Tips for Writing Lyrics to Your First Song

Songwriting Tips: How to Write Lyrics To Your First Song

Tips for Writing Lyrics to Your First SongAre  you learning to play guitar because you want to be able to write your own songs? Guitar teacher Samuel B. shares some tips to help you write lyrics to your first song…

Just as writing a song on guitar can seem like work for only a select few, so can writing the words to one. Once again, this assumption and the truth are completely unrelated. You don’t need to be Bob Dylan or Bernie Taupin to do it – you only need to have something to say.

I first began writing lyrics as teenager. My summer camp bunkmate frequently played me homemade recordings of his two-person band. He was likely the first person who introduced me to the idea that a song’s lyrics don’t have to make imminent and immediate sense – they need only come from inside you. Themes in his material ranged from Star Trek-esque imagery of ice skating on the surface of the moon to a song about someone’s bearskin rug. “I write my songs and then interpret them later,” he said.

With this in mind, I began doing the same. By the time I was in college, I’d become familiar enough with the process that I was finally able to add humor into it and create what effectively became a tribute to the famous children’s book Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs about raining food:

I sat and stared at my linguine on my plate.
Its origin could be a matter of debate.
It looks like weather here.
Weather I hold dear.
Weather that does not show up here everyday.

Here’s where a thread to soloing is apparent – in writing lyrics it’s more important to feel than it is to think. Writing words and playing improvised notes are actually two different versions of the same thing – they’re intimate forms of expression clouded only by your internal resistance to playing (or writing) what you hear in your head. During a recent lesson about soloing, I told my student that the notes are already waiting there for you – you need only play them. The same applies to your lyrics.

If you find yourself perpetually wanting to write a song on guitar but aren’t sure how to begin writing lyrics, I strongly suggest writing blues stanzas. The blues follows a frequently predictable pattern (based on a call-and-response tradition) in which a line is presented, repeated, and followed with a relevant second line:

I hate to see evening sun go down.
I hate to see evening sun go down.
‘Cause it makes me think I’m on my last go-round.

I’m ready – ready as anybody can be.
I’m ready – ready as anybody can be.
I’m ready for you. I hope you’re ready for me.

The girl I’m loving she’s got great long curly hair.
The girl I’m loving she’s got great long curly hair.
And her mama and her papa well, they sure don’t allow me there.

You might try improvising stanzas while playing a twelve-bar chord progression (E-E-E-E-A-A-E-E-B7th-A-E-E/B7th) and seeing where that takes you. Making up spontaneous blues songs may prove an enjoyable (and often funny) first step for you as a songwriter that will begin to teach you to allow your imagery to flourish without red tape. Think of it as an advanced form of Mad Libs.

Finally, don’t worry about writing too many or too few songs. Arlo Guthrie has used a fishing metaphor to describe the process of “catching” a good one. Bruce Springsteen has traditionally written roughly seventy songs per album and picked out only the ten or twelve that aesthetically fit together best. Some of your songs will be better than others. Don’t let this discourage you at all. The good ones will always find you, more often than the reverse.

Learn more: Check out our guide to songwriting!

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!



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3 Things Every Guitarist Needs to Know About Songwriting

3 Things Every Guitarist Needs To Know About Songwriting

3 Things Every Guitarist Needs to Know About SongwritingWriting a song can be one of the most satisfying experiences you’ll have with your instrument! Guitar teacher Samuel B. shares three things every guitarist should know about writing a song on guitar…

As a teacher, having you develop the ability to express yourself is my number one goal. Playing guitar solos is one form of personal expression. Writing songs is another. If you’ve never written a song, you might think of songwriting as something that only a few special people can do. In reality, nothing is further from the truth.

Anyone Can Write a Song

During an 1990s interview in Performing Songwriter Magazine, John Mellencamp was asked whether or not songwriting is something that comes naturally to him. His response was “I think everyone’s a songwriter.” He compared songwriting to shooting baskets and hitting baseballs. There are, of course, people with greater abilities than others, but he made it clear that songwriting is not something that only five people in the world can do.

