Songwriting Tip: How to write song lyrics

pencil.jpgContributed by: Dainis W. Michel

Are you curious about how to write song lyrics? I’ve put together a few tips that might help you. Be sure to go through the free music composition lesson on [the] site [listed below] to gather further information on what will help you grow as a songwriter.

There are many, many approaches to writing a song, and please, don’t let yourself be told that you “have” to start with a “title” or a “chord progression” or anything like that. You can start with a chord progression, if you like. You can start with a title, if you like. Maybe you already have music and you are singing along to it…allow yourself to begin at what you perceive as the end…and reverse the process. Let enjoyment guide your process.

You can allow a topic to become a song…

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John Mayer uses cahiers to capture songwriting ideas

We’ve talked extensively on Blogging Muses about the importance of capturing song ideas. In particular, I raved about Moleskine notebooks and their links to Hemingway and other notable literary greats. One item I droned on and one about was the wonderful Moleskine Cahiers.

Well, today I was reading John Mayer’s blog (which, by the way, has some great songwriting insights on occasion) and noticed he has a picture of his own Cahier.


It’s nice to know we have something in common.

We’ll have more in common when my platinum selling, Grammy winning album is completed.

Moleskine Cahiers on

John Mayer’s blog

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Good artists copy, great artists steal. So do songwriters.

steve_jobs.jpgSo said Steve Jobs (quoting Pablo Picasso) of Apple and Pixar fame. He went on to explain how he has been shameless about stealing ideas directly from competitors and improving them or making them appeal to the mass market.

For those in the business of songwriting this philosophy can come in quite handy. Here are three ways to steal ideas:

Stealing #1:

Listen to a song that has a similar “vibe” to what you want to play. Shut off the stereo and then try and copy the song you just listened to from memory. Chances are you won’t remember the song progressions entirely. You’ll likely come up with a similar chord progression – but one unique enough to be called your own.

Stealing #2:

If there is a chord progression you really like, steal it. (This tip is from the songwriting tips archives.) Now take it a step farther. Instead of playing the same chord progression verbatim, play it in a different rhythm. Find a heavy rock song you like. Now, play the chord progression with a reggae beat. Or play it with a country twang. Or make it real “folksy” (Is that even a word?), or fingerpick it and make it sound pretty and melodic. Not only will you likely come up with a new song, you will also become more familiar with the universal commonalities of music as a whole.

And on to tip #3 …

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Songwriting Tips Group Project Update

Figured I would give you an update on the Songwriting Tips Group Project we announced last week.

First off, thank you for all the great tips! We got dozens of songwriting tips and are ready to start showing them to the world.

You can visit the Songwriting Tips Archives here.

There are some little nuances that I need to finish up, but you can begin to see how it works. We need to finish formatting some of the pages, but I thought it was important to let people be able to see the songwriting tips they submitted.

As a reminder, if you want to submit a songwriting tip we will link to any project you want to promote. One band, The Jennifers has used this to their advantage (example). Others, like songwriter Jeff Oxenford and Graham English have also used it to promote their projects. (Check out one of Jeff’s tips and one of Graham’s tips.)

Go ahead and submit a songwriting tip.

Browse the Songwriting Tips Archive.

Background info on the Songwriting Tips Group Project.

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Song Critique Checklist

d_logo2.gifContributed by Janet Fischer of Good Night Kiss Music.

Are your lyrics too repetitive? Do the same words (or phrases or ideas) repeat in the chorus that are already in your verses? If so, replace them with more storyline or more aspects of the situation.

Are your lyrics really special? Get rid of fluff and tired rhymes. (How many times can we hear about the rain??) Think of wonderful songs like “Wind Beneath My Wings” or “The Gambler.” Paint unique but acceptable pictures, and remember a song must be more than just a “list” of pictures or feelings.

I am a stickler for true rhymes, and I am here to swear it is part of being a great songwriter. That doesn’t mean all hit songs have true rhymes. But if you want to explore and experience the most professional and artistic aspects of songwriting, you will seek true rhymes. (No, not at the cost of the feeling of the song. But that’s rarer than most think.) The words are almost always there. You just haven’t looked for them.

Lots of people write good songs that are not competitive with what is being played on National Radio today. (National and Internationsl Radio/TV Airplay and Record Sales are how most writers make their income.) We want to be competitive. Remember, your competition is NOT the bad songs and artists you hear. YOUR COMPETITION IS THE BEST OF WHAT IS BEING AIRED.

Make sure your song is targetable. By that, I mean that there are artists with major record deals at this moment who do not write their own material. Those are the ones Publishers seek. Be sure you are acquainted with the artist’s image (and their material) of whom you wish to pitch your song. The worst thing you can do is pitch someone a song totally wrong for them. Consider not only the musical sound and style, but lyric stance and artist image. Be sure the artist doesn’t write their own material. Suggest appropriate artists to your publisher when you present your song.

You think of a target like Whitney Houston or Celine Dion (either could sing the phone book and it would sound like a hit… but they don’t.) Mostly, the question is, WOULD they sing that song? The other aspect of trying to pitch MEGA stars, is they are (and have been) being pitched by writers with much better track records than you (no offense), so your percentages are very low. If you can find an emerging act on a major label, you have a better chance of placement.

A GREAT song is a GREAT song, regardless of whether its style happens to be in vogue or not. On rare occasions, I have signed GREAT songs, all the while telling the writer(s) that we would probably never get a cut on it, but I was honored to work with it. (We almost never got cuts on them.) If you have one of these, celebrate it. Know in your heart what you have done, thank God for your talent, enjoy it, demo it up for posterity (if you can), and maybe the day will come around for its use. If not, it’s still a GREAT song.

Make sure that your song is likeable melodically! It’s easy (especially in country or ballads) to fall prey to a pedantic and unimaginative melody or chord structure. Changes need to be fresh, but comfortable. Lead melody lines (and therefore lyric lines of verses) need to be as consistent as possible in structure, but should have some surprises for us. Sometimes writing a melody without the confines of your instrument helps, or if you are not an experienced or trained musician, find a collaborator who is. Your competition has studied everywhere and worked all venues.

Review your songs (HONESTLY, dang it), before you spend money demoing them. Run them by other writers you respect or a meeting at your local songwriter organizations.

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Songwriting Tip: One book and one highlighter pen

We’ve written about him before, but singer-songwritier and ex-Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty talks on his blog about writing songs in anticipation of a September recording session.

“I’ve been trying to write more songs for a session in September; time is limited, obviously, and I don’t have the sheaf of culled phrases from months of journals that I usually use as a lyrical source. So I’ve been reading books with a pen in hand, underlining interesting and/or rhythmic words, and then writing them down the next day–over several columns on several sheets of paper, to put them in an order other than that in which they appeared in the books–and then when I go to the guitar and the drum machine I use those words to plug into the lyrics.”

I have found this to be true as well. Certain phrases or a couplet of sentences at the end of a story or chapter often resonate in a way that can spawn a complete song. There are endless examples of songwriters that have created songs – and even entire albums – based on the inspiration of a book or poem.

Just another tool to add to your “songwriting bag o’ tricks”.

Mike’s Blog

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Two Chord Song Summary

I wrote an earlier article Can great songs be written with only two chords, and I promised I would provide a summary of song examples suggested by Blogging Muses readers.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed songs to the list. There were many I never even realized before. Quite eye-opening.

I am a little late getting this summary done. I also found some more examples of two-chord songs in a book called “How To Write Songs on Guitar“. I will put those at the end of the list.

So here you have it – the Official Blogging Muses Two-Chord Songs Compendium:

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