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How to Write Lyrics: Steps to Success for Any Musical Style

Writing

Interested in learning how to write lyrics and songs? Here, New Jersey guitar teacher Matthew H. explains an easy 3-step process to follow… 

Songwriting is not easy; just ask any composer or lyricist. While the musical composition is highly important (making sure the melody is catchy without sounding too trite), having a strong, relatable message to go along with a great tune is just as, if not more, important. Here are some tips on how to write lyrics for a good song.

1) What is the story?
Too often, songwriters worry about the rhythmic structure or rhyme of the lyrics when they first should be focused on the whole point of a song: storytelling. It doesn’t matter if you are adding lyrics to existing music, creating music for the lyrics, or doing both simultaneously, you have to have a story to tell. Start small. What do you want the overall point or moral of the song to be? How should a listener feel after hearing it? Common examples include: falling in love, missing someone, feeling liberated, and so on. Once you choose a starting point, expand upon it, but write down the story as if it were prose rather than a song. For example: I miss my brother ever since he moved out of the country. I don’t get to see him as much as I used to and I feel like a part of my life will not be the same as a result. I wish things were the way they used to be when we were younger and living together at home.

2) Make your story musical.
Now that you have an outline of how you want the song’s story to play out, set it to music. Even if you don’t have a solid sense of the entire orchestration or final production elements, play around with different melodic structures and rhythms. Taking our missing brother example from before, figure out which specific words need to be stressed. If you’re working on the hook and you decide that the sensation of “nostalgia” takes precedence over everything else, then be sure to make that clear within the chorus with either a very clever line (avoid clichés like comparing his absence with death) or a sustained syllable within a strategic word (the o in home, for instance). A good rule of thumb is to never marry any idea right off the bat; the best way to write lyrics is to be flexible. In doing so, you’ll avoid any problems you might encounter if you insist on having a specific line a certain way.

3) Don’t be afraid to make some changes!
Test out your song. Does the story make sense? Do the lyrics flow well with the music? Would everything suddenly sound much better if you switch out one word with another? These are the things you need to look for after developing your perspective and making it melodic. If you’ve been working on the song for a long time, take a break. Your ears and mind will need a distraction. After a couple days or a week even, try listening to what you have and make any necessary changes that jump out at you after having taken some time to separate yourself from your creation.

When songwriting, you really are baring your soul for the world to see (and hear) in an extremely vulnerable way. If you follow the advice above on how to write lyrics, you will find the words resonate deeper than the generic pop schlock that typically permeates the radio’s Top 40.

MatthewHMatthew H. provides tutoring in various subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ.  He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 

 

 

 

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How to Make Composing Fun for Singers and Pianists

compose a song for piano

Want to learn how to compose a song, but not sure where to start? Here, Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares her strategy for teaching the process and making it fun at the same time! Read on to learn more…

 

Teaching my voice and piano students how to compose a song is a huge part of my curriculum. It is multi-functional, in that it works to hone students’ sightsinging, musicianship, creativity, and theory knowledge in practice. And with most students out of school for the summer, it’s a great time to do something out-of-the-box, like composing!

One of the easiest ways to get even the youngest students to write and then sightread their own music is a simple game. First, on a sheet of staff paper, I draw a five-note scale in a tessitura where the singer’s comfortable. If the student is a pianist, I’ll choose a position where they’re comfortable. I prefer the simplicity of C major for beginners, but I might use an entire scale for more advanced students. Below it or beside it, I draw a series of notes. For instance, for my six-year-old voice student, Ella, I drew a quarter note, then a half note, then a dotted half, then a whole note. Depending on the student’s theory level, I sometimes write the number of beats beside each kind of note.

Now, the fun begins. I’ll ask the student to choose a note from the scale that’s been custom tailored, so to speak, just for his theory level. Then I’ll ask him to choose what kind of note we’ll use. So my voice student, Ella, asks, “May I please have an F and a half note?” I write a half note on F. Ella then asks, “May I please have a G and a dotted half note?” I reply, “No, Ella. It’s in 4/4 time. Only four beats fit into this measure. With a dotted half added to a half, that’d be five beats. That’s too many.” “Okay,” Ella says, “I’ll take a quarter note on C and a quarter note on D.”

