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.
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
Creating metaphors/pictures and switch or combine these words to create somthing new.
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.
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 ( ) 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. 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 ). I only write down lyrics and harmony most of the time. Should change that, though.
That’s it (finally ). 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.
If this is not the appropriate place for this topics, please feel free to move it where it fits better.
Thanks for reading!
Cheers - Lisa
PS: @JokuMuu Nicole, here’s the promised tag.