Lionel Ritchie once slapped his hand rhythmically on the arm of a chair in response to a very similar question. “All of you who can hear a song or a melody playing in your head right now,” he said. “You’re a songwriter.” Songwriting requires no special training or qualifications – only the ability to hear music and the desire to create it. Although I teach soloing only at a set point in the curriculum (after you’ve learned chords in the keys of C, D, and E), songwriting skills can be taught at any time.

Most American Songs Are All Loosely Based On The Same Three Chords

E, A, and B7th are as basic to the key of E as D, G, and A7th are to D, and C, F, and G7th are to C. These are three examples of the I-IV-V chord progression which can be heard in campfire songs, gospel, contemporary country, rock, folk, and (of course) the blues. The pattern gets its name from the fact that C is the first note of the C scale (just as F is the 4th and G is the 5th). Although you’ll want to make variations in each song (such as the amount of time you play each chord), you’ll be surprised how many options three chords will provide you.

You may decide to write a song with verses and choruses only (ie “This Land Is Your Land”). You may decide to add a bridge (which you will play only once). You may decide to include verses and a bridge only. Whatever your preference, you will likely want to include a minor chord somewhere in the mix for variety’s sake. Am is the appropriate choice for a song in the key of C (just as Bm is for a song in the key of D and Cm is for one in E).

Bridges Are Often Structurally Simpler Than Verses And Choruses

One song I teach that’s become a favorite of at least one student is Bob Dylan’s “Man In The Long Black Coat.” The entire song involves four chords (Em, G, D, and C), includes verses and a bridge only, and involves fewer chord changes during the bridge than the verses. The Em, G, and D progression is repeated four times during a verse before a full measure of C interrupts the flow. The verse concludes with one final round of the Em, G, and D sequence.

The bridge, however, begins with a full measure of C. Its second measure involves two strums of D and two strums of Em before another full of measure of C is played. Just like in the verses, the bridge concludes with a single go-around of the opening sequence (Em, G, and D). You might think of the bridge as the song’s chance to “air out.” For the musician, it’s actually a more relaxing part of the song as it tends to be where both the tempo and the rate of chord changes decrease.

Although these are all important guidelines for how to get started, you may find that your compositional preferences involve more (or fewer) chords than those I’ve recommended. You might become absorbed in an elaborate picking pattern that requires fewer than three chords. You might branch out into jazz a bit and want to embellish a four-chord song with some additional variants (ie minor seventh, ninth, augmented, and/or diminished chords). Songwriting is a process (not a product) in which you slowly discover who you are as a musician. Enjoy the ride!

Learn more: Check out our guide to writing a song!

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!




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2 Questions Every Songwriter Should Be Able to Answer

15871437792_8aac14a13a_kNot sure where to start when it comes to writing songs? Check out these songwriting tips from Austin, TX teacher Gfire M...


I started writing songs fairly early on at age 11, but I never thought about songwriting technique until later, when I studied with teachers from Berklee College, and in Los Angeles and Nashville. I now have songs that have been played on more than 200 radio and television programs around the world, including UnderCurrents, a syndicated program that airs on more than 65 NPR radio stations in the United States. It was a natural progression to teach what I know about songwriting to my singing, piano, and guitar students who wanted to express themselves in an individual manner. Here are two questions to ask yourself before writing a song:

1. What is your song about?

It is best if you can express the idea you want to convey in a single sentence. Songs are very short, averaging 3-5 minutes in length, so you really want to stay focused on one idea. Some examples are: “You and I will never, ever, ever, get back together,” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and “Your love lifts me higher and higher.” Write your sentence on the top of the page you are using to write your new song!

2. What song formula are you going to follow?

If you study songs that you like, you will notice that there are formulas that a lot of songs follow. One common formula is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.  (Check out Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” for an example of this formula.) So if we call the verse “A,” the chorus “B,” and the bridge “C,” the formula would be called A, B, A, B, C, B. Start with this formula for your first song — all you really have to write is two verses, a chorus, and a bridge.

Other Songwriting Tips to Consider

If your first song isn’t as good as the ones you hear on the radio, don’t worry – it’s your first song! If you write a new song every month this year, you’ll have 12 songs and you will get better and better at really expressing what you want to say and developing your songwriting voice.