Many of the best piano curriculum books feature a few exercises in which you must write a few measures of melody, but this game extends it and makes it accessible either for voice students who don’t have those books or for piano students who may not be quite ready for the exercise of simply coming up with something. Eventually, of course, you will slowly grow to take charge of this game and be able to compose a song more freely and independently. As that time comes along, I’ll begin to allow more freedom with only some constraints.

For instance, if you’re an intermediate student, I would ask you to write your own eight measure piece, but I’ll give you the time signature, the key signature, and perhaps the left hand chord progression. Making it even more fun could mean writing some lyrics first and trying to write the melody to match.

When I was growing up, it was always the running joke that singers were the dumbest of the musicians when it comes to theory and composition. Often, pianists weren’t regarded much more highly. But perhaps, that’s because they were never given the encouragement needed even to try.

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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How To Write a Song Today: 4 Easy Steps

write a song

Learning how to write a song is easier than you think! Greeley, CO teacher Andy W. outlines the steps here… 

Don’t you wish you could write a song that tells your own story – whether it’s about love, hardships, or finding humor in life? There’s no reason that you can’t do that today! To help get you started, here are four easy steps to writing your own song:

1. Play chords or a riff.
2. Sing or hum over the harmony.
3. Repeat steps 1-2 to form a chorus and then a bridge.
4. Place the song sections in this order: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus

1. Play chords or a riff.

Play chords that you know sound good together. You can use what you know of music theory to help think of possible chords. One of the most common chord progressions is I, IV, V, which would be C, F, G in the key of C.

Another approach is to forget about all that theory and just play chords that sound new and good to your ears. This is a great way to make a song sound like your own.

2. Sing or hum over the harmony.
Start by singing syllables without words. When Paul McCartney originally wrote “Yesterday,” instead of saying “all my troubles seem so far away,” he sang “Scrambled eggs, oh my darling you’ve got lovely legs.” Likewise, when Stevie Wonder first wrote “Superstition,” instead of singing “writing on the wall,” he sang “wash your face and hands.” If they write lyrics this way, so can you! Then once you have a basic melody, it can be much easier to add lyrics.

3. Repeat steps 1-2 to form a chorus and then a bridge.

Here is a general breakdown for what each section of your song should look like:

  • Verse: The verse should tell a story. Use it to describe a scene, an emotion, or something in detail. This section can rhyme but it doesn’t have to.
  • Chorus: The chorus should be very simple and repetitive. Try to make a hook that people can‘t get out of their heads. Here are a few examples of songs with memorable choruses: Beatles – All You Need Is Love; Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe; Eric Clapton – Layla
  • Bridge: The bridge is a common addition to a song that keeps the listener engaged by going into new territory. It‘s often used as an instrumental section where solos can occur. Changes in the chords, key, tempo, dynamics, or instrumentation are common.

Here are two additional song sections that are commonly used:

  • Pre-Chorus: The pre-chorus is typically a transition between the verse and chorus. Another approach can be to use the pre-chorus in place of a chorus for the first half of a song. This allows you to save the chorus for a big climax toward the end.
  • Intro and Outro: Intros and outros can be instrumentals or feature lyrics that introduce or develop the main idea of the song.

4. Place the song sections in this order: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus

This is a very common structure for pop songs. Examples of songs that use this structure are: Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay; Incubus – Drive; John C. Mellencamp – Jack and Diane

By playing chords, singing over them, making multiple sections, and finally ordering these sections, you can quickly and easily write a song today! Congratulations! As you continue to write, avoid writer’s block by doing these steps without judging yourself and your abilities. You can do it. Happy songwriting!

Learn more: Check out our guide to songwriting!

AndyWAndy W. teaches guitar, singing, piano, and more in Greeley, CO. He specializes in jazz, and has played guitar for 12 years. Learn more about Andy here!

 

 

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Songwriting 101 Using the Long-Line Concept

Songwriting 101: Using the “Long-Line” Concept

songwriting by ricOne of the most wonderful and rewarding things about the art of songwriting is that there are many different ways to approach making your own music. Arlington,TX music teacher Ric F. previously shared with us his tips on using rhythm as a guide to writing. Today, Ric would like to add another aspect to your understanding of writing songs, something he calls the “long-line” concept. Read more

Songwriting 101: Let the Rhythm Be Your Guide

songwriting 101Want to get started writing music of your own, but you’re not sure where to begin? Arlington TX music teacher Ric F. shares his secret to composing interesting and meaningful music: start with the rhythm. Follow Ric’s great advice and start sharing your music with the world!

