In the writing your first song article, I talked about what I think is the most basic method of songwriting-just paper, pen, and your voice. Today I’m going to explore another songwriting method.
For many years songwriters and composers have argued about whether you should write melody or chords first. I have found that there are advantages to each songwriting method. As I mentioned in the last article, it isn’t absolutely necessary to be able to read and write music to be able to create songs. It also isn’t necessary that a songwriter be able to play an instrument. There are however, certain advantages to being able to play a chordal instrument like the guitar or piano if you’re going to write songs. If you do play the guitar, another songwriting method is to just start strumming a few chords. One advantage the guitar has over the piano is the type of rhythmic patterns you can play on the guitar. It just feels different than a piano. Use this to your advantage. Try to come up with an interesting groove. If you understand some basic music theory, you’ll understand what key you’re in. Try various chords within that key. If you don’t know your key signatures, just try experimenting with other chords that you know to find out which chords sound good together.
Eventually, you’ll probably come up with an interesting groove and chord progression. As I mentioned in the last article, it’s good to have some sort of simple recording device. Record your groove so that you’ll have it for future reference. Also write down the chords that you played so you won’t have to go back later and transcribe your own song!
The next step in this songwriting method can basically go a couple of different ways. Sometimes when I’m strumming through the chord progression I’ve created, I start hearing an interesting melody that follows the chord progression. That’s the advantage of writing chords first. Sometimes the interesting chord progression you’ve created will take the melody into much more interesting directions than if you’d written a melody first and then added chords to accompany it. Sometimes at this point I’ll start hearing an idea for both the lyrics and the melody, and I’ll just start singing it. I then write my lyric ideas down, and record what I’ve created so far into my tape recorder, computer, etc.
Depending on my inspiration or mood for that day, I may grab a keyboard at this point and a piece of manuscript paper. I like to write melodies from the keyboard better than the guitar, because the guitar requires 2 hands to play. On the keyboard, I can play a melody with my right hand, and write with my left. I will write a melody I hear in my head, perhaps while listening to the recording I just made with the guitar. If I don’t hear a melody in my head, I may just compose one that goes along with the chord progression.
There are many different songwriting methods. I would recommend doing what comes naturally to you. I would also recommend experimenting, and trying different methods. I have found that each songwriting methodtakes you in a little bit different direction. This way your songs don’t all sound the same. Trying various methods will keep songwriting interesting to you, and keep you out of a creative rut. I’ll be discussing more methods in future songwriting articles.