the problem? How will you solve it? How did it begin? How do you think it will end? EXERCISE: Choose a hit song and find a title you can comfortably sing where the hit song title is; make sure it's a title you want to write about. List two or three questions suggested by the title and make your lists of related and opposite words. Write a chorus lyric using some of the words on your lists and answering the title questions. Play around with phrases and ideas to fit them into the hit song melody. Keep the title where the hit song title is. After you finish your chorus, write your verses the same way.
What happens next? If you play guitar or keyboard and you're going to be writing your own melody and chords, you only need to write one verse and chorus lyric at this point. That's enough to give you a feel for what this song is about emotionally. You can finish the rest later when you have the final melody. If you're going to be looking for a collaborator to put music to your lyrics, then you should go ahead and finish your lyric. Filling in the rest of the lyric while sustaining the emotional tone of what you've done is a tough job but if you've gotten this far, you can do the rest. Don't twist words out of order or keep a lyric just to make something rhyme! A 'vowel rhyme' (rhymes like love/enough or mine/time) will work just fine. Work on your lyric for short periods of time. If you're not getting anything usable, walk away... literally. Take a
walk and let things settle for awhile. Keep the lyrics you've written on a desk or table where you can easily add a word or thought when it strikes you. Keep the hit song melody in your head. The most important thing (and the most difficult) is to keep the emotional integrity of the song intact. Don't settle for anything less. There are times when you'll lose your way. Stop working! Go away and come back when you're fresh. You'll be able to see what needs to be fixed. Keep working on the lyric until you are genuinely moved and excited by it. If you DON'T play a musical instrument and want to look for a music collaborator, read... "Where to find collaborators."
Chords, melodies & rhythm made a lot less difficult.
Of course I wanted to call this section "Chords, Melodies & Rhythm Made Easy" but I didn't want to mislead anybody. Writing melodies and chord progressions does require some basic skills on keyboard or guitar. You need to be able to recognize chord names and play them ‐ that's all. No note reading required. There are 'instant' piano and guitar courses you can take that will teach you to read and play chords. If you are going to take lessons, be sure to tell the teacher you want to learn to read and play chords. Otherwise, you'll waste a lot of time learning things you don't need. In general, songwriters aren't great musicians. We know chords, we know song craft, we know how to follow our emotions ‐ none of this has anything to do with how many blues licks you can burn through on your Les Paul.
First, a word about chord progressions
Many songwriters begin their songs by strumming a chord or two. Without really thinking about it, they let the chord progression lead them through the song. The downside is that we tend to use the same chord patterns over and over. How often have you caught yourself going to the V chord at the end of the chorus just so you can resolve to the I chord that habitually begins your verses? Your songs are probably sounding less than fresh but you don't know why. There are lots of exciting chord progressions that use the basic chords within a key. Think about starting your verse on the II min. or the IV chord. Shifting to a new key at the top of the chorus is a great way to grab the listener's attention at a crucial point in the song. So how do you start writing these new chord progressions if they're not already part of your existing vocabulary? Melodies and lyrics ARE copyrighted, but, in general, the chord progressions that use I, IV, V plus a couple other familiar chords are not. C‐Am‐F‐G belongs to everyone! What this means is that you can use this type of generic chord progression in your songs! I am going to suggest that, for now, you do just that. Let's say you like Pop/Rock songs by groups like Nickelback or Country hits by a star like Toby Keith. Many of these songs use generic, four‐chord progressions that have been used in lots of hit songs. These progressions are not hard to learn; just by listening to the track, you can learn to play along pretty easily on either guitar or keyboards. There are also "fake books" and web sites with the chord progressions for hundreds of hit songs. If you decide to use one of these chord progressions to practice writing a song of your own, just be sure you don't use any of the melody or lyric in the song. Remember, these are protected by the copyright law.
Writing a melody to your lyric
If you'd like to write a melody of your own to your lyric, here's a great place to start: Use the natural rhythm and pitch that is embedded in the spoken words of your lyric. Here's how you do it... Try reading the following phrase out loud in a normal tone of voice: "I don't love you anymore." Read it again and put more emotion into it: "I don't love you anymore." Notice how the rhythm and pitch of normal speech starts to become more exaggerated as you add emotion. Now, read it again and move the high notes even higher, make the low notes eve lower; see if you can turn it into a melody that preserves the high and low notes and stressed words. This is a melody that sounds natural AND conveys the emotion that is inherent in the phrase. EXERCISE: Try speaking the first line of your chorus out loud a few times in a natural, relaxed tone of voice. Then start to exaggerate the pitches ‐ raise the high words higher, low words lower. Exaggerate the rhythm of the phrase, emphasizing the stressed syllables. Now, turn those high and low pitches and stressed beats into a melody. This is the hook melody and lyric of your song, so you want to be sure it's emotionally "true." Using this method of deriving a melody, you can be certain that it is. Continue to work on your melody in this way. When you have a lyric that is emotionally neutral, you can just try moving your melody up or down to see what feels right to you. If you used a hit song melody to write your lyrics, try doing the opposite of whatever it is doing: If it goes down, you go up. If it goes up, you go down. If it's moving around a lot, try remaining on a single note. Play around with the melody until you like it; YOU are the one who decides what sounds right for your song. (Remember that the hit song melody is protected by copyright law. Check to make sure that your melody doesn't use any of the hit song melody.)
