Songwriting

Songwriting is a fun experience when you compose your own lyrics and music notation for vocals and instrumentals.


Do you have tunes in your head you would like to write down but don’t know how? Read on to follow step by step instruction.

OVERVIEW FOR LEARNING SONGWRITING

(1)Always use pencil in case you want to make changes. YES, be free to make changes where you think necessary and leave all your possibilities rather than erase some you may think you might use later in writing your song.

(2)Write the words to your song first. They may be a poem or prose that you or someone else has written. If you choose to use someone else's poem or prose please give him or her credit as the lyricist.

(3)Write your melody and rhythm to go with the rhythm of your words.

(4)Create a lead sheet with the melody in the treble clef and chord symbols above the melody.

(5)Add your harmony (chords) to go with your melody. Play the chords and your melody on your piano or keyboard. Ask yourself if it sounds the way you intended it to sound? If not you can change it many times until you are satisfied.

(6)Transfer the parts from the piano to other instruments, such as bass parts for a bass guitar; melody parts to single line instruments or voice; treble and bass chordal parts to guitars or keyboard; rhythm ostinatos (repeated rhythmic patterns) to percussion instrumentation (drums, etc.)

PRELIMINARY RESEARCH

Before writing a song of your own it is best to seek out songs written by masters of songwriting. Show tunes and successful contemporary pop music stars are good places to start. One example is the Beatles. They were a highly successful pop music group who came to the United States from England during the 1950’s and 60’s whose songs were written exceptionally well. Their music is still sung today. Their composition “Yesterday” was the most recorded song in the history of recorded songs.

Another pop example is the famous song by Queen, "We Will Rock You". This piece has a very catchy hook, the part that ‘catches’ your interest and stays in your mind.


Songwriting LINKS

Here are some very good suggestions from other accomplished songwriters.

1. greatsongwriting

"what great songs have in common; how to touch others with your songs; mistakes to avoid; recommended songwriting software, rhyming dictionaries; thesaurus; gives tips on writing lyrics, melody, verses, chorus, bridges, and hooks".

2. songwriting-unlimited

Songwriting tutorials and lessons for the beginner songwriter. Covering all aspects of songwriting.


HOW TO WRITE A SONG AND MAKE IT GREAT!!!

Think about the words you hear in songs that get your attention. What are they really saying? How does the text come across through the music that is used in songwriting? What do you think brings the text alive?

When listening to famous rock or folk music groups look for the use of simile (a comparison of words using like or as) such as the hook in the song,"Like Someone in Love", Each time I look at you I'm limp as a glove and feeling like someone in love, metaphor (direct comparison between two dissimilar things that expands your ability to express itself in mental imagery similar to a 'text painting'.

An example is "You are My Sunshine"; personification gives human qualities to inanimate objects such as "Don't Cry for Me Argentina", and "My Funny Valentine"; irony (language that means the opposite), such as "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No"; understatement (making less of an important idea), such as "Just a Little Lovin'",or overstatement (making an exaggeration [hyperbole] of something less important) such as I'd Walk a Million Miles for One of Your Smiles. Internal rhymes, rhyming within the phrases rather than always at the end.

Since words come first before the music notation when songwriting, you can either write your own poems or prose or use text from other people BUT ALWAYS with their consent. Give the person who wrote the words credit on the upper left side of your first page of music. When doing your own songwriting, your name, as the person who wrote the music, is on the upper right side of the first page.

Continue on in your songwriting quest.

SONGWRITING USING AN EXPRESSIVE MELODY

Writing your own expressive melody is important as you continue learning songwriting. A simple tune may bring fun, great joy, frustration or sadness that reminds us of events we experienced before, at the present time, or with hope for the future.

Experiment at your piano or keyboard.
Decide on sounds that you feel describe your feelings about the words. What emotions do you feel and want your listeners to feel? Write down your ideas.

Writing expressive elements in your experience of how to write a song helps to make the words jump out. You can hear sections that are musically indicated at different dynamic levels. Remember that songs are meant to be understood right away as is, flash art, so keep it simple.

Go to: expressive elements

YOUR SONGWRITING IDEAS

(1)Take a note pad everywhere and jot down ideas that come to mind. Highlight phrases you like the most. Fit your ideas together. Experiment on your piano or keyboard with possibilities of melodic segments and chord progressions you like that go with your words. Writing a song involves hearing in your mind where you think the notes should go: up, down or stay the same. Indicate the direction of the notes with arrows over or under your words on paper or your electronic note pad.

