The Best Songwriting Tips and Tricks

Songwriting can be an overwhelming enterprise. Write the perfect track that keeps bringing back listeners with these tips.

Songwriting is an incurably personal and multifaceted process.  When you set out to write a song, what should you begin with? And how can you make your work as original and appealing as possible? Here are some handy ways to get started:

1.  Creat a Melody

Sit down with your instrument and pick or plunk some notes that sound charming, one after another. Keep the intervals, or distance between notes, less than four notes apart most of the time to ensure that it is singable and catchy. Save the larger leaps for occasional drama, such as the major sevenths that start “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or the chorus of A-ha’s “Take On Me.” Too much bouncing will leave your listener aimless and unsatisfied.  

A good tune also has a direction that is tonal and respects the harmony. For example, it may ascend towards an octave above the notes you started on, sometimes dipping back down by seconds or third. The course may then ebb back to your point of origin. There is an aesthetic effect of reaching for something and falling back, and it is satisfying to listen to.

2. Use Your Bass Line to Guide Your Harmony

If you find some bass notes that compliment the melody in your songwriting, chances are they are the foundations of a good chord structure. Try to keep the tune and bass line progressing in opposite directions as much as possible, and avoid moving them at the same interval at the same time. The most popular and protected chord progression in pop music is some variation on the I chord moving to the V and back to the I in whatever key you are in. It is safe to move through I-IV-V-I, or I-ii-V-I, or I-vi-V-I.  

If you are unsure about which chords are in which keys, don’t panic! Websites such as Musictheory.net or Teoria.com can help you gain a basic understanding of harmonic structure quickly. To give a brief summary, the Roman numeral you give a chord is the note of the scale of the scale you are starting on. For example, in the key of C, the I chord is a C chord, the D chord is the ii chord, and the E chord is the iii chord. The root, or bottom note, of the chord, doesn’t always have to be in the bass line. 

3. Compose Some Lyrics

There is a natural rhythm to the way we speak, and lining up the normally emphasized syllable in a word with an interesting interval can create a great hook. For example, in “Trouble,” Taylor Swift uses the instinctive inflections of an indignant and ranting girlfriend for the lines “I knew you were trouble when you walked in,” heightening the impact by adding a major fifth between “I knew” and “you were.”  

My favorite lyrics in songwriting tell a story and use literary elements like a great piece of fiction. In “The Thunder Rolls,” country icon Garth Brooks depicts a hurricane to set the scene for a frantic wife’s sleepless night, and then uses the storm as a symbol for her anger when she realizes she has been betrayed, all the while keeping the listener wrapped up in the tension of the narrative

4. Fine-Tune Voicing

Your bass line might sound great in the bass guitar, or in the left hand of the keyboardist, or doubled by a vocalist. The melody might be fantastic as an instrumental riff with a varied rhythm, or some of the notes from the chord could be expanded into a counter-melody over your second chorus. Let your imagination canter free, and then reign it in to bring out the best elements in your composition.  

Remember that any songwriting that is unique and engaging for you will touch the hearts of your listeners. Melodies and words that are unusually personal and true are what is best about songwriting, and that is something that every artist possesses.

 

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