How to Write a Song on Piano | 6 Tips for Writing Lyrics

lyrics for piano music

Sara Bareilles, Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan, and Elton John — all amazing musicians who are known for playing the piano and writing heartfelt lyrics. Want to try your hand at it? Read on as Helendale, CA teacher Sylvia S. shares her tips for how to write a song on piano…

So you’ve learned to play piano and you’ve created some original sounds. Maybe you’d like to learn how to write a song on piano along with great lyrics, and you’re stumped. You’re not alone. Before one of the most famous songwriters of the 20th century came up with lyrics, one of his beautiful love songs was stuck with the abysmal rhyme “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs.”

Here are some tips to help you get started:

1) Don’t worry if your song doesn’t come together quickly, or even if some inane phrase is stuck in your head. See what you have to begin with. Is it a few chords? Perhaps a melody line? Or is there a nice rhythm you’d like to build upon? Maybe you have a story to tell about love or dancing or something you just want to sing about.

2) Take a good listen to what you like the most about your starting point, and what needs a little help. Notice those parts where words and music come together easily, even if it’s only a short phrase and melody. Jot it down on a piece of paper so you will remember later, and keep a pen and paper where you can reach it quickly at night. Often the perfect rhyme is in your subconscious dreams, so don’t be surprised if you wake up with the answer.

3) What if you have music and no ideas at all for words? Many successful songs are the result of two-person collaborations, where one person writes the music and the other writes the lyrics. Consider taking on a partner for this task, particularly if you know someone who’s good at writing poetry.

4) How about if you don’t have the music for a song yet, and you’re looking for poetry or other songs for inspiration to get things started? Unless the lyrics are in the public domain, it’s a good idea to get permission from the writer, even if you don’t plan to “go public” with your song.

5) On the other hand, public domain poetry is a marvelous and largely untapped resource to use for lyrics, usually with no permission required. I like Public Domain Poems, where I found this great potential song lyric from the poem “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Shelley: The fountains mingle with the rivers, and the rivers with the oceans. The winds of heaven mix forever with a sweet emotion.

6) Decide what you want the style and speed of your song to be, and also the message you wish to deliver. Is it a love song played slowly atop beautiful harmonies? Or is it a fast-paced dance song, with punchy chords in the right and a deft riff in the left hand? Is your preference a simple country ballad combined with a surprising or humorous observation of life? Maybe you like hip-hop and strong rhythmic motifs shared between the bass and treble?

Whichever style and message you choose, create a diagram for your song. A typical diagram is A-B-A-B. This type of song has two parts:

  • The A part, or the story line, is known as the verse. The words of the verse change each time the A-B pattern is repeated, usually as a rhyme that tells a story. The story continues and progresses throughout the song.
  • The B part, or the message, is known as the chorus. The words of the chorus are usually easy to remember and stay the same with each A-B repetition. A “hook” is a combination of words and melody that gets stuck in your mind. In some songs, a chorus rhymes, and in other songs it will repeat a strong non-rhyming statement like “I Love You,” or a call to action (like “Celebrate” or “Dance”). Deciding whether or not to rhyme is called “poetic license.”
  • In addition to parts A and B, some songs are more complicated, with a C part, or bridge, tossed in the song’s midst for interest.

Now that you have a few parts of your song working well, and you have a diagram to map out the road, it’s time to start writing the rest of the lyrics. Love songs and country ballads can generally have simpler rhymes and more complicated story lines or flowery descriptions. In contrast, dance songs and hip-hop often have complicated rhymes with a simple message. Whether you want to tell a story or show off poetic prowess, a rhyming dictionary is very helpful. I like RhymeZone.

SEE ALSO: 5 Ways to Start Composing 

Great songs are not always about interesting story lines or amazing rhymes. Sometimes the rhythm of the words, a simple message and melody, along with very basic rhymes can create a winning combination.

As for that unknown love song about breakfast food, it was magically transformed from mundane to memorable by these everyday words: “yesterday, faraway, here to stay, yesterday.”

