Take-Aways from a Songwriting Workshop

Hi folks,

as suggested by @DavidP (thanks again for this excellent suggestion, David!), I want to provide some insights and main take-away messages I got from a workshop on songwriting (6 weeks with 1 session of 1.5 - 2 hours per week in person with one online exception due to weather circumstances).

We were 5 people and 2 teachers, probably that ration itself was a reason for the great sessions we had. The 5 of us had quite different background songwriting and playing wise with some very experienced players with and without songwriting experiences, to people that were mainly at the beginning of their musical journey and no songwriting experience.

First main take-away: Everyone who is willing to put in the effort can write songs, even really good ones!

(By the way, what’s good is a topic for the listener and a matter of taste.)

With the totally different backgrounds we all had, all of us were able to deliver a (more or less) complete song after 6 weeks. I think that’s a great outcome. It was also really interesting to see, how our lives, perspectives and circumstances unfluenced the given songs. 5 completely different songs and even genres/directions. Amazing.

Second main take-away: There is no wrong or right and no “one-size-fits-all”-way in songwriting!

The way we approach songwriting is and was totally different and even for one given individual it might be different from song to song. A good thing - in any case - is experimenting. Be it with word, with harmonies, melodies, backings… whatever. Just be openminded towards any possible solution.

Third main take-away: If it sounds good, it is good.

Yes, we were coming to that conclusion as well and in goes hand in hand with the experimenting part. We shouldn’t be afraid to try stuff. Even if something sounds really odd, we just don’t do it again. But with this freedom in mind, we might find something magic, that sounds really good. :slight_smile:

Fourth main take-away: Analyse songs (either random ones or those you love).

By taking our time to listen carefully or dissecting lyrics, we learn really a lot for our own songwriting. This was what we did in our online session with main focus on lyrics. You can take away and learn so much by thorough analysis of songs. For lyrics, for instance how the story is build, how tension is being created and climaxed. How repetitve parts create “hooks” that stick. How this also translates in the music (melody, harmony, repetitive motives…).

Fifth main take-away: There are tools we can use to write songs.

We learned about some handy tools we can use to either get started or in case no idea pops up or whatever. Even professional songwriters make use of them. We learned a few (of course not all in only 6 sessions, probably there’s books or websites about this as well), I want to quickly introduce:

Object writing/deep diving: It’s basically done like this: get a random word (news paper, word generator, other person…) and put up a pencil or whatever and write down whatever comes up in your mind in relation to that, try to involve all senses in this process, i.e. what you see/feel/hear/taste/Sense in relation to that objects, memories related to it - that’s why it’s also called deep dive. It’s adviced to do this for a short duration only (5-10 min) and to not deeply think about it to avoid overthinking blocking the flow. Put down in words what comes up, no need for sentence, structure, lyrics, rhymes or whatever at this stage. What comes out might serve as a foundation for lyrics.

And that means…: With this little trick you might find a different way of saying something. That might be handy if the original phrase is too cheesy or often heard. So try to put in in other words by taking the original statement and then start the next sentence with and that means and put in what this means for you. Then you do it again and again for around 5 mins.

Creation of new words or phrases as a foundation by combining stuff, having different lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives… experimenting :slight_smile:

Creating metaphors/pictures and switch or combine these words to create somthing new.

For melodies/harmonies:

Start with very common chord progression (like the I-V-vi-IV) or play around with it. Throw in some completely different chords or borrow chords from the related major/minor key, e.g. C major/A-minor, or even the same major/minor family (sorry, can’t put it down better), e.g. C major and C minor. Throw in secondary dominants to lead to the next chord in the progression.

If you have a motive of the melody, you could use and repeat it, but also vary it by either changing timings/rhythms slightly or putting in in a different harmonic environment or repeat it with different pitches. If you have different partial motives, combine them differently to create phrases, like you would do with licks in soloing as an example.

Playing around with different time signaturs is also an option.

That’s all the tools I recall for now, hope I haven’t missed one.

Edit:
Sixth main take-away: Record what you are doing.

In order to not lose something good and increase the chance to reproduce it, record your writing sessions. Phone recording is sufficient for this, just let it run and retrieve the bits you like later.

Now maybe to end this monologue ( :rofl:) a few insights how it’s working for me and what was the most helpful tool:

I tend to be bad at finding lyrics, I’m a terribly overthinking everything. So what really helped me to get going again was this object writing exercise. From there, it was quite easy to get a base with enough emotional background/connection to form lyrics out of the words and memories. If I would have sat down to write a song about friendship and childish lightheartedness, this would never have worked. But coming from Zitronenfalter/brimstone it worked well.

Once I had the basic idea, where to go with my song, I sat down with my guitar and strummed a chord-progression I felt would fit and hummed/mumbled words over it or in some cases, I already had the whole phrase itself. So it was partially lyrics first, partially harmonies first. Once I had the melody down by repeatedly singing the phrase/mumbled somethings, I re-checked if it still fitting the harmonic background and do re-adjustments on both sides, until all fits nicely. Rhythm often is driven from the lyrics in my case. But as you see, for the basic song idea all parts are developed simultaneously. :smiley: Over the course of days, adjustments are done here and there. I know, I have the melody, when I am able to sing the same phrase in the same way multiple times and over a course of days (yes, I don’t note it down, shame on me :rofl: :sweat_smile:). I only write down lyrics and harmony most of the time. Should change that, though.

That’s it (finally :rofl:). I’d love to hear about other’s experiences and insights in songwriting as well, so please feel free to add in as much as you like or ask stuff. :smiley:

If this is not the appropriate place for this topics, please feel free to move it where it fits better.