You should also study your favorite bands and songwriters — analyze the structure of your favorite songs and then practice writing a song that follows that same structure. Again, the more you practice writing songs — and I do recommend completing each song, whether you think it is any good or not — the more you’ll refine your technique.

Find a Songwriting Teacher

A teacher can give you even more songwriting tips as you work on your songs. Just as you would take months or years of singing, guitar, or piano lessons, if you book lessons with a good songwriting teacher and invest a minimum of three months of lessons and practical work (i.e. write and finish one song per month), you will get better much faster than if you are on your own.

You already are a unique person with plenty of stories and experiences to share. Now give yourself the chance to be the songwriter you always dreamed of being!!


Gfire teaches music theory, opera voice, piano, singing, and songwriting in Austin, TX. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music from University of Maryland, as well as her Master of the Science of Singing from Ernest George White Society. Learn more about Gfire here!



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3 Tools Every Successful Songwriter Needs


Do you want to write songs, but aren’t sure where to start? After you’ve asked yourself these two questions, it’s time to gather your materials and get to work. Read on for advice from Austin, TX teacher Gfire M...


Having started writing songs at age 11, then having studied with well-known songwriting teachers from Boston, LA, and Nashville, I have learned to keep three essential tools on my desk whenever I am developing a lyric. If you do the same, you will be able to add depth and originality to your songwriting — and it makes it more fun as well! Here are your three tools to help you as you write songs:

1) A dictionary

The dictionary helps you make sure the definition of a word really reflects what you want it to. Let’s take the word “love” as an example. The first definition on is “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.” That may be pretty accurate, but it is definitely used a lot! Which brings us to the next tool…

2) A thesaurus

A thesaurus gives you other choices for that word, which may be more specific to what you are trying to say. It also gives you choices that aren’t so overworked. With (just a click away from, you can at least consider some synonyms for “love” such as “passion,” “crush,” “emotion,” and “flame.”

3) A rhyming dictionary

A rhyming dictionary helps you out of trying to come up with rhymes out of thin air.

“Love” is notoriously hard to rhyme (who needs another “turtle dove”), so check out the rhymes (try for “flame” and, all of a sudden, you have options such as “game,” “name,” and “same.”

Now we’ll try another well-used word, “remember.” First we will look in the dictionary. One definition is “to retain in the memory; keep in mind; remain aware of.” That sounds good, on to the thesaurus. Some synonyms for “remember” include “recall,” “look back,” and “remind.” Oh boy, this is starting to sound interesting — now onto the rhyming dictionary! For “remember,” the choices are quite limited: “ember,” “member,” “December” — these rhymes are not so hot.

BUT when you look up rhymes for “recall” — including “fall,” “small,” “wall,” and “long haul” — there are a lot more selections. If your song could use “recall” instead of “remember,” you will have many more ways to go with your lyric. With “look back,” we could use “black,” “crack,” “lack,” or “attack.” And rhymes for “remind” are cool, too — “blind,” “find,” “signed,” “aligned,” and “behind.” Having all of these new words to paint a picture will help you stay excited and interested in your budding lyric.

An Easy Exercise to Help You Write Songs

Pick a word from a song you wrote, are writing, or want to write. Plug it into the dictionary, thesaurus, and rhyming dictionary, and you are ready to play around with your lyrics to make them original and full of meaning for you and your listeners.

If you still find yourself struggling after adding these tools to your routine, consider working with a songwriting teacher. A quality teacher can help you improve your songwriting technique much faster than working on your own.

Get ready to express yourself in your own unique songwriting style! You deserve to have this creative outlet, and you can totally make it happen for yourself!


Gfire teaches music theory, opera voice, piano, singing, and songwriting in Austin, TX. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Music from University of Maryland, as well as her Master of the Science of Singing from Ernest George White Society. Learn more about Gfire here!



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How to Promote Your Music Video: Tips for Singers

how to promote YouTube video

After you’ve made your first music video, how do you get it out there in the world? Here are some helpful tips for how to promote your YouTube video from Brooklyn, NY voice teacher Liz T...


So you’re a singer, and you’ve just made a killer music video, but perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to promote your video? Follow these simple steps to make sure your music video gets the attention it deserves!