(2)FLOW CHART

While learning songwriting rank your ideas in a flow chart or hierarchy setting with other words you want to use that flow out from your initial words.

For example: if your song is called: MY TRUE LOVE LOVES TO SKI put that at the top of your chart Writing a Song. Under that heading draw lines to connect to Favorite places to ski, Equipment needed to ski, How to ski. Perhaps you may want to make your ‘Hook’: Why doesn’t she want to ski with me? Under each of these headings draw lines to your other ideas. For example, as a beginning songwriting piece:

The VERSE: My true love loves to ski.

While traversing I broke my knee.

Although I know it’s better, we’re back to Stowe’s snowy weather.

Why doesn’t she want to ski with me?

The CHORUS:

Oh how could it be?

She doesn't want to ski with me?

Blinding snow, couldn't see, almost kissed the side of a tree.

To you I confide. I am mortified!!

She doesn't want to ski with me!!

(3)NOTATING YOUR WORDS WITH YOUR MUSIC

Songwriting involves transferring your words to music staff paper underneath the staves. Your music notation will go on the lines and spaces above your words. Rather than using a music notation program at this stage, it is best to write it all out by hand. Then transfer your material to a good program such as <i>Sibelius</i> or <i>Finale</i>. Both are fine programs and produce professional quality printouts after writing your song.

LYRICS and METRIC STRUCTURE

As you continue learning songwriting, your lyrics (words) have metric-structure. Here are some examples.

Iambic Pentameter in poetry, is _ ___ _ ___ _ ___ but in music notation this meter is written: eighth note, quarter note, eighth note, quarter note, eighth note, quarter note.

Determine the rhythmic accents of your words. Where are the more important and lesser important words or syllables in your songwriting poetry or prose? Place slashes, /, on top of the accented syllables. Divide your words into segments of meter.

(4)STUDY THE ELEMENTS

Read the highlighted elements: melody, harmony, rhythm, meter, form and instrumentation before coming back to this page. Please click on Elements of Music. Have you sometimes wondered what it is in music that has the power to enhance and often change our moods? Let's look at what makes music that we hear and see have such a great effect on us and our songwriting experiences.

Rhythm, when you are studying how to write a song, is an element of music that involves the organization of the length of time given to music notes in relation to each other. The duration of one note as compared to other nearby notes of different durations produces variance of note values in a song.

Note lengths in a piece of music can help to distinguish between different styles based on the relationship of the notes to each other throughout the piece. An example is <i>syncopation</i> in jazz and calypso when unexpected emphasis is placed on a long note value on a weak beat in a musical pattern.
"_ ___ _ _ _ _ __ _" rather than
"____ _ _ ___ _ _"

Meter of the music

For any type of music composition including songwriting, the piece can be read more easily when dividing the words and music into segments. Each segment has the same number of beats unless you decide purposely to change from one time signature to another to go with your words. Knowledge of different time signatures (meter signatures) is as important in writing any type of music. Click on meter.  Then return to Songwriting.

Harmony

~After writing your melody with your lyrics and music notation including rhythm and meter of the music to go with the rhythm and meter of your words you are now ready to add harmony to your lyrics.

Harmony is another very important element in learning how to write a song. Chords that are played one after another define the harmonic pattern or sequence of a piece of music. They give support to your lyrics and melody. Improvisation involves patterns you create over a harmonic structure.

Arpeggios may be used in an accompaniment to a written melody or as an improvisation that is played by ear - rather than by reading written music.


Instead of always using solid chords, arpeggiated patterns can be more interesting. You can decide where arpeggios are warranted over solid chords.

(5)Writing Chord Progressions:
When different chords are played in succession they form a progression. To write harmonic progressions when writing a music composition follow the directions below to learn to write in the jazz style.

~The 12 Bar Blues

This chord progression can have some variations in harmony depending on the performers' preferences. Click on the 12-Bar Blues, read how to play it in different keys and try it out on your piano or keyboard. Then return to this page to continue.

(6)KEY SIGNATURES, LEAD SHEETS AND CHORD CHARTS
The Circle of 4ths is used in jazz chord progressions. This pattern is important to remember. Think of each chord as if it is in its own key signature. For example:

~if the 'C' chord is written above your words in a 'lead sheet' or 'chord chart' you would improvise in the key of 'C' Major.