Learn more: Check out our guide to songwriting!

SylviaSSylvia S. teaches singing, piano, theater acting, and more in Helendale, CA. She comes from a musical family of several generations, and her experience includes playing an electric keyboard and singing vocals in a professional, working band. Learn more about Sylvia here! 



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Tips for Writing a Song | Starting Songs And Ending Writer’s Block

tips for writing a song

Feeling stuck? Get back on track with these helpful tips for writing a song, courtesy of Perth Amboy, NJ teacher Jeff S...


One of the most frequent problems that songwriting students encounter is pushing past writer’s block and generating ideas for new songs. So here are several tips for writing a song that will help you overcome a creative dry spell and get you back to creative productivity.

Start With A Title
Think of some interesting subjects that you think would make good songs. Then come up with a list of catchy song titles for those subjects. Try to come up with titles that tie into your subjects, so that you can clue your listener into the storyline. Example: Your subject is a girl who is madly in love with a guy, but the guy can’t commit himself to her exclusively. Here are some titles based upon this scenario: “I’m Gonna Turn You Around”, “You Don’t Have To Look For Love”, “Won’t Find A Better Love”, “What More Do You Need?”, “I’ll Keep You Happy”, “I Need To Know”. Go ahead and try to add to the list, but a much better idea is to come up with a storyline and then compile a list of titles based on it.

Develop Your Title Or Song Idea And Come Up With One Song Section
Once you get a title that you like, start searching for a good opening line for the first verse. In your brainstorming process, try to do two things: first, offer your listener a clue as to what the song will be about. Second, zero in on the conflict or problem that your storyline presents. Let’s go back to our concept for the song and start developing opening lines, based on the female perspective of the protagonist. Here are some that I came up with: “I wish I knew what I didn’t give you”, “I wish I was the one who was wrapped around your heart”, “It hurts me so bad that my love’s not good enough”. Do you see how these lines set the story up and entice the listener to want to know more and be brought into the reality of the singer? Now, try your hand at some opening lines for Verse 1.

Look for Inspiration In Books, Magazines, or on TV
If you’re having trouble coming up with song titles, go to the library or bookstore or glance through the TV listings (as TV shows frequently title episodes), newspaper, or a magazine. You can’t copyright a title, so don’t think this idea is tantamount to stealing. You can also look through a book of clichés and plug in a new story to an old cliché, or create a new twist on an old cliché by substituting a word. (Example: “Better Love Next Time” is an improvement over the time-worn cliché, “Better Luck Next Time” — but that one has been done already, so try coming up with your own.)

When In Doubt, Brainstorm
If you’re at a standstill with this part of the development process, pull out your thesaurus and your rhyming dictionary. First, however, do a 10-minute brainstorming session to come up with words and phrases that will serve as connectives (i.e. words that relate to your topic). Do not edit yourself, just generate as many as possible, WITHOUT opening up either book. When you’re exhausted or when the 10 minutes end, take a look at your list and start finding rhyming words and synonyms for those words. Remember — select ONLY the words you really like and the ones that you think will fit into your story. Use them to develop verse or chorus lines.

Hopefully some of these tips for writing a song will get your creative juices flowing again!

JeffSJeff S. teaches guitar, ukulele, speaking voice, songwriting, and more in Perth Amboy, NJ, as well as online. Jeff has created and taught songwriting and music business classes at colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the country for many years. Learn more about Jeff here! 



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Stuck Writing Lyrics? Maybe iOS 8’s Autocomplete Feature Can Help

Songwriting can be tricky when the perfect word is just out of reach, a sentiment that songwriter Jonathan Mann must know all too well. Mann has been writing a song a day for over five years, which is no small feat.

For one of his most recent compositions, Mann took a backseat as a lyricist and let his iPhone 6 do the talking. Using only the autocomplete feature on his phone, Jonathan Mann managed to write an astonishingly catchy tune!