1. Establish a strong social media presence

In order to get your name, image, music, and brand out there, it’s important that you upload your content onto the various social media channels so people can see and hear you! YouTube is the most obvious, but there are so many more options. I recommend using as many as the social media platforms as you can to promote your video, including:

  • YouTube
  • Vimeo
  • Instagram
  • Vine (Instagram and Vine don’t usually let you upload the full length of the video, but you can do little snippets as a trailer or sneak peak!)
  • We Are The Hits (a network for cover song videos)
  • Your personal website
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Don’t forget other music platforms such as PureVolume, SoundCloud, and ReverbNation, where you can upload your videos too! Of course, make sure your content is original and you own 100% of the rights before uploading.

2. Target your audience

Now that you have your music video on all these great social media sites, now it’s time to start targeting those fans! Think about who you are really trying to target. What age range and demographic would enjoy watching your videos?

Once you have decided on your audience, it’s time to build your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is all about your video content coming up in searches. This may sound scary at first, but it’s really quite simple. To do this for YouTube videos specifically, in Video Manager, under Basic Info, you’ll see a box where you can type in keywords to target your audience. Not many people know about this, but having the right keywords will help people find your music video among the millions of videos on the internet!

Think of adjectives and nouns when you watch your video. With my original music video “Ciao Bambino”, I added keywords that described the video, such as Italian, Boston, Berklee Alum, Breakup, etc. Having all the right keywords may lead you to getting all those views you want!

3. Make your music video/channel stand out

In order to get a lot of unique views, you want to make sure your video is creative. Here are a few tips to help make your video and channel stand out:

  • Include great photos, clips, and art to promote your video. Often, viewers will just see a thumbnail preview of your video, and if it’s blurry or not interesting, they will not click on it.
  • Follow or subscribe to other singers, musicians, and artists! When you show that you “Like” or support their material, they are very likely to follow you back.
  • Add lyrics and links to your other social media platforms, so your fans can follow you everywhere! The great benefit of online media is that you can have fans everywhere in the world, and many sites will let you track this to see in which countries your friends are watching your videos. Go big, and think global!

If you follow these basic tips for promoting your YouTube video, I guarantee you will start seeing more views, likes, and subscribers! It may not happen overnight, but with a little work, you never know who may see your video — songwriters and A&R reps are always on the look-out for new videos on the web. Good luck!

LizTLiz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons in Brooklyn, NY, as well as online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!



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Tips for Singers: How to Make Your Own Music Video

make your own music videoHave you ever wanted to make your own music video? Here, voice teacher Liz T. shares the steps for creating your first video…


With technology today, making videos for your personal website or platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, or Vine can be a great way to share your music with the world!

I have released several videos to my original songs, and want to help you create your first music video. Follow my tips for creative inspiration!

1. Visualize Your Music

So you’ve recorded a great song — now your task is to sit down with a notebook and visualize your music. What is the story or scenes you want to depict in your video? Jot down as many ideas that come to you. Think of characters, places, props, scenery, costumes, and so on. Look in your lyrics and melody to help with your brainstorming! Really get creative, and don’t be afraid to explore. You want your video to be original, so don’t try to copy another person’s vision!

Once you have your ideas, this will be your visual storyboard that you should give to your videographer and actors involved in the music video. There are many acting websites online (and even Craigslist) where you can advertise for people to act in your music video. Some will want pay, but some will do this for free to build up their acting reels! You can also recruit family and friends — you may be surprised how many of your friends will want to participate!

2. Find a Videographer

Find a videographer who has a decent camera and knows how to work with actors and musicians. He or she should also have a knowledge of editing music and putting it to film. I suggest asking to see some of their work before you hire your videographer. Also, consider your budget; I personally would not spend more than $1,000 on your music video if you are an indie artist. You can often find film students and videographers who are just starting out and may even volunteer their services to build their portfolio.

Once you’ve hired your videographer, send him or her your music, lyrics, and visual storyboard ahead of time so that everyone will be prepared when it comes time to filming! You should also scout out locations ahead of time. You may want to select a place where you can shoot for free, such as your neighborhood street, the subway, parks, or a church. You can also reach out to local businesses and offer them promotion and advertising in your video. I’ve filmed many scenes of my videos for free at local restaurants, bars, music stores, and schools to help advertise their company, and they love it!

