By Brent Ramirez
Blog Content Contributor
Everyone loves some type of music, and chances are certain songs can make people feel certain ways. The combination of musical composition and lyrics can be life-changing and thought provoking, bringing out our innermost thoughts and feelings into song. Other songs are feel good songs that get you in a better mood, or make you want to dance. No matter what a song makes you feel, it’s easy to say that music has the power to convey a message and express emotion. For many people, venturing into songwriting is a way to share their own message.
It may seem easy to some, but as an aspiring singer/songwriter I can say it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve tried doing. For some, songwriting may come very naturally, but for most people writing music can be an extremely frustrating and painstaking process. While there are many ways to go about writing a song, this is the formula that I’ve found to work best for me.
Prior to recent years, I started a song by choosing the chord progression. A chord progression is the skeleton of a song. It’s a succession of chords which ultimately provides the framework for the other musical elements and establishes the general path of the song. While it would make sense to start with the foundation of a song, I eventually realized that by starting with a set chord progression I mentally limited myself to what I could use as a melody. Once again, there are many ways to write music and if establishing a chord progression first is what comes to you as a songwriter then by all means start there. I found that I limited myself by doing so.
Nowadays, I write with an even simpler element of music than a chord progression. I start with a melody. A melody is a sequence of notes that is musically appealing. Think of when someone is humming or whistling the chorus to a hit song like Abba’s “Dancing Queen” or Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” You might not be able to hear the lyrics, but when you hear the melody you instantly know that all that glitters is gold and only shooting stars break the moooold. By starting with a melody you have one simple idea to build around. That melody can then lead to other melodies, and eventually you can fit a chord progression and lyrics around that.
When I figure out my melody, I usually put words to it. These lyrics then lead to more lyrics, and with a little bit of scratch that and tweak this you have a song. After that, everything else seems to fall in place according to how I want the song to feel and sound. This includes everything from chord progression, tempo and rhythms, tone, mood, instrumentation, etc. By starting with a melody, you essentially start with one building block and work your way up and around it until you have a huge lego block mansion of a song.
While this is the process that I typically go through nowadays, there is one thing I do before I put the pen to paper. I think of what I want my song to be about. What message am I trying to convey through music? Establishing this theme or story gives me a sense of direction in terms of how I may think the melody should sound. I’ll repeat myself once again when I say you can start with any aspect of the song you want. Sometimes establishing your narrative makes you think of a chord progression first, or a particular set of lyrics. If you’re struggling to find something to write about write about a past experience. I tend to find that writing a song based on a previous experience not only gives me the insight needed, but overall it comes out organically.
No matter what, let the song come to you naturally. I think the worst thing you can do is change something about the song that completely disfigures the purpose and/or meaning that you want to convey just because someone else may think otherwise. If you write something that you like, that’s all that matters. Always write from your heart and stay true to yourself. Happy writing my friends!
Featured image by Brent Ramirez.