July 24, 2020

About the Author: Stefan Joubert

Stefan Joubert
Stefan Joubert is the manager of the London Singing Institute. He is passionate about helping adults find their voice. He truly believes that no one is too old or not talented enough to start singing. To drastically improve your voice with some of London's most outstanding vocal coaches, contact Stefan at enrol@londonsinginginstitute.co.uk

Famous singer-songwriters make their craft look easy and effortless, however, there is a lot of theory, practice and years of consistent writing that makes them truly great. If you’re already a vocalist and musician looking to delve into songwriting, we have some helpful songwriting tips and techniques for you!

1. Brush up on your skills as a musician

An excellent knowledge of music theory would go a long way in helping you write music. We often think of it as an art that comes naturally, however, studying things like scales and chord theory will make it so much easier for you to put together a coherent piece of music. You don’t have to be a virtuoso musician, however, brushing up on your piano or guitar skills will certainly help you improvise and play around with different ideas, and come up with new potential songs. It’s also easier to accompany yourself as you try to work out a vocal line and lyrics.

2. Study song structure

One of the best ways to study song structure is to simply listen to your favourite songs and pay extra attention to their different passages. Songs normally consist of intro, verse, bridge (normally between verse and chorus), chorus and middle 8 (often consisting of a guitar solo or a different vocal line). Notice how these parts flow into each other and the way the songs are structured. Many artists will start straight from the chorus or even add a post-chorus as an additional hook. There aren’t specific rules in terms of the structure, but keep in mind that your songs should grab the listener’s attention, so it may be worth avoiding long-winded intros if you’re looking to write something commercially appealing.

3. Increase your vocabulary

Becoming a good wordsmith comes with practice and the best way to build up your vocabulary is to read and write as much as possible. Read books, poetry and listen carefully to how other artists use metaphors, rhymes and the way they choose to express themselves lyrically. Any form of creative writing will also help you develop your skills, even things like blogging and writing short stories, that may not necessarily have anything to do with music. When you do write lyrics, use tools like Thesaurus and Rhymezone that will help you find clever alternatives to your words and find ones that rhyme well.

4. Use rhymes and assonance

You have probably noticed that most songs use rhymes. A simple way to come up with rhyming words is to start with rhyming schemes. In ‘Yesterday ‘by The Beatles, every line uses the same rhyme:

‘Yesterday
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday’

Every line ends with ‘ay’ and it makes quite a simple ‘AAAA’ rhyming scheme. For something more complex, you could use ‘ABAB’ scheme where the 1st and 3rd line will rhyme with each other and 2nd and 4th will do the same respectively. There is a vast amount of combinations and rhyme schemes you can use, and we may have another blog coming up looking at these in more detail.

Another clever writing trick you can use is assonance, which is the resemblance of sound between two syllables of nearby words. In a sentence ‘go slow over the road’, the assonance is found between the ‘o’ sound in ‘slow’ and ‘road’. Assonance is much more subtle than rhyming and it’s often perceived subconsciously, however, it’s a great skill to add to your songwriting arsenal. It can even help you set the mood of the song. Use of shorter vowel sounds will complement a high energy, upbeat piece while longer vowel sounds will contribute to a more sombre tone.

5. Tell a story

Think of your favourite songs and how they make you feel. It’s likely that you’re able to resonate with the main protagonist or the story, whether the mood of the song is angry, sad or happy and upbeat. Most popular song themes include love, whether that’s falling in love, unrequited love or love lost. That is because most of us are able to resonate with this topic to some degree. Other popular topics include overcoming difficulty, conquering a situation, partying and enjoying life, the everyman and more. You don’t necessarily need to write about your own situation either. Many songwriters get inspired by the stories of others, film and tv, books etc. It’s important that your listeners are able to relate to what you’re saying, but everyone will have their own experiences. Adding detail to your songs will set the mood and describe the situation, however, you can keep some wording vague and metaphorical, so that others are able to fill the gaps and find their own interpretation. As a general tip, use your verses for detail, and chorus as a summary of the song’s message. Also, consider how the rest of your arrangement complements the lyrics and the vocal line. Remember, we are able to perceive emotion from wordless melodies too, so use the instrumental to your advantage.

6. Add a hook (or a few)

The word ‘hook’ is used in so many contexts, it can be difficult to distinguish what it actually is. The hook is the part of the song that is catchy and memorable, and this could be an instrumental part, a vocal line or a one-shot sound like a scream, laugh or percussion. Your sound could also have multiple hooks, for example, ABBA’s ‘Mamma Mia’ has several from the guitar riffs to the chorus. Hooks are normally repeated a few times throughout the song, which helps to embed them into your listener’s memory. So, when you write your next song, think about the little details and catchy melodies that will make it distinctive and memorable.

7. Don’t be afraid to experiment

While it’s great to get inspired by the works of others, think of what makes you unique. Maybe there are some interesting sounds you can use in your music, switch up your song structure, surprise your audience? Try to avoid making your songs sound too predictable and perfect, don’t be afraid to leave in some imperfections and add instrumentation or sections that are a little unpredictable and engaging to your listeners. Even some of the most generic-sounding records use textures and production techniques that make them sound different and ear-catching.

8. Be prepared to let go of your ideas

As we mentioned in our previous blog, songwriting is a wasteful art and you’re likely going to write several until you come up with one that sounds good and seems worthy of releasing. That’s absolutely fine. When you write, change your mindset from ‘I must come up with something great’ and ‘I have to release this’ to ‘I’m just playing with some ideas to see where they take me’. Once you get the initial bones of the song down, you can decide whether this feels something worthy of showing people or not. Even if you don’t use all elements of a song you wrote, you can incorporate some of them into new ideas. You may end up with a collection of riffs, chord progressions and lyrics that haven’t been used in a completed project. Chances are, you will revisit them later. Don’t think that writing something and not releasing it is a waste of time, at best you’ll build up a catalogue of ideas for later and at worst you will have used that time to develop your writing skills.

9. Find your unique sound

You can often recognise other artists by their distinct sound. This might change as the artist progresses, but it’s likely that at least a portion of their song catalogue will have a similar style. Budding songwriters often wonder how to find theirs, and the best advice is to keep writing. Write songs in different genres until you start to distil what sounds truly authentic to you and complements your musicianship and vocals. Don’t forget that different production and recording techniques could make a huge difference in setting your tone apart from others, so be sure to research it or work with a producer who can help you hone that sound.

10. Don’t be afraid to collaborate

Songwriting feels very intimate and personal to most of us, and you may have reservations about getting other people involved in your process. It can, however, be a great way to help you develop! Other artists may bring in fresh ideas or see things from a perspective you never thought of. Collaborating with others will also help you get out of your comfort zone and become more confident in sharing your ideas. Another benefit of working with other artists is expanding your fan base, as well as theirs, and attracting a wider range of audiences to your project!

We hope you enjoyed our top 10 songwriting tips for beginners and that they will help you get started on your next great song.

Tags: Songwriting tips, Tips for writing songs

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Tags: Songwriting tips, Tips for writing songs