Like any subject, songwriting has techniques that can be learned and mastered. Songwriting mainly involves these musical elements: Read more

Celebrate National Poetry Month With A Song!

songwriting tipsPoetry and music share a long history. Long ago, the ancient Greeks used song to memorize Homer’s epic poems; and in slightly more recent times Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” expressed the blossoming of a new, distinctly American point of view. From the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, the Romantic period and the Victorian, poets have drawn on song as a muse and vice versa. In modern times, acclaimed songwriters ranging from Bob Dylan to Patti Smith draw on poetry as a source of inspiration for their art. In her memoir Just KidsSmith recalls coming into her own as an artist and how the poetry and life of Arthur Rimbaud deeply affected her own journey.

As a songwriter myself, I gain insight into my own lyrical process from reading and studying poetry. Even when I am working on other things, I keep a copy of Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Sonnets to Orpheus on my desk as a reminder of the beauty and power of words. To celebrate National Poetry Month this April, why not let a poem be your muse and guide you as you write your next great song? Here are some songwriting tips to help you find your way! Read more

Songwriting Tips: A Method to the Madness

songwritingDid you read the guitar songwriting tips earlier this week? If you’ve reviewed your chord theory, it’s time to get down to business. Read on as Clearwater, FL music teacher Jeremy R. explains how to organize your song and the importance of the hook…

 

 

For me it doesn’t always start the same, nor will it ever end the same. Sometimes it’s a melody I hear in my dreams and I wake up and immediately start singing it. Sometimes it’s an alliteration of words in a conversation at lunch. Wherever you draw your inspiration from, all songs have a meaning.

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Struggling with Songwriting? Focus on This.

guitar songwritingIf all of your original songs are starting to sound the same, brushing up on your music theory knowledge can certainly help – particularly chord construction. Read on as Minneapolis guitar teacher Scott S. explains why… Read more

Songwriting Tips from a Grammy Award-Winning Musician

songwritingMany movies these days are filled with special effects, incredible cinematography and overall glitz and glamor. But for people like Marc S., two-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter, the magic is in the music.

Marc earned his awards for his songwriting work on “Trust in Me” from The Bodyguard soundtrack, and “(I’ll Give) Anything But Up,” featured on Marlo Thomas’ Thanks and Giving All Year Long. With over 25 years of experience in the music industry, Marc’s success is clearly a result of his hard work and dedication to his craft!

As a new teacher with TakeLessons, Marc offered to answer a few questions about his path to success. Check out the interview below…

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

How did you get started with playing music and songwriting?

I started playing the clarinet when I was nine years old.  That didn’t last very long!  I switched to guitar at ten.  I always loved it but found it challenging. When I was thirteen, I met a teacher who, after one lesson, said to my folks, “Your son is the most natural bass player I have ever seen… why is he playing guitar?”  The rest is history; I became obsessed. My parents probably never liked him too much after that day!

I stumbled upon songwriting by accident.  I seemed to become the designated “arranger” in so many of my bands, just because I could hear all of the parts in my head. My mentor at the time was a very famous songwriter and he urged me to start writing… so I did. One of the first songs I wrote ended up being recorded by Joe Cocker. Beginner’s luck, I guess!

How do you find inspiration for your songs?
Ahh, the age-old question! Personal experiences, mood, how the sun is shining, divine inspiration???  No one really knows what brings on inspiration. The point is – it comes.  The trick is not to let it go.  You almost have to drop whatever you’re doing in the moment and just go for it, because inspiration can be brief.  You have to pay attention.

Not everything I write is worthy of the pen and paper, but it is the art of it all that keeps me going.  More often than not, you can tell when something special is brewing.  That’s a pretty amazing feeling!

What advice do you have for students hoping to break into the music industry?
Remember why you started playing music.  For fun?  For love?  Because it made you feel like you weren’t alone?  Figure it out and keep going back to that. The music business is no picnic.  It’s important to remember why you’re in it.  And practice a lot!

Songwriting requires a lot of creativity. How do you keep your creativity levels high and the ideas coming?
Be a sponge.  I listen well and observe my surroundings.  I also keep up on current events.  It sounds obvious but it’s true.  I take everything in so that when inspiration hits, I have something to draw from.  Also, I try to live my life in the most authentic and simple way possible.  Sometimes your art can mimic your life.  And aren’t the most honest and uncomplicated songs always the most memorable?

