Lyrical Songwriting

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Songwriting By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Songwriting
Last updated: 04/03/2018
Tags: composing, composition, songwriting, songwriting tips, writing songs

Lyrical Songwriting - creating a song through the music of words

I have always believed that inside every one of us, there lies hidden at least one song – something that cannot be uttered in ordinary everyday language and life, but needs to be expressed. Many people think that only if you experience sudden inspiration can you write a good song, but, as in so many other pursuits, success is often a matter of learning a technique or a number of techniques and practising the craft, over and over. The first few songs might not be anything you’d necessarily want to sing to everyone - but with each song you write you become more adept, and interestingly, may well find that the visits from the muses are no longer so far and few between!

Songwriting was something I became interested in during the coal strikes of the early 1970s – if this hadn’t happened, I may never have begun writing. There was no electricity – no telly, no light, no heat and we had to entertain ourselves by candlelight through those difficult weeks. Musically, it was one of the best things that happened to me!

My first song was a little country ditty called “Photograph Album” and I performed it to my family by candlelight. It wasn’t a bad try for a 12-year-old who knew about 4 or 5 guitar chords but it was definitely one I’d never sing in public now. There are dozens more which my mother, embarrassingly, used to pull out of a folder with a flourish and a “Didn’t you write this song as well? Why don’t you sing it to (fill in gap with name of unfortunate visitor on that day).”  Nevertheless, these juvenile attempts taught me a huge amount about putting together words, melody and backing.

My usual technique to write songs is to begin with a theme and with the words. If there is something I want to sing about I will begin by writing a poem. This can sometimes take weeks. A couple of lines could be hanging around in a drawer until another line comes to mind. Sometimes a poem can rattle out of the end of my pen in minutes. Sometimes I can be in the car, listening to a CD when THWACK! – an idea hits my brain and I have to chant it over and over until I can find a parking spot in order to stop and write it down in safety.

If I can’t get ideas I'll do an exercise to fire up the old grey cells. For example, I might rummage around in my little rhyming dictionary for some interesting or unusual rhymes, and see whether I can weave a lyric around these. I might open a book and choose a phrase or sentence (almost) at random.

Once words are written they have their own mood, their own rhythm, their own life. Every utterance we make has rhythm and pitch. We don’t speak in a monotone as a rule. Speech is already song-like, in a way.  Reading out a poem in a kind of sing-songy, chanting way, we can often feel a rhythm growing out of the words, and – if not particular pitches – we can hear where the pitch of our voice might go up, or down. The words themselves will dictate the speed and mood of the tune and backing.  “I woke up this morning and my man done gone left me” is unlikely to evoke a “gangnam style” rendering – it’s more likely to demand something bluesy.

In my teaching and workshops I encourage budding songwriters to begin with words and to radiate out from their lyrics, once they’re constructed. The lyrics can always be amended later, but they give a useful starting point.

There are, of course,  other ways of writing songs – starting with the tune, or starting with some chords and building a song onto them is another way, starting with a known song you like, altering the words, altering the chords – often different chords can comfortably sit over the same tune – and then altering the tune until you have a completely different song that grew out of the original.

Sometimes,  I’ll touch on these different techniques, if there’s time. I wouldn’t insist that lyric-based song-writing is necessarily the only way, but it works for me and so this tends to be the starting point in my workshops and classes.


Trixi Field Jazz/ Pop Singing Teacher (Shrewsbury)

About The Author

As a patient and encouraging teacher, I warmly welcome all enquiries and look forward to nurturing your love of music, languages and/or yoga. Do feel free to browse through my information and contact me if you have any further queries.

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