Of course, the resulting song doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it sure is fun to see how artists use new technology as it comes along. Who knows, maybe one of these random strings of words will inspire Mann or another songwriter to create a beautiful lyric down the road.

What do you think? Does new technology inspire your creativity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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Logic Pro Tutorial: How To Create An Audio Slow-Down Effect

Want to add a cool slow-down effect to your music? Learn how in this Logic Pro tutorial from Brevard, NC teacher John C


If you’ve listened to popular radio in the past several years, and I’m guessing you have, you’ve heard either a vocal melody line or an instrumental part of a song make a particular effect. Listen to the following Fall Out Boy song and pay attention to the music in the background at 00:27 seconds, again at 1:27, and once again at 2:27:

Did you hear it? That’s the effect I will be teaching you how to do in this article.

How to Get the Effect

Before we jump in, let’s get a couple things out of the way.

First, I want you to understand that this is not the only way you can go about making this effect happen, but Apple has made it easy for us Logic Pro users. This effect we are trying to accomplish is a type of “fade” in Logic, and there are two different areas in Logic where you can accomplish it. One way is with Automation. To get to the automation area in Logic Pro 9 or X, simply hit the letter A on your keyboard and the editing area will change to look something like this:


Automation allows you to draw lines and basically tell the computer when, how fast, and from and to which points to turn a particular knob. That knob could be something as simple as the volume knob on a particular track or something more advanced like the frequency knob of the single band EQ plugin on the track pictured above.

But I’m going to stop there because we are NOT going to use automation to do this effect! Thank goodness, right?

Instead, Logic has something called the Region Inspector. So what on earth is a region? Well, it’s quite simple, really. These little boxes all over the place in the picture below… those are regions.


When you select one or more of these regions, the Region Inspector shows the settings applied to those regions.

The Region Inspector is on the left side of the screen and looks like this:

region inspector

There is a distinct difference between some of the regions shown above. The ones with the dashed lines are MIDI regions. The others are audio regions. These are the only types of regions. The effect we are trying to accomplish in this article does NOT work on MIDI regions.

Final Steps

  • Select one of the audio (not MIDI) regions in your project.
  • Then, in the Region Inspector, expand the “More” section and click on “Fade Out” and change it to “Slow Down”.
  • Double click the zero and type 250 into the field next to “Slow Down” and press Return.

Congratulations, you did it! Now listen to your audio and you’ll hear that audio slow-down effect.

Now adjust the “Curve” by dragging up and down on the number next to the word “Curve” (below the “Slow Down” area in the Region Inspector) and notice how the curve of the slow-down effect area changes. Listen to the difference, and then try different combinations of the amount of the slow-down fade and the curve. Have fun!

Oh, and what do you think might happen if you click on the word “Fade In” in the Region Inspector? What’s that you say, a “Speed-Up” effect? Oh yea!

You’ve just learned a pro producers trick. Now… use it with caution.

JohnCJohn C. teaches Logic Pro Software in Brevard, NC. He earned his degree in Songwriting from Berklee College Of Music and is also an Apple Certified Master Pro in Logic Pro 9. Learn more about John here!



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6 Things You Can Do to Support Your Young Composer | Tips for Parents


Do you catch your son or daughter making up songs during the day? Learn how to encourage your little one in this guest post from New York, New York teacher Natalie L...


Imagine if students were taught to read and speak but not write. What if they were taught literature and the alphabet, but never applied this knowledge to formulate original thoughts? As ludicrous as this seems, it is common practice in most music programs where students are instructed in reading, listening, and playing music but not in composing music.

However, composition can be taught to children.

Most young children are creative and musical by nature, which is evident in their love of nursery rhymes, sing-a-longs, musical toys, and vivid make-believe worlds. In addition, composition:

  • Instills deeper music intelligence beyond simply listening to music or playing an instrument.
  • Fosters general life skills, such as problem-solving and decision-making. This includes thinking in and about sound, exploring sounds, and generating, testing, and selecting ideas.
  • Imparts self-esteem. Composing music that students can then listen to, download to their cell phone, and play for their friends is a unique and powerful experience.

