On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

Doug Sedgwick On Songwriting

Doug Sedgwick On Songwriting

Doug Sedgwick is a widely-traveled poet, Army veteran, high-energy live performer and spiritual musician based in Reston, Virginia. According to music critic Wildy Haskell, Doug has “tremendous songwriting talent and the ability to project different personalities/voices into his songs, like soliloquies in a one-man Broadway show. This folk/rock singer-songwriter might be one of the best of the genre, and you’ve probably never heard of him.”

In addition to writing original music, Doug has also done a fair amount of thinking about the process of songwriting. Rather than ask him a bunch of questions on the subject, I thought I would simply present some of his ideas.


Here, then, are twenty insights Doug Sedgwick has to share on songwriting…

  1. If it works as a piece of art and doesn’t adhere to the “principles” –- go for it! Never let another songwriter tell you what rules you should be following. Develop your own set of principles (and only read further for ideas that have helped one writer)
  2. The basis must be emotion and the subconscious goal is movement of the listener. Move yourself emotionally and the listener will be moved
  3. The idea to get across should be simple. It should fit into 3 minutes – maybe longer if it requires a solo or extended bridge to help emphasize the point
  4. Stolen from Andrew McKnight: Your most favorite song in the entire world is the one you’re singing at the time you’re singing it. Put every ounce of your feeling into the performance. If your lyrics are good enough, just expressing them should push you to the emotional core of the piece
  5. A new song should begin with the words. The cadence of a phrase brushed against the cockles of your heart ought to get a back and forth thing going. Seek out the chords after the basis of the melody springs up from the motion of the words themselves
  6. Go to the fourth for the chorus. Get as much melody worked up from the words as possible – then see if you don’t naturally go the fourth for the chorus anyway
  7. I just finished reading “This is Your Brain on Music.” Studying the brain waves of jazz musicians in the act of improvising shows a close correlation with the brain activity of dreaming. Dreaming and writing music are intertwined. Find where your intersection of the two activities helps you produce
  8. Even though the best songs are usually the ones that seem to flow from a higher power, you should still attempt to work through and finish any song you start. Determination to solve musical challenges in lesser songs will help your brain automatically bring out more varied and interesting creative surprises those times when the muse is smiling on you, as it were. The skills you develop slogging through a tough composition will become ingrained and later surface naturally at the appropriate place in the process of writing a song that “flows” later
  9. Go ahead and seek inspiration. If listening to Dylan gets your juices flowing – don’t be afraid to take in chunks from YouTube or your old vinyl. There’s no infringement in stealing an IDEA for a song that came from listening to another song. Even an identical chord progression will be unique by virtue of your melody, viewpoint or singing style. If books, movies or TV trigger ideas – go get them
  10. Learn to let go and not judge what starts to happen when moments of inspiration kick in. Follow your instincts. Ignore your reason
  11. Rhythm rules. The beat trumps the melody. Greater is the sin to play offbeat than to play off-key. Develop rhythm EVERYWHERE in everything. This critical undercurrent of life is proof of a higher power in this world. When a steady rhythm is laid down, a visceral pathway to the interconnectivity of all humans opens up
  12. Learn to believe completely in your own magic. When Spielberg directs, the audience has to suspend a certain amount of belief in order to be drawn into the story. If Spielberg doesn’t put his own faith on the line, the audience will sense it the same way a dog senses fear. Your FAITH in you is what carries
  13. Your unique view is valuable. Instead of despairing you can’t play guitar like Tony Rice, Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen – remember: Tony, Eddie and Yngwie can’t play like you. Your experiences and views are no less important – your execution and expression is just different – but must be here to satisfy SOME need in the universe. Revel in the qualities that make your expression unique and believe that an audience is hungry to hear you express yourself in a manner unlike any other
  14. Pitch matters – but not the way you hear it. No two people hear the same. No single person hears the same their entire life. Constant perfect pitch is boring. The opposite extreme is worse. Witness how truly awful singers overcome poor intonation with sheer determination and understand that there are microseconds where pitch can be horribly wrong that will make the music more exciting
  15. Zoom out. A painter with his nose inches from the canvas sweating the texture of a cloud may have lost sight of the true focus of his own painting. As the song develops, keep trying to step back from the easel a few feet occasionally and make sure you’re still in touch with how the listener will perceive the work. How will the whole of the song strike a listener on the first play?
  16. Take all criticisms with a grain of salt. What if Tom Waits (or Bob Dylan) – attending song circles – had been told he really needed to learn a new way to sing? Part of that which makes them truly unique would have been lost. Some criticisms may genuinely help you; others may not serve your own best interests. Discerning the difference will be the hard part – but if any feedback seems to cut too deeply against the grain of the artist you think you’re meant to be – have no qualms about nodding, smiling and then silently disregarding it
  17. Keep the child inside alive. If your musical knowledge and depth of understanding have grown SO VAST that you have lost the sense of wonder and the willingness to be fooled into believing in magic (see #12) – you should give up the craft
  18. Never stop learning. There is something to be learned from everybody you encounter
  19. Give of yourself by listening to people. Especially in these times when we’re bombarded by the media talking at us, there is a deep hunger in the population at large to just be heard anymore. Lend a sympathetic ear without feeling you have to tell a better tale. Many ideas for I’ve had for songs stemmed out of conversations with everyday folks who just had to be listened to. Hear them out and reap the benefits
  20. Lastly, practice self-discovery and self-improvement. Take a spiritual path, and let your own self-awakening surprise you with songs inside you never knew were there

Doug let no constraints of genre stop him from expressing his views on his latest CD entitled Committed. The 12 acoustic guitar-based songs that address love, anger, humor and war — here is a track from the project: Disappoint You


Doug Sedgwick at Amazon:


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[easyazon-link asin=”B001AZFXKG” locale=”us”]Committed[/easyazon-link]