3. Filming

Now that you have your visual storyboard, videographer, actors, and set locations, it’s time to film! Make sure you allot several hours for filming. Some people prefer to shoot all in one day, while others may want to break it up over time. Just remember: filming always takes twice as long than expected. Weather, traffic, and noise can factor into your shooting time.

When you shoot your video, you can either lip sync or sing along with your track. Either way, it should look real and authentic. It’s best to have your song playing near you while you’re shooting the scene, either on your iPhone or on a set of speakers.

4. Editing Your Final Product

It’s important that your videographer takes multiple shots, or takes, of the scenes you are doing. He or she should also film you singing the entire song, so that you will have enough footage to use. Most music videos are between two to five minutes long, and you will need a lot of footage to choose from for your video. You may want to ask your videographer for a rough draft of the video, and also ask him or her what a realistic timeframe is for the completed video. It’s not a bad idea to have a contract in writing of both your expectations.

Follow these steps and you’ll be able to make your own music video that showcases your work and your talent. Now get out there are start filming!

LizTLiz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons in Brooklyn, NY, as well as online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!



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How to Write a Song on Guitar in 10 Simple Steps

905658140_57c557209e_bDo you dream of expressing yourself by playing your own, original song on the guitar? The good news is, just about anyone can write a song, and these tips from Jacksonville guitar teacher James W. will have you on the “write” track…

If you have a story to tell, then you have something to say with your songwriting, and guitar is your backup instrument. In other words, use your guitar to support your singing. Write your story down and keep your lyric ideas in a folder or binder just for songs. Save them to a folder on your computer  too.

Alex Alessandro, musical director for Mariah Carey, says of writing songs: “Not an easy thing to do – make it all new yet still somehow familiar.” So how do you do it?

Step 1: Figure out what it is that you like about the songs that you love to sing and listen to every day. Why are they so good? What is the guitar’s role in the song? Is it supporting the piano and vocal? Does your song have a traditional chorus with a big payoff that gives you a lift? Personally I think of the chorus as a nice payday. It’s where you hit your stride and really have a good time.

Step 2: Analyze the chord structures of your favorite songs. Are they verse, verse, chorus, and then bridge, or do they just repeat verses and choruses? Does the guitar make the song really come to life or does it need more? Trust your instinct about the song and let the guitar reveal its secrets as you play the song yourself. Follow your gut feelings and then use a family member or friend as a sounding board. Playing songs you love is a great way to learn how to write a song on guitar yourself.

Step 3: What is it that holds the structure of the song together? Is there an unforgettable hook for the guitar to play? As with many songs it may be a chord progression we all know, but, when you sing the song you make it your own. Does the song have a modulation where it goes up a whole step in key from A major to B major and then back to A major? What do you enjoy about the melody? Remember John Lennon told his son Julian “If you can whistle it as you are walking away, then you know you’ve got something.”

Step 4: Look for the key the song is in if you haven’t already. Search for it on the guitar. This is good ear training. If you see something special is happening make note of it. Would you sing it better if you transposed it to another key? Does it sound better on 12 string guitar or 6 string guitar?

Step 5: Now that you have figured out one of your favorite songs you can most likely write one. Think of a song title – make it a good one. And allow for changes. Interesting titles can make a song stick in your head and the audience will love it. Great guitar playing will also be memorable.

Step 6: It is a given that you have to work at this – sometimes a song takes 10 minutes and other times a song takes 2 years to finish! Allow for that. Just be productive and keep creating and transcribing other people’s songs. As you develop your ear it gets easier to do this. It will open up new areas for creative writing. And always have a guitar with you and your iPhone. You never know when inspiration will strike, and you use the recorder on your iPhone or smartphone to save it.

Step 7: Share your best songs with another writer who is a pal, or with your music teacher. Professional songwriter and guitar player Sheryl Crow formed a Tuesday Night Songwriting Social Club. You can too. I highly recommend this! It’s good to have ideas to bounce off one another. The benefits of having songwriting partners are too many to even list. A partner can make your song better in ways you may never think of in a million years, and if you’re lucky they may even help you write a # 1 hit single.