Want to help? As a parent, here are six things you can do to support your young composer:

1. Expose them to a lot of music
Providing children with a musical environment at home is very important, as they will most likely start to compose by mimicking the music they hear around them. Play the radio in the car, let them watch cartoons with music, sing children’s songs with them, take them to a musical now and then, and have some Mozart playing in the background while you’re cooking. They will absorb it all.

2. Introduce them to a musical instrument
Composing music is a lot easier when you have an instrument to compose on. The most common instrument for composition is piano, because you can play melody and accompaniment at the same time. Guitar is another popular option.

Playing an instrument also helps children learn musical theory and note-reading, which will ultimately make them better musicians and more confident composers. Even getting a small keyboard and letting them play around on it can be very helpful in encouraging musical exploration.

3. Focus on telling a story
Composing can be very abstract. To make things a little more concrete, focus on telling a story with music.

Ask them what sounds remind them of specific emotions and images. For example, holding down the pedal on the piano will have a “dreamy” effect, while playing staccato notes on very high keys might sounds like a little bird. Going down by half steps might be someone walking down the stairs.

Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf is a wonderful example of personifying music, so I would suggest listening to this piece together as a start.

4. Don’t censor them
When your child first sets out to write music, don’t worry about her being the next Mozart. The piece she writes might be completely non-sensical, with no clear structure or hook — and starting out that way is fine. Her first drawings were probably messy blobs, but you still proudly displayed them on the refrigerator. Think of early compositions in the same way.

5. Create a tangible representation of the composition
There is nothing as powerful to students as having a tangible representation of their work. Because musical notation is a relatively advanced skill, don’t worry about having them write their music down yet.

You could record their piece on a CD and display it with the rest of your CD collection. Or they could draw a picture of their piece if it tells a story or make an abstract finger painting. And don’t forget to give it a title! This is one of the most fun parts for them and makes them feel the piece is real.

6. Consider private composition lessons
Once your child shows interest and aptitude for composing music, enrolling him in private composition lessons will help him grow. A teacher trained in music composition can give young composers direction, instruct them on harmony and form, get them to think more abstractly, encourage them, and help them find their unique musical voice. Middle school or even late elementary is not too young to start, depending on their own motivation and interest.

On a personal note, I began making up songs at age four, began piano lessons at age six, and was formally composing music by age nine. I was lucky enough to have a private piano teacher who encouraged me and never made me feel I was too young for composition. No one ever told me I couldn’t do it, so I assumed I could – and I did, eventually earning my Master’s in Music Composition.

Composition isn’t just for prodigies – it’s a form of artistic expression that every child is capable of doing. And who knows? With the right encouragement and guidance, they might surprise you.

NatalieLNatalie L. teaches singing, piano, songwriting, and more in New York, New York. She has a Master of Music in music theory and composition from New York University, a Bachelor of Music in musical theater from the Catholic University of America, and a certificate in vocal performance from the Peabody Prepratory. Learn more about Natalie here! 


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Crafting Piano Scores | 3 Tips to Get Started

piano scores

Want to learn about writing your own piano scores? Find out how to get started in this guest post by New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E...


Being a pianist comes in very handy–and not just at family holiday parties when your in-laws are bellowing “Deck The Halls” in your ear as you try to keep some sense of rhythm. The piano is a versatile instrument that allows even the most novice composers to explore a full spectrum of dynamics, textures, and pitch range.

No matter what you’re composing for, the foundation is always based in enhancing the experience. Piano scores, for example, are pieces of music that are written to enhance a moving image, whether that’s a film, a commercial, or any other type of video. To get started, we’ll take a look at a few key elements that will shape your process:

1) Do you have video to work with, or just a concept? If you have the video in its final version, then you have some limitations regarding the tempo. You may need to emphasize a brand’s logo as it appears, or you may want to pause for a punch line. Working backwards and timing your piece from key moments is often the easiest way to set your tempo. If you do not have a video to work with, you have a bit more freedom to write a piece of music that will fit the creative direction your client has given you.