Thanks for reading! :slight_smile:

Cheers - Lisa

PS: @JokuMuu Nicole, here’s the promised tag. :slight_smile:

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Hello Lisa, wow, thanks a lot for putting so much time and effort into this summary :hugs:.
That was a very interesting read :+1:.

Although I’m not going to start songwriting in the near future, I’m grateful for all the tips to make the whole process a bit easier :slightly_smiling_face:.

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Hi Lisa, thank you for posting about your experiences on your songwriting course. It was a fascinating read. Must have taken some time, much appreciated. Not sure I have a songwriter in me but it has given me food for thought on how the process can be approached. Best wishes Alan

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Great contribution, thanks for sharing this awesome testimonial :wink:

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Thanks for taking the time to share your take-aways and insights, Lisa. I really appreciate it.

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Thank you so much @Lisa_S for putting so much work and effort into creating this thread :heart:

Of course I bookmarked it :slightly_smiling_face: For some funny reason I’m really happy that my idea that there is no “one fits all”-approach seems to be correct. I find the thought that the approach varies not only depending on the person but also depending on the song itself absolutely fascinating :slightly_smiling_face:

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@Lisa_S It sounds as though you enjoyed the experience, thank you so much for sharing. Some very helpful suggestions and I will try some for writing my next song. :smiley: :smiley:

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This is interesting. It reminds me of how David Bowie approached his song writing, only he had someone develop a computer program for him that would generate random phrase associations.

I have heard a number of great song writers say they would always have a cassette recorder running as they were trying ideas.

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Thanks for sharing this Lisa! :pray:
Was a very interesting read.
I have always been curious on how songs are written, and were they come from and what the underlying meaning really is.
I am sure that many many great songs are just put down on a piece of paper in matter if minutes, and dont have a deeper meaning. Other great songs has taken weeks and months maybe and have a deeper meaning. But it is fasinating never the less :grin:

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Thanks all for the appreciation! :heart: I’m glad it might be of use for some of you or at least was an interesting insight. Sorry for the tons of typos, might go and fix that later. :sweat_smile:

Thanks for sharing this with us, Alan! Quite interesting insight on Bowie’s approach and a handy tool as well. :slight_smile:

Very true and actually one of the points I forgot to mention, thanks again Alan! Will add it in first post as well. :smiley:

Sixth main take-away: Record what you are doing.

In order to not lose something good and increase the chance to reproduce it, record your writing sessions. Phone recording is sufficient for this, just let it run and retrieve the bits you like later.

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Thanks for sharing Lisa :slight_smile:

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Interesting thread, Lisa :smiley:
I had the good fortune of being offered a place on a songwriting course during Covid lockdown. It sounds quite similar (2 leaders and about 6 participants) except they were all online except for the final session where it was possible to meet up.
A lot of focused/object/deep dive writing invoking all the senses, avoiding generalities etc.
It’s funny that, although I didn’t get a song I liked out of it, it did provide me with a number of useful tools for those rare but fun moments when the muse strikes and I decide to try and write a song.
A couple of bits of advice that I would add to your good list is:
Don’t worry if the songs you write are rubbish, esp. at the outset. Nobody writes good songs when they start. Like any skill, you only improve if you practice.
If you have the opportunity to collaborate and process your ideas with others, don’t hesitate :smiley:

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Thank you very much for sharing this, Lisa :sunflower:
Very interesting read :smiley:

The workshop must have been really good with such helpful outcome and very practical tips. I don’t plan to write songs myself, but it is very interesting to have these insights to understand how it is done.
I’ve tried Dice Songwriting (module 11) a few times. A very entertaining and often funny approach :sweat_smile:

No wonder you’ve written such a beautiful song. I love “Zitronenfalter” a lot :lemon: :butterfly:

Can’t wait for your upcoming songs :hugs:
Keep up the great work and have lots of fun training these awesome new skills and your songwriting-muscle :musical_note:

Cheers
Gunhild :lady_beetle:

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Thanks for the insightful summary Lisa. I’m far from song writing, but …

"Creation of new words or phrases as a foundation by combining stuff, having different lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives… experimenting :slight_smile:

Creating metaphors/pictures and switch or combine these words to create somthing new."

…is what I do singing in the shower, so there is a place to start. :grinning:

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Really helpful insights, Lisa, thank you!! :heart: :smiley: :+1:

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That was a great read and thank you for sharing it Lisa. I swear that one day I am going to write my own song. :slight_smile:

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Thanks for sharing Lisa, great insight and summary. I don’t think that I’m going to write songs in the future myself, I’m not that creative with music at that point of my journey and there is so much to learn in so many areas… But who knows? I admire the ability to be able to write a song. Maybe some lyrics or progressions or melodies meet my busy brain one day… :hibiscus:

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Finally some moments to check in here again. :smiley: Thanks all for the appreciation, glad to pass something forwar and if it is helpful if creativity strikes at you one day, the better it is! :smiley:

@brianlarsen That’s a cool thing you also had the chance to join a songwriting course. It’s fun, ain’t it? So many take-aways and food for thought. :smiley:

Oh yes, this is 100 % true. Thinking of the very first songs I wrote back then as a teen… Where’s the giant hole I can hide in?:face_with_peeking_eye: :face_in_clouds: :dotted_line_face:

100 % true. Exchanging ideas, snippets whatever can be so fruitful. Collaborations can be a strong source for creativity. :smiley:

That’s a very good place to start! Hope someday you’ll take it out of the shower onto a paper or even a little recording for us, Michael. :smiley:

Looking very much forward to this, Stefan! :smiley:

Keep my fingers crossed for everybody who’s going to give it a try someday. Keep out the pressure, include loads of fun and get a little carried away, then you’re already half down the way! :slight_smile:

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