Writing memorable melodies
It has been said many times that no one can teach you how to write a great melody. This may be true but there are a few tricks that will help you write a memorable one. Memorable, emotionally powerful melodies use repetition and variation. A melody with no repetition sounds unfocused and weak, as if it's wandering around with nowhere to go. Listeners quickly lose interest and tune out. A melody with too much repetition is boring. Good melodies walk the line in between ‐ mixing repeated phrases with variation. As you listen to a song, you can usually feel where melodic phrases begin and end; there is a natural break there. Melodic phrases can be short (one bar) or long (four bars or more). Varying the length of your melodic phrases is a good way to keep your melody interesting. For example: try starting a verse with two short phrases followed by a long phrase. You can hear this in a song like "Breakaway," a big hit for Kelly Clarkson. Melody also makes use of rhythm; notes are long or short, creating a pattern that can be repeated or varied. You
can repeat the same rhythm pattern but vary the notes. Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" is a great example of this. The first line begins with a short phrase (Phrase 1: "Yesterday...") followed by a long phrase (Phrase 2: "all my troubles seemed so far away"). The next line repeats the rhythm of the second phrase but changes the notes ("Now it looks as if they're here to stay") followed by a new phrase (Phrase 3: "Oh, I believe in...") The very last phrase has the same rhythm and lyric as Phrase 1 ("yesterday") but the notes are turned upside down! (The ends of the second and third lines are variations of Phrase 1.) This verse is a great example of the use of repetition with variation and it's the reason why we can all remember this melody. EXERCISE: Choose a hit song you like and learn to sing or play the melody. Identify the melodic phrases. Identify the mix of long and short phrases. Notice which ones, if any, are repeated exactly ‐ rhythm and notes. Notice which ones have the same rhythm pattern but use different notes. Using the same rhythm patterns and phrase lengths, write a new melody with different notes. These phrasing concepts may be new ideas for you and it may take some practice to begin to recognize phrasing patterns. For more information, read my book "Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting:126 Proven Techniques for Writing Songs That Sell" available at Amazon.com.
Writing rap and hip‐hop songs to a rhythm track If you are writing Rap or Hip‐hop, much of the info and many of the exercises in the lyric writing section will be useful. Obviously, rhyming plays a much greater role in Rap and Hip‐hop hits than it does in Pop, Country, Rock, or R&B/Soul. But the advice about writing from a title, staying focused by answering the questions suggested by the title and using lists of related and contrasting words all apply. The fresh rhymes are up to you! You're going to need beats to write to. If you don't already have software like Fruity Loops, Acid, or Reason, you can look for midi files of rap songs you like ‐ there are lots available on the internet. You don't need anything but a computer with its own internal sounds. OR download an inexpensive (or freeware) sequencing program that will allow you to open these as standard midi files. Mute everything but the percussion parts and use these as your rhythm track to write to. If you use a midi file, you'll need to create new beats later if you are going to commercially release the song but, for now, this track will give you something to write to. Commercial Hip‐hop songs do have a verse / chorus song structure, some even have a bridge. Crossover urban hits like Keyshia Cole and Missy Elliott's "Let It Go" or Kanye West and T‐Pains's "Good Life" have big melodic choruses then go to spoken rap for the verses. You can use these songs to help you frame a solid song structure. Melodic choruses have a chord progression you can use. Verses usually imply a chord if they don't actually play it. You can use the chord progression or change it to suit your taste. Be careful that you don't use the melody or lyrics of the hit song ‐ these are copyrighted. EXERCISE: Get a rhythm track together using one of the above methods. It can simply be a repeating loop but make sure it lasts about three minutes. Find a commercial Hip‐hop song you like and create a chorus lyric using the information in Using hit song melodies to practice writing lyrics. To write a melody, read Writing a new melody for your lyric.
Lips Of An Angel Hinder Songwriters: King, Mark; Howes, Brian; Rodden, Michael; Winkler, Austin; Hanson, Ross; Garvey, Lloyd;
Honey why are you calling me so late? It's kinda hard to talk right now Honey why are you crying, is everything okay? I gotta whisper cause I can't be too loud Well, my girl's in the next room Sometimes I wish she was you I guess we never really moved on It's really good to hear your voice saying my name It sounds so sweet Coming from the lips of an angel Hearing those words it makes me weak And I never wanna say goodbye But girl you make it hard to be faithful With the lips of an angel It's funny that you're calling me tonight And yes I've dreamt of you too And does he know you're talking to me? Will it start a fight? No I don't think she has a clue Well, my girl's in the next room Sometimes I wish she was you I guess we never really moved on It's really good to hear your voice saying my name It sounds so sweet Coming from the lips of an angel Hearing those words it makes me weak And I never wanna say goodbye But girl you make it hard to be faithful With the lips of an angel It's really good to hear your voice saying my name It sounds so sweet Coming from the lips of an angel Hearing those words it makes me weak
And I never wanna say goodbye But girl you make it hard to be faithful With the lips of an angel And I never wanna say goodbye But girl you make it hard to be faithful With the lips of an angel Honey why are you calling me so late? HOW TO SAY “I LOVE YOU” By VicK Von Linchestain