Step 8: Let the song breathe- allow space so your listener can absorb the sounds and think and feel what you want them to – don’t fill up every last second with notes. Allow a place for the music to come to life. A famous singer-songwriter once said: “The music is really in the silence.” What does this mean? It means the music has a place to live and be structured, yet still breathe life into the melody.

Step 9: Keep playing your songs. They will reveal their secrets to you. You may be pleasantly surprised by this and delight in it. As time goes by your craft of songwriting will improve and your income may just reflect that.

Step 10: Put the song in an entirely different beat or key just to see if it will be better and “dance around the vocal and grow.” It may be the missing ingredient. As popular songs go, if you create one you love chances are others will love it too. So dig in and have fun! Try it on electric and then on acoustic guitar. Try it out on a travel guitar, or even an 8 string guitar. You never know what you may find.

Writing a song on the guitar can put joy in your heart and bring something beautiful to the world. Conversely it can evoke other emotions in people including anger, hope, denial, curiosity, love, hate, and everything in between. Music is about what we feel. Some folks write only ten great songs and loads of duds. Some write 4 great ones that are hits and survive and thrive off the royalties. Regardless of the adventure in writing and in your “life in music” you can create a little gem if you keep at it. Your guitar is your BFF- Best Friend Forever. Always have it handy!

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share on how to write a song on guitar? Let us know in the comments below!

Learn more: Check out our Ultimate Guide to Songwriting!

james-walsh-150x150James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!




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6 Resources for Creating Your Own Sheet Music

Tips On Writing Your Own Sheet MusicAs you develop your musical skills, you may become interested in writing your own music. While learning to play an instrument and being able to play others’ music is a wonderful skill, nothing compares to creating sheet music full of your own compositions!

As a budding songwriter, you’ll need to add some additional skills to your repertoire. Writing music can be as simple as putting a pen to paper, or you can take advantage of the many songwriting tools technology offers. Whether you’re sketching out notes for yourself, writing the next pop hit, or creating sheet music of arrangements for a big band, the most important step is to just get started.

First: Where to Find Free Blank Sheet Music

The easiest method is the oldest! Nothing beats a crisp blank piece of staff paper as you pick up your pen and begin your musical journey. There are many free resources online for printing blank staff paper. Here are two of the best:

This website allows you to print any kind of blank sheet music for free. No matter what instrument you’re writing for, you can find pre-designed sheet music for it here. They offer blank pages set up for piano and keyboard (grand staff), blank guitar tab, bass clef, blank mandolin sheet music, and even sheet music set-up for choir. is a site that not only offers more than 100 different downloadable and printable PDFs of blank staff paper, it also offers information on how to write music! Whether you’re looking for paper to jot down your next pop song or orchestral opus, you’ll find it here for free.

Next: Apps & Programs for Writing Music

Technology has changed the way we do almost everything, and writing music is no exception. Today, there are hundreds of applications and programs that can get you started composing on your laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone.  They range in price from free to several hundred dollars. Here are some of the best:

MuseScore is a free program that allows you to create, play, and print sheet music. It’s a great alternative to professional notation programs like Sibelius and Finale (see below). Muse Score is available for Mac and Windows along with various open source systems like Linux and Fedora. When you visit the MuseScore website, make sure to take advantage of their online video tutorials to help you get started.

Available for free on the Google Apps store, Music Composer works on your Android smartphone or tablet. It’s an intuitive, easy-to-use application that helps you notate your musical ideas on the go, whenever and wherever inspiration strikes!

It features a notation editor (that supports chords), and easy options to change tempo, clef, key signature, time signature, keys, and instruments. Also, Music Composer comes with 128 instrument sounds built in so you can hear your music played as you write it! When you’re finished composing, you can then export your sheet music as a printable image file or a playable audio file.

Sibelius is the world’s best-selling music notation software used by professional composers, publishers, and advanced music students. It allows you to quickly express and promote your music, allowing you to share both audio and video of your work. It is the fastest, smartest, and easiest way to write music for performance, film, television, or the classroom. It’s a professional tool worth considering if you are serious about composing.

