How To Start Writing a Song



I have been writing songs since before I can remember.  I didn’t always have an instrument but I remember as a child walking around the woods behind our house making up lyrics and singing where no one could hear my bad ideas.  All of my notebooks from school have lyrics written in the margins and in between subjects.  This was the easy part.

Sitting in front of the piano, picking up the guitar and recording or writing out a complete song on music lined paper was the hard part.  Turning that snippet of a song idea into a 3-4 minute complete musical expression was the hard part.  It’s actually quite intimidating.

I think most creative people have that moment where they stare at the blank page, canvas, or sheet music and feel overwhelmed with where to start.  Writers sometimes start typing the same sentence over and over until the idea starts flowing, painters can start with a single stroke and build from there.  Musicians can maybe just write the c note over and over until the notes tumble out.

In order to avoid the overwhelming weight of blank music staves staring at your or the abundance of black and white keys pounding your head, I have come up with some steps to get the songwriting process started.  Remember these are not written in stone and can be changed as the idea of the song shapes itself.  The steps are not numbered as you can start with anyone item and go from there. Be inspired.

  •  Choose a key as this limits the notes you will choose from as the majority will be in the key chosen and this will be the melody
  • From the key choose some chords, chords by is a site that makes it really easy, with these chords strum out a rhythm
  • From this rhythm you should have an idea if your song is an uptempo one or a ballad from here you can work on the bass line or the drum line
  • keep tweaking and building as things sound good together
As you can tell I go by feel.  If I think too much about the technical aspects while I am creating it tends to distract me.  I can easily get too caught up in oh I want to make a sad song so I need to choose minor chords yada yada. In a way it stops the creative process because I am already editing and censoring myself.
That is how I start and it seems to work overall.  I do suffer writer’s block like I imagine every creative person does.  I drive home from the grocery store and I am flooded with ideas but then I get a change to write and it evaporates.   Starting is the hardest part.
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