2) Do you have a creative direction? The creative brief is often the most important conversation you can have as a composer with a new client. I look at being a composer as a way to help the director, producer, or agency tell their story. Here are my three key questions that I always ask a collaborator if they don’t have a specific idea of what they want:

  • What are 5-10 words that you would use to describe the story, the video, the feel, and the vibe of the piece? As the composer, you can then act as translators, taking their words and sculpting them into the final piano score.
  • What do you want your viewer to feel or do? Feel inspired? Be so excited they go out and buy something? Feel nostalgic? Your score can help lead to these desired results.
  • Are there any songs or genres of music that have been in the back of the creators’ minds that could work? Anything that would definitely NOT work?

3) Will your score be for piano only, will it be written for other live instruments, or will you be using computer software to create most of the body of the music? (My favorite composing software, and an advertising and film industry standard, is Logic X.) Here are a few considerations for each of these options:

  • Writing for piano only, you will want to see how much dialogue or voice-over is in the video. If there is quite a lot of talking, you won’t want the middle range of the piano (the typical range of a speaking voice is from about middle C to A 440) to compete. You can also use an equalizer in the mix to mitigate any competing frequencies, but that’s a whole other article.
  • If you are writing on the piano initially, with the knowledge that you will be arranging your piece for other instruments, make sure you know the range of each instrument you’re writing for. It’s always a drag to get to a live session, pass out your sheet music (I use Finale to transcribe my pieces) and have the cellist tell you their instrument can’t play the notes you wrote.
  • Writing “in the box,” as in, using mostly or all software instruments, is the option I use most often. It is the fastest way to get a track completed from start to finish. When working with piano in a software system, you can play in all your parts, and then assign each part to a software instrument of your choosing. This process has the added task of mixing so that it sounds authentic and “non-synthy.” Giving each instrument space (by panning, EQ-ing and working with reverb and compression) is key to writing ear-pleasing piano scores. (Again, I could go on for days about this.)

Once you have a strong grasp on the video’s concept and story, the musical creative direction, and your choice of instrumentation, you get to start the fun part: composing! It’s a privilege to provide a creative service that also allows someone else to express their story, their brand, or their ideas, all while crafting a purely enjoyable experience for future viewers and listeners.

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!



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The Anatomy of a Hit Pop Song [Infographic]

When you’re learning how to write a song, looking at how other songs are structured can be a great place to start. Like looking at a map before you go on a roadtrip, checking out the basic elements of songs you love gives you a sense of how they were written and what you need to do to write a song of your own.

If analyzing all your favorite songs sounds like a daunting task (it is), you’re in luck. The Billboard Experiment wanted to know if there was a formula that could determine which songs would be hits and which songs were destined to flop. They ran the numbers on the top songs on the Billboard Charts since the 1950s, plus information from the Million Song Dataset, to get a high-level look at what goes into a hit pop song.

Of course, this study isn’t the ultimate guide to how to write a song. If everyone followed these rules, we wouldn’t have “Stairway to Heaven” or “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Standing out from the crowd can make you more memorable as a songwriter, so you might choose to avoid the things you see these popular songs doing.

If you’re just getting started as a songwriter, try writing something simple along the lines of the famous pop songs The Billboard Experiment studied. You don’t have to write a hit on your first try, and you probably won’t. Most songwriting teachers agree that the best way to learn how to write better songs is to start writing now, and keep writing as much as you can. Through dedication and practice, you will find your unique voice as a songwriter, and you’ll only get better from there!