Finale is another professional-level music notation program. Many music programs are drag-and-drop interfaces where you select items from a menu and drop them on the staff, but Finale offers complete freedom and flexibility. It offers extremely realistic playback of your compositions and allows you to print charts and scores.

Finale also offers several lower-priced, upgradable products, including Printmusic (a “lite”version of Finale, at $119.95), which can print up to 24 staves. Another option, Songbook, is a free digital sheet music app for your tablet — great for bringing all of your music to rehearsal on your tablet!

Composing is natural next step as your music skills advances. Whether you take the simplest approach of putting pen to paper, opt for free notation apps, or invest in a professional-level notation program, the key is to just get started! A great way to learn about composition is to work with a qualified teacher. If you already study with one, ask your teacher to help you. He or she can offer insight into the best way to get started and can help you with the learning curve if you choose to use software. Good luck!

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The Real Secret to Improving Your Band’s Sound

band practice

Do you want your band to sound even better? (Who doesn’t?!) Here, San Diego, CA teacher Maegan W. shares her secret for improving the group’s sound as well as your individual musical skills…


Do you think a metronome is just a personal preference for some musicians? Are you one of those musicians who KNOWS your time is perfect and unmatched? Well I’ve got news for you — it probably isn’t as spot-on as you think.

Most fights in bands are due to someone being off-time, and unable to accept that it is them. The truth is that most people honestly believe they are on time. As a drummer, I learned a long time ago the only way to know for sure how good your timing really is, is to use a metronome.

I’m not suggesting that you always play, practice, and perform with your metronome — not all music calls for that. What I am suggesting is that you take your musicianship to a whole other level, and take your power back! There is no greater feeling than knowing 100% where each note, beat, lick, and fill fits in the time and space of the song.

Singer-songwriters and guitar players… I’m calling you out. I challenge you to use a metronome when practicing and learning songs. I have played with so many amazingly talented musicians, guitar-playing singer-songwriters who performed and sounded fantastic alone, but when it came to a band setting, they were like complete beginners. Don’t let this be you.

Here are some ideas on how to get comfortable with the metronome as you’re singing or playing guitar with your band:

1) Listen to your songs against the “click.” This will help you to see where everything really lines up, and how much time you actually have to do whatever you want to do or play.

2) Devote at least 10% of your practice routine to practicing with the metronome. I recommend more like 50-90% but baby steps are fine for people not used to practicing with the metronome.

3) If you’re in a band, have “The Talk.” This will hold everyone equally accountable for doing what they can to improve their personal timing, which will improve the band’s time as a whole. Also having a group practice where the drummer listens to a click is helpful too. It instantly builds trust and competence. (If there is a problem member that can’t admit or see their faults, it may be helpful to have some practices where everyone can hear the click through the speakers, to shine light on what needs extra attention.)

4) Be humble. Learning that your timing sucks can be a hard realization, especially for sensitive musicians. This can bruise the ego and come out as anger. Remember the point is not to be “right” or make someone feel defeated. The point is to improve your band’s sound, as well as individual sound. The metronome is the Truth, and sometimes the Truth hurts.

5) Slow down! The best way to really lock down any song, riff, groove, fill, or solo is to slow way down. Take the tempo down to half or 3/4’s of the original tempo and practice in slow motion, to let your brain and muscles learn exactly where everything fits. Do this until your muscle memory learns the movement of the piece. Then when you speed back up, do it gradually in increments of 5 or 10 bpms until you arrive back at the original tempo. Then push past 10 or 20 bpms so you truly have it mastered. You never know when you will need to play it faster or slower, but with this practice, you will be prepared no matter what the speed.

These are just a few ways to incorporate the metronome as you’re playing guitar, singing, or whatever part you play in your band. I hope this is helpful — and remember, it’s about taking baby steps. This is not something you just want to brush off. Being a master at time will make you a more valuable musician, and more confident in your skills too. It may be tough at first, but anything worth learning is.

Go easy on yourself and/or your band. It is challenging, but I know you can do it!

Maegan WMaegan W. teaches drums, songwriting, and more in San Diego, CA. She earned a degree in Percussion from the Musician’s Institute, and has been teaching private lessons since 2004.  Learn more about Maegan here!



