|Songwriting Tips for Teens
This page will include tips on:
I. How writers get started
II. Developing the many layers of a song
III. What to do if you get stuck
I. How to Get Started
Work from an idea or feeling. Any thought or emotion. Just let these ideas and feelings run through your
voice or hands. There is no wrong way to get going.
-You could start with an original lyrical line.
-You could begin with a great chord progression on keyboard or guitar.
-You could start with a cool bass line.
-You might begin with an amazing signature lead guitar lick.
-You could start with a drum groove that kicks the heartbeat of life into your song.
Any way is the right way. The important impulse is to begin.
Once the song is flowing, you will feel a creative excitement. There's really nothing like it. Artists throughout
history and all over the world have felt the same rush. This is what your creative heart and mind were born to
do. Revel in it!
Above all, don't judge what's happening as you start a new song. Go, go, go. Write everything. Don't stop
or even edit yourself. Let your fingers pour it out. Your left-brain is logical and can stand a little constructive
criticism now and then, but your right brain--your most creative side--is actually more sensitive to judgement.
Whatever you do--Don't burst your own creative bubble. In the first phase of your creativity, just let
yourself go. If you are co-writing with a friend, make this a time of encouragement for every new idea.
II. Developing the Structure and Layers of A Song
So you've filled your page with ideas. You've vented your emotion, whether it's elation, heartbreak, anger,
confusion, or sadness. You now stand back and look over your creative outburst. It's exactly what you
needed to do. It's honest. It's you.
At this point you ask yourself...Am I going to take this further? If the answer is no, you've still succeeded in
channeling some words or feelings that needed to get out. But if you do want to keep going and maybe
shape your wave of creativity into a song for sharing, now is the time to invite your left brain to the table.
If you haven't done so already, consider at this point questions like:
a) What will be your song title?
Identify the most important lyric or line of your song. This main message or idea should be repeated. To properly emphasize
your main thought, it's smart to place it at the end of your chorus, so that it will be the last thing your listener hears, a
minimum of three times, and usually more. This theme should also be the idea which all lines in your song lead back to.
This key message or phrase is usually called your lyrical 'hook'. It's brilliant to also make this your title, because that's what
people will best remember, anyway.
b) How can you turn your volume of words into structured verses and chorus?
You usually end up working your raw ideas into 2-3 verses, which are similar to each other-- each having the same rhyme
scheme, length and number of lines, chord progression and melody. These verses are attached to several choruses which
should be identical to each other. Since the chorus is repeated about three times or more, your listener will learn them and
mentally sing along. A chorus the listener wants to walk away singing is a very good thing.
c) Do your verses and chorus sound different from each other?
Many new writers find that their verses and chorus sound too similar. The solution could be as simple as changing the order of
the chords from verse to chorus, or throwing in a different chord somewhere. You might also consider building a higher
intensity into your chorus to really make it stand out.
While the melody of the verses may be simpler (after all, you're starting to tell a story, and you want the listener to focus on the
words) the chorus needs to be the uplifting part of your song and really soar. Many writers use a more linear
melody as they write their verses. Choruses often use wider intervals, climbing melodies, and longer notes. Listen to your
favourite songs, again. The verses may use just a few notes, spaced at close intervals. But when the chorus begins, you
know it, because it really opens up. Also, if a verse uses several minor chords to sound 'pensive' or 'deep', the chorus can
usually lift the listener simply by using more major chords .These little tricks of the trade can be conscious, technical choices,
but they still work incredible magic on the heart and ear.
d) Would you like your song to rhyme?
The ear loves a good rhyme, and most songs do rhyme. Having said that, try not to sacrifice your natural, conversational
language or meaning just to rhyme your lines. Also, avoid tired or clichéd rhymes that everyone has used before -- eye, sky,
love, above, etc. It's ok to use near-rhymes. They're usually fresher. And no, not all songs need to rhyme. Whether your song
is rhymed or 'free verse', structure is still important, and lines should contain an internal rhythm and a patterning of syllable
emphasis that makes your phrases easy to sing.
e) Does your song need a bridge?
While folk songs don't need them, most pop, rock, and other genres of songwriting traditionally have a "C"-part to add to the "A"
and "B" structure of verses and choruses. This part sounds like neither of the other parts in your song. Why add this? Once
you have played your verse and chorus melody a couple of times, the listener's ear is sometimes ready for some relief. The
third part of your song complements its structure at just the right time to keep the audience's interest. Suddenly, there is a
whole new melody and chord pattern.
A good bridge also usually 'bridges' the gaps in meaning between the verses and the final chorus(es), as well. Any final
questions in the listener's mind, any confusion are cleared up. The bridge is usually just a few lines. A strong bridge can bring
the song to a whole new level of insight and intensity just before the dramatic conclusion of your song in your final chorus /
double chorus out.
f) Are your lyrics strong?