Want to get  your songs heard? Music Gorilla is a leading commercial marketplace for independent musicians worldwide.
They showcase artists from all over the globe and help them get their songs heard and licensed by key players in the television, film, advertising, web, and gaming industries. They’re happy to offer you 10 free credits when you sign up for Artist Membership (which is free!) Credits can be used to submit your material to films, TV shows, commercials and other platforms looking for music.
All you have to do is sign up and send an email to telling them you came from Take Lessons and they’ll add the credits to your account.

If someone asked you how to write a song, what advice would you give them? Let us know in the comments below!


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9 Steps for Writing a Hit Song on the Piano

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What’s the secret to writing beautiful and awe-inspiring piano music? Learn the steps in this guest post by St. Augustine, FL piano teacher Heather L...


Music industry legend has it that Lady Gaga, being a classically trained musician, writes many of her songs on the piano first. She’s undoubtedly not the only pop, or country, or rock star to use the keys to compose. And if you’re studying piano already, you might be itching to try your hand at your own songwriting.

Allow me to preface by stating that what follows is an old-fashioned method of writing with a pencil, piano, and staff paper. In this day and age, a songwriter has dozens of forms of technology to assist him or her. You can create music with computer software alone, through a keyboard connected to a computer, and even through free or low-cost apps.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about writing piano music like it’s magic—and sometimes it is, but usually it’s pretty simple. As you grow as a musician, you’ll develop your own unique process of songwriting, but here’s my personal process.

1. Decide on a general song idea.
What I mean is to decide on a theme, or perhaps an audience. For instance, you’d think, “I’ll write this one to my husband about our wedding,” or “This song will be centered on the political unrest in Africa.”

2. Choose a key and a tempo.
Each key and each tempo can affect listeners differently and are essential elements in what kind of atmosphere or mood that your song possesses. Play scales and chords in the keys that you’re comfortable with, then choose a key that feels like it fits the theme of what you’re conveying. Pick a tempo that matches your general song idea. Does what you’re saying call for high-energy, high-tempo music in the key of E (bright and cheerful), or does it call for a serene, slow ballad sound in the calm key of C?

3. Learn the I-IV-V-vi chords, if you haven’t yet.
This means the root chord (the chord that shares your key’s name), the dominant (the fifth chord above the root), the subdominant (the fourth chord above the root), and six chord (a minor chord). Some progressions, called the Nashville progression or the pop progression, consist of these. Let’s say that you’ve picked C major for your song. You’d play C, G, Am, and F. Play with fingers 1, 3, and 5 in both hands at the same time.

4. Play the chords in different orders.
Play four beats for each chord in the key and tempo that you’ve chosen, going from one chord to the next in different orders. For instance, play C for four beats, then G for four beats, then Am, then F, then C again. Go slowly and listen carefully. Mix it up and change it around! Start with Am, then F, then C, and end with G. You’ll eventually find a progression, or order, that appeals to you and fits the song’s theme.

5. Write down your progression and keep playing.
Take note of the order that you like best and then play it over and over, thinking about the theme that you’ve decided upon. If you’ve dedicated the song to your mom, then keep her image in your mind, or better yet, have a photo of her on your piano. Listen carefully to the chords and concentrate, and you may be able to “hear” lyrics begin to pop up in your head.

6. Jot down everything.
Every word, every phrase, every chord change should go down on that staff paper, even if you think they sound silly or they don’t sound good together. Something that sounds terrible today may sound great next week, or maybe even in another song that you find yourself working on down the road. Think of yourself simply as a reporter, jotting down what you’re hearing.

7. Think of your song’s lyrics as a box within a box, within a box.
One helpful tip for songwriting, which I learned in an online course from a professor of songwriting at the Berkelee College of Music, is to think of a great song unfolding like a small box that’s found within a larger box, which is found in a larger box still. The first box, or verse, that you open should give a general view of the world that you’ve created in your song. You can open with something general, just like you’re beginning an important conversation. In the second verse, reveal more. If you’re writing a song about a current issue or political statement, then the second verse could mean articulating your views more emphatically and clearly.

