Who is your favorite songwriter and why

Songwriting - Part 1

by Tom Hess

Most people approach songwriting in the same way. For those who write music and not just lyrics, it looks like they pick up their instrument and improvise until they come across something that sounds good. You focus only on the "goal of a finished song" rather than the wide range of available "methods" of composing music. In other words, these people focus on the "what" (the song they want to write) rather than the "how" (which methods and procedures can be used). Once the decision has been made to write a new song, start with what is simplest and most natural for you - improvising on your instrument.

For the purpose of illustrating the example above, let's assume that your main instrument is an electric guitar. There are natural pros and cons with every songwriting method. Here are the most obvious pros and cons for the method of improvising with your instrument:


  • It is the easiest method for most songwriters.
  • You can start immediately (without a previous composition plan or preliminary considerations)
  • One can take advantage of the given natural possibilities of the guitar in terms of tone, playability, range, the number of tones that can be played simultaneously, the range of dynamics, the possibilities of articulation, etc.
  • If you are a competent guitarist, you can easily create music that is natural to the guitar. You probably have at least some basic understanding of guitars in general, so in most cases playing your guitarist ideas shouldn't be a big problem.
  • Because this is how most songwriters work (even a lot of professionals), your musical outcomes could resemble some of your predecessors who wrote successful hits.


  • You are limited by the limits of the instrument in terms of tone, playability, range, the number of tones that can be played simultaneously, the range of dynamics, the articulation options, etc.
  • It is likely that you are repeating similar ideas that you have previously used in other songwriting sessions.
  • It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking exclusively like a guitarist instead of a songwriting musician
  • You might discover that your hands are doing most of the thing, not your creative mind.
  • The range of musical results is limited if you only work in this way. Not necessarily because something is wrong with the guitar or you.

Every single song writing process will be limited. You have to work really hard to get the most out of a single operation. Of course, it's better to have many methods rather than just one (I'll discuss other methods of writing songs in future articles).

Take your instrument and start improvising. Pay attention to what you usually do. Which procedure do you usually start with? Are you trying to write a melody first? Or do you start with the chords? Here is a list of suggestions how to get started.

Start with the melody

  • In this case, decide whether the melody you are trying to write should be vocal or instrumental. This is very important because vocal melodies need room for the singer to breathe and you also need to consider the range - a singer's range is narrower than that of most instruments. Keep all of this in mind when writing melodies.
  • Consider the course (shape and direction) of your melodies.
  • Is there a clear climax (peak)? At which point on the melody should it be?

Start with the chords

  • Pick a tonal center (key) to start with. You don't have to stay in that key for the entire song, but it is wise to start with at least a single key. If you want, you can deviate from this later.
  • Think about the sequence of the chords, where are the moments of tension and certainty? Are these moments well placed?

Start with the chords and melody at the same time

I really like this approach. Start with a single chord and melody note or phrase and write them down as you add the next chord and more melody notes. Experiment by changing the chord, but not the melody phrase. Experiment by changing the melody phrase, but not the chord.

Start with the rhythm first

  • Consider the type of rhythms that you typically use. Maybe one of these is exactly what you need to get into the groove of a new song.
  • Experiment with variations of your favorite rhythm pattern. Use a popular scheme and play it backwards.
  • Create something completely new. Force yourself not to let any of your favorite rhythm patterns creep into your new song idea.

Dynamics, structure, and form are the musical elements most overlooked by songwriters. Record companies have specially employed producers to check the quality of the work of the songwriters. Most producers spend a lot of time (and artist advances!) Shaping the songs in these three areas because songwriters often fail to put the time and effort into them. Most people can write a melody and put chords together, but struggle with dynamics, structure, and shape.

Start with the dynamics

  • If you think about the dynamics as you compose each part of the song, you are already one step ahead of the game.
  • Plan carefully how you want the dynamic scope of each part of your new song to be. Which parts should be louder and which should be gentle? How can you create smooth transitions between them? Do you want smooth transitions?

Start with the timbre

The variety of instruments you use and the sounds you get from them add color to your music. Once you've written a melody, experiment with how many types of tone qualities you can use to play it. Even if you're only writing a song for a solo instrument, see how you can add color to the sound with that instrument. Take, for example, a guitar, playing the bridge down brings a completely different sound quality than playing in the middle of the string (12th fret).

Start with the structure

The density of timbre and timbre can affect the types of melodies you compose. Notice how the density of the structure might change from section to section. What musical effect could it create? A single guitar line could get you writing guitar parts, but if you use a guitar to write keyboard parts, your approach will often (and maybe should) be very different.

Start with the shape

Starting here can work wonders at keeping you out of anger (musically speaking). If you don't think about the form (the arrangements of the parts of a song) right at the beginning of the writing process, it's easy to find yourself cornered later. If you've written different parts of a song but can't seem to be able to bring the parts together, it usually happens because you didn't give enough thought to the form at the beginning of the writing process.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also find the following helpful:

Songwriting - Part 2
Songwriting - Part 3
Songwriting - Part 4
Songwriting - Part 5

Creativity and Expression - Part 1
Creativity and Expression - Part 2

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