Examine your phrases. Are the images original and colourful? Do they paint a vivid picture? Do you show what you mean with
clear and concise snapshots, rather than laboriously explaining things? Do you refer to several of the five senses to bring the
listener right in to share the experience? Are your words carefully-chosen? Do they fit with the genre of music? Are any
meanings confusing? Does the language sound conversational? As a final test, try speaking the lyrics instead of singing
them. If it doesn't sound like something someone would actually say in conversation, try re-stating your lyrics so they sound
f) How will you build your intro and outro?
This is an exciting question. The first and last impressions your song makes can be very memorable. The intro can be
anything you feel is appropriate to your song: earth-shattering orchestra hits, driving drumbeats, a gentle, coaxing acoustic
guitar line or an honest and vulnerable a cappella vocal. It's often good planning to subliminally introduce the chorus melody or
signature lick at the beginning, so that the listener can pick up on it throughout the song. The ear loves carefully-placed
g) How will you apply harmony?
Guitar or piano chords contain harmonies. If you write without instrumentation, you should think about adding chords to your
melody line, either with instruments or voices. Choose the places to add harmony thoughtfully. Harmony can really accentuate
the emotion or intensity of a phrase. For this reason, more instrumentation or background singers often come in as the song
progresses, creating a dynamic build. Choruses are the best places to consider adding harmonies.
h) Is your song a good length?
If you're writing a song intended for a world audience, aim for a length somewhere between 2 1/2 - 4 1/2 minutes, with about 3
minutes considered 'radio length' today.
i) Is your song singable / playable?
You will find this out as time goes on. Sing your song out loud, on stage, in your songwriters' forum, or even alone in your
room. Which lines seem to have too many syllables? Cut them out. Most new writers put in to many words. You can often say
more with less. And is your melody catchy? If not, work on it. Keep taking a run at your song, singing it out loud, to smooth out
any rough spots, enjoying the process of polishing and improving just as much as you enjoyed the first creative rush.
Remember...Writing is a process, with many layers and stages. Some people claim to write quickly. It can happen.
But great songs, like most good things, usually take time.
III. What To Do If You Get Stuck
Someone once told me that 'writers' block' is nothing more than the fear that your ideas will be
rejected. If that's your case, you may be worrying too much about that.
Bottom line: You don't have to show your song ideas until YOU feel they're ready. Some art is strictly
personal, and already does a world of good when it's just written for yourself, or is shared with
a close relative or friend who you knows will accept you as you are. You have no need to fret about it.
However, if for some reason, the pressure is ON--there's a song contest :), or you're trying to
finish a demo, or a gig is coming up, or someone has asked you to write them a song, you know you
need to do it right. Still, don't let anxiety get in your creative way. Here are ten ideas for restarting
a stalled creative engine:
1) Go back to stage one...That welcoming, positive, creative bubble, where everything was good. Maybe you can't
finish one song, but you can start a new one. You can apply the new confidence you feel to refining the old song, later.
2) Relax. Slow down. Centre your energies.
3) Laugh. Time for some jokes or a funny movie. Talk to someone whose sense of humour delights you. Laughter is
unbelievably life-enhancing, healing, and inspirational. I don't know all of the scientific reasons why. It just is.
4) Take a walk in the sunshine. Dance. Get any kind of exercise. The extra oxygen and natural endorphins will feed your
mood and brain.
5) Take a snack break and eat some healthy food! Maybe your blood sugar is too low to allow you to think.
6) Listen to your favourite artists for inspiration. Be respectful of all of the outstanding music around you. Notice how other
songwriters and composers do it.
7) Phone a friend or spend an hour with someone who loves you and thinks you're great. Or be your own best friend.
Recall several incredible things you've accomplished in your lifetime.
8) Take a step back. Stop thinking about it at all. If something is just impossible, take a run at it later.
9) Consider taking on a co-writer. Some people can start songs but have trouble finishing them. Others can edit well, but
they can't start as well as you can. Offer someone half the writer's credits if they can write you a new chorus, or a second
verse, or restructure your chords and melody for you. It's worth it to get your song off the ground. And you might discover
a really productive creative partnership.
10) Sleep on it. Your brain may just be too tired, or too close to the problem, to see the solution. Your left-brain may have too
tight a grip on the process. As you fall asleep and it lets go, your right-brain artistic mind can take over, and you may
literally dream up a perfect new section of your song
After enough time has elapsed, look at every line with a fresh, objective eye. Don't be afraid to throw lines out that aren't
working. There's always more where that came from! Your wellspring of creativity is endless!
- These songwriting tips are offered by the Co-Founder of SASS Canada, Artemis Chartier -