~If the 'Gm' chord is written above the words you would improvise in the key of 'G' Minor.

~Play each of the notes in the circle of 4ths: F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, and Gb as the root of each chord you are building. Chords in jazz that add color to our music include notes above the basic triad of 1st, 3rd and 5th tones of a scale by using 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, 11ths above the root. Play these chords first as triads. Then add the 6th, 7th, 9th, and 11th notes above each root.

~Other color chords to use when learning how to write a song are the diminished chord, half diminished chord and augmented triad.

~The full diminished chord is indicated by a circle next to the name of the chord on your lead sheet and consists of three minor thirds in succession. For example a C diminished 7th is C Eb Gb A.

~The half diminished chord is two minor thirds and one major third indicated by a circle with a diagonal slash through it. The C half diminished 7th is C Eb Gb A#.

~The augmented triad is composed of two major thirds. The C augmented triad is C E G# and comes from the whole tone scale where every step of the scale is a whole step, no half steps.

MARKERS in finding Maj7, m7 and dom7 Chords in Open Position.

When writing and playing chords we can put them in close or open position. For example the C7 (V7 chord in the key of F) in close position is C, E, G, Bb. However putting this chord in open position is C, Bb, E, G or you can leave out the 5th of the chord (G) and just double the root. Write and play C with the C an octave (8 notes) above, and put Bb (the 7th)and E (the 3rd)in the right hand. The color of the chord remains the same. Using the root doubled with the 3rd and 7th of the chord is easier to play.

~Play all of these chords at your piano to hear how they sound. Decide which ones you want to use for your song.

(7) APPLICATION OF CHORDS

~At the piano think of the root and the interval of a perfect 4th above the root (5 half steps) as markers to finding each type of 7th chord: m7 (minor 7th), Maj7 (major 7th), and dominant 7th (dom7) chords.

~To find a m7 (minor 7th chord) double the root in the left hand and silently think of the markers (don't play the markers) root and perfect 4th (which is 5 half steps above the root) in the right hand. Then count down 2 half steps from each marker. Play these 2 notes with the right hand at the same time as the doubled root of the chord in the left hand.

~To find a Maj7 (major 7th chord) put the doubled root in the left hand and the markers in the right hand. Then count down one half step from each marker. Play these 2 notes in your right hand with the left hand doubled root of the chord.

~To find a dominant 7th chord (notated as 7 or dom7) put the doubled root in the left hand and think of the markers in the right hand. Then count down a half step from the top marker and 2 half steps from the bottom marker [the root of the chord] in the right hand.

(8) FORMATS
There are certain formats that are followed: A, B, A, B with A being the verse and B the chorus. The memorable ‘hook‘ is in the chorus section and often in the title of the song.

Other song structures are: Verse/pre-chorus (also known as the Lift)/chorus - known as the ABC form; and Verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge-called the middle 8- known as the A,B,A,B,C form.

During the past several years the majority of songs in the top 40 used the verse(V)/chorus(C) most often and then the A,A,B,A, Verse/Chorus/Bridge and Verse/Lift/Chorus formats. Some included instrumental sections.

(9)INTRO AND OUTRO
Giving an intro to your music helps to establish the key and tempo. At the end you can use an outro. In classical music this part is called the coda from the Italian word meaning ’tail’ or ending.

Insert your dynamics and other nuances that make the song come alive. Do you think you want to add percussion or other instruments? Give it a try. You can always change your mind once you see and hear how it sounds. You may want to find a vocalist to sing your words or you can sing them yourself.

(10)COPYRIGHT
Now that you learned basic music skills you are ready to being writing a song that is totally yours. It is important to know copyright law. Actually in order to get a copyright, as soon as you make a copy of your work you are a copywriter. You do not have to get registered anywhere. At the bottom of your pages just insert the letter ‘c’ with a circle around it,©,by your name and date. It means that no one can reproduce, record, publish, put in a movie, or distribute copies of your work without your permission.

YOU ARE NOW ON YOUR WAY TO COMPOSING A SONG.

Remember that using the piano or digital keyboard for writing your music is a good way to start before transferring the parts of your song to different instruments.


To get help on writing a song please click on the Comments page to ask questions you may have before signing up for on-line piano lessons at the Register Here page. I will answer your inquiries as soon as I receive them.


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