Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle

Bicycle in your mindRemember when you learned to ride your first bicycle? It wasn’t easy. You fell down a lot, but you kept trying. At first you needed someone to hold on, keeping you steady. Then you used training wheels to help you stay upright as you pedaled. Then, finally, you were able to ride on your own. You had found that complicated thing called balance. After that, it was a breeze! The process of writing songs is a lot like riding a bike. It’s all about finding a balance!

=> Balance Melody, Chords, Lyrics – Writing a song that listeners will love involves finding a good balance between melody, lyrics, and chords. If you have a busy lyric with a lot of words and images then writing a melody that’s easy for listeners to follow might give your song more appeal. On the other hand, if you have a complicated melody with a lot of rhythmic interest and interval jumps, then keeping your chord progression simple might be a good idea. Try the chord progressions on this page to get things going.

When there are too many things demanding their attention, listeners don’t know what to focus on and that can be frustrating. If they’re feeling confused or overwhelmed, they’re  likely to tune out.

A good rule of thumb: As the complexity of one of your song elements goes up – lyrics, melody, or chords – consider organizing the other elements in easy-to-follow patterns or using more repetition.

We all love to write those beautiful, poetic lines but they can sometimes be hard for listeners to understand.

=> Balance within each song element – We all love to write beautiful, poetic lines but they can sometimes be hard for listeners to understand. So, try to mix in a few conversational  lines that come right out and say what you want the listener to know. If you don’t feel comfortable interweaving poetic and conversational within a single song section, consider making your verse the evocative, poetic section, then come straight to the point in your chorus. Let the singer come right out and say what he or she feels so the listener knows what’s going on.

The same idea can be applied to melody.  If you have a verse with a fast-paced, complicated melody, consider writing a chorus with a little breathing room. Stretch out the melody notes in the chorus and use fewer notes per beat. use a little more repetition or a simple melodic pattern. Give the listener a chance to absorb what’s happening before plunging into another verse.

=> Study the balance in your genre – Each genre has a balance of melody, lyrics, and chords that gives it a characteristic sound. For instance, the Pop genre tends to have a lot  of melodic interest. Verse, pre-chorus, and chorus all have different melodies with changing dynamics and rhythmic twists.  Pop lyrics  maintain a balance by staying focused on a single emotional situation that’s clearly defined in the chorus.

The Country genre, on the other hand, relies on lyric stories with more physical detail and development than Pop.  Listeners need to pay attention to the lyric in order to get the full impact. As a result, Country melodies tend to be a little less complex than in the Pop field. This doesn’t mean you can write a boring melody, ever! You’ll still need to keep your listeners interested with strong melody patterns and plenty of contrast between sections. But you might want to use fewer melodic twists than you would in the Pop genre.

=> Balance craft and inspiration – Balance is also an essential part of your approach to songwriting as a whole. Finding a balance between inspiration and song craft can help you express your deepest thoughts and feelings and in a way that listeners can understand and respond to.

Inspiration can be a very personal thing, sometimes giving you lines that may mean something to you but not to your listener.

Inspiration is the heart of your songwriting. It’s what guides you, tells you what’s important, and delivers that brilliant line out of the blue. But inspiration can be a very personal thing, sometimes giving you lines that may mean something to you but not to your listener. If you balance inspiration with an equal amount of song craft, you’ll end up communicating more effectively, surrounding those inspired gems with lines that support them and keep the listener involved.  Continue reading “Songwriting: It’s Like Riding a Bicycle”

Get Inspired: Study Great Holiday Songs

Here’s a list of great holiday songs you can listen to on Youtube. Each one has something offer to today’s songwriters as examples of great song craft.  As you listen, notice the  structure, lyric imagery/action words, melody style, and production. For more detailed info on writing and pitching holiday songs, read Holiday Songs: ‘Tis the Season.

Winter Wonderland  – Jason Mraz with an excellent  version of this seasonal classic. The vocal has a contemporary jazz flavor and conveys warmth, upbeat energy, and fun. The production is just guitar and vocal and nothin’ else! It’s simple and it’s effective.

Learn more about creating basic, barebones arrangements. Continue reading “Get Inspired: Study Great Holiday Songs”

Turn a Poem Into a Song Lyric

PoetPoetry is often defined as putting the greatest amount of meaning into the fewest possible words. This holds true for song lyrics, too. So if you’re a poet, you’ve got a great start on songwriting. But there are a few differences, too.

Long ago, all poems were sung to music but now we tend to write them down and read them on the page. People read them at their own pace, taking all the time they need to understand and react to each line. But songs roll by at the music’s pace. Listeners need to understand enough on the fly to be drawn into the lyric and stay involved. So, poets, try these ideas when writing song lyrics or turning a poem into a lyric…

1. Give listeners enough time to absorb each image or poetic device. Try spreading out your images and metaphors over several lines rather than piling on several at once. Make each image or idea the focus of at least one line. If your lines are short, then spend two or more lines on it. Add more information to give listeners deeper insight into your idea and allow them to fully take it in before moving on.  Continue reading “Turn a Poem Into a Song Lyric”

A Three-Stage Rocket to Lyric Writing

When NASA blasted a rocket into orbit, they did it in stages: The big lift-off, a second stage to get the payload into orbit and a third to fine tune the direction. So, what’s this got to do with writing lyrics? You can think of the lyric writing process in three stages:

  •  1. Getting started. (Lift off)
  •  2. Developing your idea. (Getting into orbit)
  •  3. Rewriting (Fine tune it)

=> STAGE ONE: GETTING STARTED
Beginning the lyric writing process with a title can give you a central beacon that will keep your song lyric focused – very important if you want to keep listeners involved. Any short phrase you find emotionally intriguing – or simply an honest statement of how you feel – can work as a title. Make it something you want to write about.

Then make a list of questions the phrase suggests. These are the questions you’re going to answer in your song. Try questions like: What does this mean? Why do I need to say it? How does it feel? How did it happen?  What do I think the consequences will be? Every phrase suggests different questions. And every songwriter will find different ones to ask.  Continue reading “A Three-Stage Rocket to Lyric Writing”