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Long Branch teacher Marc S.Marc S. teaches bass guitar, guitar, music performance, music recording, music theory, percussion, songwriting, speaking voice, and organ lessons to students of all ages in Long Branch, NJ. For over 25 years, Marc has collaborated with some of the top artists and writers in the music business. Learn more about Marc, or visit TakeLessons to find a teacher near you!

Songwriting Tips: Guitar Chords & Chord Order

songwriting

Break out your guitar and let’s get started with songwriting! If you’ve already written your lyrics, the next step is to choose which chords to include, and in what order. Here, Los Angeles teacher David I. shares an example of how to make those decisions…

 


Choosing the right chords for your song is important. Your chords will help you build points of tension and release at the appropriate moments, and the right sequence can also highlight the emotional content of your lyrics.   But how do you know what chords to use and what order to put them in?  Let’s answer that question by looking at the unique character of each chord in the key of C and understanding how they go together to create musical flow.

Let’s review the 7 chords from the key of C as outlined below:

C major | D minor | E minor | F major | G major | A minor  | B diminished

In music theory we refer to each chord in a key by assigning it a Roman numeral. Major chords are capitalized and minor chords are lower case:

C major (I) | D minor (ii) | E minor (iii) | F major (IV) | G major (V) | A minor (vi)  | B diminished (vii)

The reason for the numbers is so that we can remember patterns of chords even if the key changes (more on this later).   For the rest of this article I’ll be referring to each chord by its letter name and its number.

Chord Families
Each chord in the key can be grouped into one of three different chord families: tonic, sub-dominant and dominant.  These families help us to better understand how each chord functions within that key center, which is important in deciding which chord comes next in the progression.

Tonic: C major (I), E minor (iii), A minor (vi)
These three chords fall into the “tonic” family. They tend to be the most stable and restful sounding.  Typically you would start and end your progression with one of these chords, because they establish a strong feeling of key center.  These are your release or resolution chords.

Dominant: G major (V), B Diminished (vii)
These two chords are in the “dominant” family. They hold the most tension of all the chords in the key and they usually want to resolve to a tonic chord (see above).  The G major is often played as G7 in the key of C, which gives it a more dissonant or “tense” sound.  To get an idea of this tension and resolution, try switching back and forth between G7 and C, and also B diminished and C.

Sub-dominant: D minor (ii), F major (IV)
These two chords are in the “sub-dominant” family. The ii and IV chords are the “in-between” chords. On the spectrum of tension (dominant) and resolution (tonic), they fall somewhere in the middle.  They are useful in transitioning between tonic and dominant chords, as well as when you want to move away from the sound of the key center (tonic) but not as far as a dominant chord would take you.

In a nutshell you can break the chord families down like this: Tonic chords give you the least tension, sub-dominant is a little more tension, and dominant chords offer the most tension.

 

 

 

Application
Now it’s time to pick up your guitar and actually start applying some of this theoretical mambo-jambo.  Here are some common chord progression examples:

I – IV – V (C – F – G) is by far the most common chord sequence in music.  It is the basis for rock, country, folk, pop, classical and most other forms of popular music.  If you apply the theoretical knowledge from above, the chords gradually build tension as they progress (Tonic – Sub-Dominant – Dominant). Two songs that share this progression are Twist and Shout and La Bamba.

I – V – vi – IV (C – G – Amin – F) is a very recognizable pop chord progression used by everyone from Green Day to Matchbox Twenty. We can analyze this progression by noticing that it has two tonic chords (C and Amin) and that the G (dominant) and F (sub-dominant) are functioning as the transition between C and Amin.  As with the first example, we see the pattern of establishing the sound of the key with a tonic chord and then pulling your ear away from that sound, through the use of dominant and sub-dominant chords.

As you start exploring with these concepts, you can play around and come up with own ideas. For each chord in a progression, for example, you can try substituting another chord from the same family as the original. You’ll have to use your ears and own musical taste to decide what sounds you like best.  Try applying this concept to other songs you know by analyzing the chord families and then using the substitution method as shown above. Tap into your own creativity, and with time you’ll get better at your own songwriting!

Los Angeles guitar teacher David I.David I. teaches guitar, bass guitar, classical guitar, music performance, music recording, music theory and songwriting lessons to students of all ages in Los Angeles, CA. He joined the TakeLessons team in July 2012, with over 10 years of experience teaching guitar and performing. Sign up for lessons with David, or visit TakeLessons to find a music teacher near you!

 

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