How to write a song:

The other day a client said to me: “I’d like to write songs, but I don’t know where to start. How do I choose a good songwriting course?”

This is actually a complex question!

Writing a song is incredibly personal. Vulnerable. Even more than a poem, I think.

It’s simple – and it’s impossible. Both at the same time.

It feels like there are so many things you have to know, and that you have to already be good at, before you can write songs.

But in my opinion, it could be somewhat easier than you think.

You don’t have to be a highly skilled musician. You just need three chords, to start with.

I’ve written songs. And I’ve also been totally stuck and unable to write songs.

There is plenty to learn from experts in a songwriting course.

But before you sign up, I’d like to encourage you to get started straight away, and see how you go.

When you go to a course with some songwriting ideas and experience under your belt, you’ll get much better value than if you expect the teachers to guide you from scratch.

Three pieces you need to write songs

  1. Permission, the go-ahead, to write songs. I’m giving you that right now. Please do!

Knowing I had an invitation, that people were waiting for me to write a song, was really helpful for me, with a particular song project in the past.

  1. The “how to” of writing a song.
  2. The “woo” of “catching” a song.

Pieces two and three need to be juggled simultaneously.

Why write songs?

Writing songs is a way to express yourself; tell stories; get back at exes, etc.

It just feels amazing to have written a song. Both scary and incredible at the same time.

For a musician, a song is a piece of intellectual property that belongs to you.

Songwriting is potentially a way to make money. There are many, many steps between writing a song and being a professional songwriter. But, it is a possibility.

In many successful bands, the songwriter makes by far the most money. A few bands share the royalties equally, but they are unusual.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’d like to be able to write songs.

So maybe you don’t need to be convinced of the why.

Now I’ll get back to the two other steps of songwriting.

The “how” of writing a song:

Four basic elements:

These are: rhythm; harmony/ chords; melody/ tune; and lyrics/ words.

You can start with any of these pieces and add the others.  Every single songwriter I’ve known does this differently.

If you’re a collaborative songwriter, you may come up with one or two of the elements and your collaborator(s) or bandmates provide the others.

Four tools of songwriting:

  1. You need a harmony instrument. Like a guitar, ukulele or piano. It’s hard to write songs on a melody instrument like a violin. Trust me, I’ve tried!

You don’t have to be a great guitarist or pianist. You just need three chords, to start off. Depending on what kind of music you’re aspiring to write.

I think ukulele is an ideal instrument for songwriting. But I’m biased.

  1. You’ll need your voice, so you can work on the words and tune.

You don’t have to be a great singer. But, you do need to get used to how you sound.

I used to be terrified of singing. I had to gradually awaken my rusty, unused voice when I started teaching ukulele. It’s been an ongoing process.  

  1. You also need a way to record your song, so you catch it before it blows away. A phone or the recording software on your computer will do. You don’t need fancy gear at this stage.

Don’t wait till the song is finished, record the pieces as you go.

  1. Another useful songwriting tool is a notebook where you jot down phrases and ideas. This will come in handy if you come up with a tune but don’t have words.

How much theory do you need?

Knowing about music structure can be helpful. It can be useful to have some idea of the typical structure/ harmony of your favourite songs. 

But hold this lightly. You don’t want to write a song that’s a direct copy of something else. In the worst-case scenario, that’s plagiarism.

Also, many great songwriters have ignored conventional structure and harmony.

Many pop songs have two parts: a verse, and another part that’s called the “middle 8”. There’s sometimes a third part, the “bridge”.

Blues songs often have a 12-bar blues harmony/ rhythm structure. But there are plenty of exceptions.

Country and folk-style songs tend to have a verse-chorus structure. And only three or four chords.

The “woo” of songwriting: songcatching

You catch a song. Like catching a dream, or an idea, a poem, a story.

You have to allow time and space for this to happen.

Mostly songs turn up in fragments and glimpses.

After that, you spend time crafting your song, polishing it to let it reveal itself. Like a jeweller working on a precious stone.

Maybe this sounds magical and “woo”. That’s because it is, in my opinion.

It’s a bit like turning straw into gold!

Don’t wait till a song is complete.

Catch the pieces as you get them.

Last night I woke when my husband Matthew got out of bed. He went down the hall.

After about ten minutes he returned.

“Having trouble sleeping?” I asked, as he snuggled in beside me.

“No, I was just recording a song,” he replied. He woke with a fragment of song in his head and quickly recorded it.

If you don’t do this, there’s a big chance you’ll have forgotten it by morning.

It’s quite possible that many of my potential songs have disappeared because I preferred to stay asleep in my warm bed!

Matthew has been writing songs since he was 18. His friend and bandmate David said, “Let’s write songs!”. That’s how they both got started.

Songwriting is vulnerable

Writing a song is a super-vulnerable thing to do. Let alone sharing it with the world.

You’ll get more confident by doing it.

When you have written one song, you’ll know you can write another. And another…

A song is a piece of treasure, a divine gift.

And it needs a person to birth it into the world.

Could that be you?

If you’d like to write songs, but you’re not doing it yet, working with a coach can be a very helpful way to get started.

I’d love to help you with this. If this sounds interesting, email me alice “at” and we can get together for a free, no-obligation 45-minute clarity call.

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