8. Build the bridge.
Now, remember, not every song has to have a bridge. Many songs don’t. But I think that it can be a useful element. It can break up a song if you’ve chosen to change keys for it or simply change the progression. But more importantly, the bridge can be the very climax of a song. Think of a ballad from a great singer, such as Whitney Houston or Carrie Underwood, and you’ll probably remember her big high note at the end of the bridge. This moment may be what takes your song from being pedestrian and simplistic to something really memorable. To build the bridge, try playing only the six and fifth chords, or the four and the second chords with two beats each.

9. Make a final draft.
Some songs may be written in a matter of minutes, like John Denver’s “Annie’s Song”, but most take a few days or weeks to polish. Over time, making notes and changes on the original staff paper, a final version will come together. Make a final draft on a new sheet of staff paper with lyrics.

Finally, remember that songwriting is a creative art. While I’ve laid out a formulaic method for how to do it, it’s important to know that it’s a method that’s meant to be bent and broken. The most important step of all in writing piano music is the K.I.S.S. idea: “Keep it simple, silly.”

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in Saint Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!

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Are You Really Ready To Record Your Song Or Book A Vocal Session?


Think you’re ready to write your own song and record it? Songwriting can be an arduous process – but seeing the final product is an amazing feeling. Read on for a helpful pre-recording checklist from Perth Amboy, NJ teacher Jeff S...


Whether you’re singing your own song or hiring a vocalist to sing on your demo or master, there are many layers of preparation needed to ensure optimum results. Some songwriters like to wing it and hope that things will magically work out because they picked a great studio or have good equipment or simply feel that their song is destined to become a huge hit–or perhaps because they don’t want to risk the vocal performance sounding too rehearsed and stiff. But that mindset, in my opinion, falls under the categories of foolishness, laziness, or wishful thinking. The fact is, there are several questions you need to ask yourself before the recording session begins and prior to a singer stepping behind a mic to cut their vocal. Your sessions will go a lot more smoothly and successfully if you take the time to put yourself and your song through a series of questions.

After you write your song, here’s what to consider before recording it and/or booking vocal sessions:

  • What’s the song structure? Is it a Verse/Chorus song? Verse/Bridge? Does it have a solo section? Trust me–it’s really worth determining the structure well in advance of the session. A little planning time now will save you studio time, money, and aggravation later.
  • What’s the tempo? I would urge you to pinpoint a BPM (beats per minute) setting before you start recording a single note. You can use a metronome to do this.
  • What kind of groove do you want the drums to have? Steady? Relaxed? Frenetic? Edgy? Sparse? Busy? Acoustic? Electric? Electronic? Do you need percussion, too?
  • How long is the song? Have you timed it out (including intro and fade ending)? If it comes in at over five minutes, you should at least consider doing a radio edit of the long version that puts it between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 minutes. Time out your song prior to recording it. Radio and many other end-users for your recording usually don’t respond well to epic-length tracks.
  • What’s the style? Pop? Rock? Country? R&B? Hip-Hop? If you don’t know, you would be wise to get a handle of it before setting foot in the studio.
  • What’s your instrumentation going to be? Are you tracking with live players (and most importantly, are you going to need a live drummer?) or doing a MIDI recording? If you’re using live players, you need to get all your money matters in order prior to booking the session.
  • What’s your budget for this demo or master? (Note: if you’re doing the recording at your own studio and you’re playing and singing everything yourself, then you don’t have to worry about this one.)
  • What’s the best key for this particular song? Determining the key that matches the emotion or storyline is crucial. Once you know that, you can ask the singer you’ve selected if they can sing comfortably in that key. Have a conversation with the singer beforehand about their vocal range and comfort keys. If they can’t reach the notes needed, you will likely need to seek out a different singer or change the key.
  • Is your singer familiar with the song? If you’re not singing on your own song demo or master, make sure to get your vocalist some form of rough recording of the song so they can get acquainted with it beforehand. This way they won’t be coming into the vocal session cold and eat up a lot of unnecessary studio time. Consider recording a “scratch vocal” (i.e. usually a songwriter’s one- or two-take guide vocal that conveys the melody and the mood to the singer).
  • What mood do you want the singer to evoke? Heartbroken? Energized? Reflective? Angry? Happy?
  • Is this recording intended to be a demo or master? For example, should it be a broadcast-quality recording that can be used in film, TV, or a top-notch album? If it’s a master, then everyone’s performance must be great (if not perfect) and the recording quality has to be excellent.

