On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

Hints & Tips for Writing an Original Song

Hints & Tips for Writing an Original Song

I was asked to teach a couple of workshops on songwriting a few years back at some of my all-time favorite California bluegrass festivals, including the CBA Father’s Day Festival in Grass Valley, Bluegrassin’ in the Foothills in Plymouth and the Mid-state Bluegrass Festival in Paso Robles.

In preparation for those workshops, I put together the following notes that I thought might be useful to ponder and chat about, sitting in the grass in the shade of tall trees. Nothing like an acoustic guitar, kindred friends / musicians / songwriters and a shady spot to stretch out on a warm summer day.

Before you begin…

  • What inspires you to want to write a song?
  • What do you want to say that’s unique? Expressive? Thoughtful?
  • Write about a topic that you personally care about
  • Listen often to other artists you enjoy
  • Study the songwriting styles of other artists who inspire you
  • Be ready to answer the call of the muse—whenever and however it happens—with pen and paper, tape recorder and/or your instrument
  • Remember: every song ever written was built on the same limited palette of notes that is available to every songwriter

Writing the song…

  • Possible starting points: an inspirational topic, a memorable phrase, a story you want to tell, a chord progression, a cool riff, a melody line, a chorus, free-form experimentation
  • Be open minded about where your first idea may ultimately lead you
  • When writing lyrics, establish a logical pattern of meter and rhyme
  • Avoid sounding contrived in melody and verse. In other words, just because you can doesn’t mean you should
  • In writing words and melodies, simpler is often better
  • Be specific about how the melody is supposed to go
  • The memorability test: Is the melody one that you can hum or whistle?
  • Vowel sounds are easier to sing than hard consonants

Putting it all together…

  • Ask someone else to perform your song so you can listen to it objectively
  • Evaluate the continuity of the entire song once you’ve developed it
  • Don’t be reluctant to edit the song, even after you’ve decided it’s done
  • It helps to lay a finished song aside and return to it later with a fresh ear
  • Don’t let the opinions of others derail you
  • Like any other worthwhile pursuit—don’t give up, be persistent, be prolific

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7 Comments

  1. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  2. This really helped. Right now I’m working on a song to help me deal with a problem I had with a really special girl. I couldn’t figure out how to express it. But now, I feel like it will be alot easier. Thank you!

  3. Hello all. My name is Zachary Lipman. I am a hopeful someday-to-be singer-songwriter. I have been having consistent and constant difficulties trying to come up with lyrics and melodies for my original songs. I can come up over 100 original song name ideas, but never the lyrics and melodies. I have a very original process that helps me write original songs for myself and for friends that are hoping to ask someone to be their girlfriend and or boyfriend: Step 1, take lined paper and a pen or pencil. Step two, title the page with the names of the person and the person they’re asking out. Step 3, write down any and all words, emotions, thoughts, feelings, personality traits, phrases, sentences, behaviors, ways of being treated by the person they are asking, that come to the person’s mind whenever they think and or daydream of the person that they are asking to be their boyfriend or girlfriend. I am hoping to achieve my long-term future dream of finally getting over my 16 year long stage fright battle and conquering that embarrassing fear and become a famous singer/songwriter for myself and other famous singer/songwriters, TV shows, movies, and documentaries. Thank you so much to http://www.onsongwriting.com/hints-tips-for-writing-an-original-song/ for giving me the advice and help to make my original songwriting process hopefully a lot or at the very least a little bit more easier, better, simpler, and much less complicated to accomplish and achieve. From: Zachary Lipman at

  4. I love your blog

  5. Stop thinking about writing songs, and start writing songs. You really want to be a famous star, don’t you? You daydream about being on stage and hearing the roar of the crowd. Only trouble is, gee whiz, you’re dreaming your life away. If you want to write a really good song, you’re going to have to work for it. Start today. Commit to writing a certain number of songs per week, the way successful authors commit to writing a thousand words a day.

  6. I am writing a original in Japanese called,”Biginingu abu za Endo,” and I found you post helpsful! Thankyou!

  7. Thanks Mayu. Happy you find the site helpful. Good luck with your new song. Let us know where we can have a listen!

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