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Inside the Mind of a Young Songwriter | TakeLessons Student Spotlight

sara c

Recently, some TakeLessons students performed at the San Diego Kids Expo, and I had the pleasure of meeting a very talented young lady, Sara C. who takes music lessons with Kristen B. In addition to singing, playing the guitar, and playing piano, Sara is also a budding songwriter. Did I mention she’s only 14?

I was lucky enough to get the chance to ask Sara a few questions about what music means to her, the songwriting tips she’s learned along the way, and how her music lessons have helped her to make music and start sharing it with the world.

Have you always loved music? Who or what inspired you to start taking music lessons?

Sara: I’ve always loved singing. When I was young I would sing “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid over and over until my entire family got sick of it, but to me it was really fun. At a young age I wanted to take violin lessons, but then changed my mind and started learning to play the piano. I took piano lessons for seven years and, I’m not going to lie, I hated it. However, not long after I asked my parents if I could start voice lessons because I knew that it wasn’t music that I hated, I just didn’t appreciate classical piano music at the time. However, now I do have an appreciation for classical piano music. I love going to my vocal lessons to learn about and play music. Music is a big part of my life.

You also write your own songs. How did you get started as a songwriter?

Sara: As a really little kid I remember going to the grocery store with my mom and while I sat in the shopping cart I would sing little melodies to her that I had made up. Then when I was about seven years old, I wrote this song called “All the Wonders”. The lyrics made absolutely no sense, but that was the first complete song I ever wrote. Of course at the time I had no idea how to write a piano accompaniment or play the guitar so it was just a vocal part. I’ve written many more songs since then, accompanied with the piano or guitar, and I’d certainly like to think I’ve improved. I’ve also written a couple of piano pieces.

You have a lot of confidence as a performer. What goes through your head when you’re on stage?

Sara: When I’m performing in front of people I get really into it — the atmosphere and the song that I’m playing. If I’m performing an original song I get really excited that I’m letting the world hear something that I created. I concentrate on the way that I sound in the speakers with the music flowing through my brain and the feeling that the song gives me and anyone listening. I get nervous sometimes, but I’ve been told by countless music teachers that if you make a mistake and act like nothing happened, most of the time nobody will notice. In addition to all of this, usually what is going on in my head is, “Wow this is so cool, real people are listening to me.” I love the feeling.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in the course of your music lessons so far?

Sara: In my experiences with music lessons, I’ve learned that you have to know what you want to get anything done. You also need to love what you’re doing. You can’t really walk into a piano lesson and play a bunch of music that you hate because then you aren’t ever really trying. It’s similar with voice lessons. If you want to focus your one hour a week with this person on a specific technique or song, you need to tell them. Otherwise, you’re not doing anything productive for yourself. If you want your teacher to teach you how to make harmonies, how to write music, or how to create accompaniment you’ve got to let them know. If you don’t, they’ll still teach you really great stuff to know how to do, but if you aren’t interested in it, it won’t make any difference for you.

What advice or songwriting tips would you give to other young people who want to make music?

Sara: If you want to make music and you’re really serious about it, don’t let anything stop you from doing that. I’ve had so many instances when I’ve let myself believe that I wasn’t good enough to do anything musical. My dream has always been to create a real studio album and perform it in front of people who love all of the songs on that album. I’ve started to try this so many times, but then gotten distracted by other things in my life. That’s perfectly normal of course, trying to discover what you like to do, but you can’t let these things distract you from what you love to do. If deep down you know you love music more than any other hobbies, you need to let yourself follow that path. I’ve written the first verse of a million songs but then gave up because I hated the melody or the lyrics and this is what brought me down, forcing me to not want to write any more. And then I would become motivated again, and sometimes I would write a really great song that I was proud of. Those are the moments that you need to keep in mind when you feel defeated. Not every song you write is going to be great, and at first you are not going to be perfect at playing the guitar, or piano, or trumpet, or whatever it is you want to learn how to play. You can’t let this bring you down. There will probably always be someone who is better than you, but it would be crazy to think that is a reason to stop playing. If it makes you happy, do it.

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