That’s a lot of stuff to think out and plan for, but it will be well worth the time you spend. I hope it leads you to many great recordings and vocal sessions.

JeffSJeff S. teaches guitar, ukulele, speaking voice, songwriting, and more in Perth Amboy, NJ, as well as online. Jeff has created and taught songwriting and music business classes at colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the country for many years. Learn more about Jeff here! 



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Songwriting Tips | The Wisdom of a One-Of-Kind Song Title


What’s in a name? If you’re looking for songwriting tips as you pen your next tune, check out this advice from Perth Amboy, NJ teacher Jeff S...


There is not one “right” or preferred way to write a song. It’s a very individual choice. Some songwriters start out with a patch of melody or a line or two of lyric as their creative catalyst. Others will initiate the songwriting muse with a unique and instantly-captivating song title or writing from their emotions. And in this ever-crowded, highly-competitive song placement marketplace, why wouldn’t you want to carve out an immediate attention-getting premise by coming up with a standout song title?

Having a compelling title and unique lyrical approach can instantly pique interest and generate listens, especially if your musical dreams extend to getting listened by decision-makers in the music industry. But even so if you just want your song and music video to stand out from the crowd on YouTube or other Internet sites where music can be posted. After all, isn’t generating listens and “likes” the initial goal of a yet-to-be discovered songwriter?

As a general guideline and one of the best songwriting tips, it is probably best to stay away from hackneyed song titles like ”I Love You” or “I Need You”. On the other end of the spectrum, it is also a wise idea to avoid leeching onto titles that are intrinsically and irrevocably linked with the artist who had a hit with them;. Such songs (and titles!) like Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, The Beatles’ “Yesterday”, Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend”, Tom Petty’s “Freefallin’ ” Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me”, and Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” are just a few that fall under this iconic (and therefore untouchable) category. They are so woven into the pop cultural fabric that it would be fool’s gold to try to re-excavate them.

It’s also imprudent and unoriginal to glob onto more modern (yet also seminal) song titles like Amy Winehouse’s ”Rehab”, Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” or Beyonce’s, “If I Were A Boy”.

So how you know when a song title is truly original and unique? Well, first I would trust your gut feeling about that. But there is an amazing (and free!) resource that you can use as a litmus test for your song title’s originality. Just go to iTunes and type your song title into the iTunes search engine and see how many other songs pop up with that same title. If it’s fewer than 10, then you probably have a very original title. But if 100 or more song titles come up with your title, then I’d give serious thought into putting your creative time, studio time, and hard-earned money into a demo or a master recording.

Besides iTunes, there are some other fantastic sources you can utilize to get a fix on the creative uniqueness of your song titles. The major performing rights organizations (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC) all have super extensive databases. ASCAP has the ACE Title Search. On the BMI site, look for the word search at the top of their home page. SESAC has a repertory search at the bottom of their home page. No matter what title you come up with, have fun and try to find a previously unexplored approach to your title and craft it into something that is truly you! This is the best songwriting tip to keep in mind. Remember — it’s never a bad idea to be as original as you can. Happy and successful title-finding and songwriting!

Learn more: Check out our guide to writing songs!

JeffSJeff S. teaches guitar, ukulele, speaking voice, songwriting and more in Perth Amboy, NJ, as well as online. Jeff has created and taught songwriting and music business classes at colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the country for many years. Learn more about Jeff here! 



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