Songwriting Questions and Answers

Songwriting Questions and Answers

Here is a collection of various questions asked by songwriters. If you have a question you want answer send it using the form below.

  1. While composing a song, do songwriters write the lyrics first, or the music?
  2. Where do songwriters get inspiration for chord progressions?
  3. What is the key to create great melodies?
  4. What is the difference between a songwriter and a lyricist?
  5. What is the definition of melody in a song?
  6. What is a good way to get started songwriting?
  7. What elements makes a melody memorable?
  8. What are the principles of songwriting?
  9. What are some ways to make a song chorus?
  10. What are some of the element of a hit song?
  11. What are some important aspects of the songwriting process?
  12. What are some good daily songwriting routines that work for you?
  13. What are some common mistakes that first-time songwriters make?
  14. How can an music artist get permission to record and sell songs written by other people?
  15. How many songwriters does it take to write a hit song?
  16. How does a composer sell music for song? 
  17. How do songwriter’s place or write lyrics over a rhythm pattern?
  18. How do songwriters write songs for other singers?
  19. How do songwriters go about composing music?
  20. How do I use music influences in my own songwriting without plagiarizing?
  21. How do I become a singer songwriter quickly?
  22. How can I become a better musician?
  23. How are songwriters paid when one of their songs is played on the radio?
  24. Does every musician know deep down who they are ripping off and just learn to live with it?
  25. Do songwriters just write what comes to them, or do they use tricks/tools?
  26. Can songwriters write lyrics to fit a given piece of music?
  27. Is a “Bridge” or “Middle 8” really necessary in a song?

While composing a song, do songwriters write the lyrics first, or the music?

For several months I conducted a poll on the site to find out how songwriters start the songwriting process. This graph shows the results. What I learned from this is that most songwriters start with lyrics first. Followed by writing a chord progression. In third place was starting with a melody.

Here are the poll results. http://learnhowtowritesongs.com/popular-ways-start-songs/

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Where do songwriters get inspiration for chord progressions?

There are many ways to get inspiration for chord progressions. One way is to find one of your favorite songs and learn the chords of the songs. Once you get a few songs figured out you may begin to notice certain patterns emerge. Of course there are other ways to find and discover chord progressions.

Here is a basic “Formula” for creating chord progressions.

  • Each key comprises of three different classes of chords. These classes are called, Tonic, Dominant, and Sub-Dominant.
  • The tonic class consists of two chords, one built upon the first scale step. The tonic note is the first note of the major scale, The two chords of the tonic class include the I and vi chords.
  • The dominant class consists of notes based on the fifth scale step. The dominate also has three chords. These chords include the V, iii and vii chords. The vii is seldom used.
  • The last class of chords is the sub-dominant. This class contains two chords. These chords include the IV and ii chords. The basis of this class is built on the second note of the scale.

Basic rules for movement.

  • The chords in the Tonic class may progress or move to any other chord in the the same key
  • The chords of the Dominant class can primarily progress into those of the Tonic class. On occasion, it the dominant move to the sub-dominant but preference is given to the tonic.
  • The chords of the sub-dominant class mostly progress to the dominant class.

To help you further along. Here are the classes in the key of C:

Tonic = C or Am
Dominant = G, Em or Bdim
Sub-Dominant = F or Dm

Here is a link that will provide additional information  Chord Progression for Songwriter

Not only does it provided an explanation about how chord progression are built, there is also a list of the most common chord progressions. I hope this helps you.

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What is the key to create great melodies?

A song’s melody is perhaps the most important element of the song. The bedrock of music belongs to the melody. One of the most important aspects that make a great song lies in the melody. Melody is what makes a song memorable.

The melody needs to be simple. This makes it easy for the listener to remember. A complicated melody may alienate the average listener. The key to writing a great song means making a memorable impact on the listener.

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What is the difference between a songwriter and a lyricist?

All songs consist of words and music. The words to a song are the lyrics. The music in a song is the melody. Someone who writes the words are called a lyricist. A person who writes the melody is called the composer. Both the lyricist and the composer are songwriters.

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What is the definition of melody in a song?

A melody is a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying. Any series of single tone creates a melody. The human voice, the flute, horn,—all instruments capable of emitting but one tone at a time. Each of these instruments produces a melody. Melody constitutes, then, a line of tones. The quality of the melody depends upon the choice and duration of each successive tone.

A good melody is one that appeals to the music lover as tuneful, pleasing, and intelligible. It is one where each successive tone and each successive group of tones stands in a rational harmonic relation to the one before it, and even, usually, to several preceding tones or groups. To say it another way, the tones are not arranged haphazard, but with reference to their harmonious agreement with each other.

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What is a good way to get started songwriting?

The first thing you need is to have an idea or concept for a song. From that brainstorm as many ideas as you can that relate to the idea. Once you finish brainstorming you can then pick and choose the best ideas and build from there. Start creating a chorus. This is help you write the verses.

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What elements makes a melody memorable?

The thing that makes a melody memorable is the repetition of the motif or musical phase. The motif is a small musical phase that is used throughout a melody. By repeating the main motif it “embeds” the melody into the listeners ear. Think of it this way. If you want to learn how to do something real well. You will practice what ever moves or actions required to master that skill. In effect its the repetition that build a strong memory on how to perform it. The same is with a melody. By repeating a motif of phase several times will help the listener better remember the melody.

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What are the principles of songwriting?

The principles of songwriting include the craft of taking both words and melody to create a song.

For a song to be effective it should tell a compelling story. A story will have certain elements. These story elements include: the setup, the conflict and the resolution. The story is developed through the lyrics.

The melody needs to be strong enough to stand on its own. The melody will enhance the lyric by adding emotional emphasis. In addition to lyrics and melody a song needs a harmonic structure.

The harmonic structure consists of a chord progression. The chord progression is a series of chords that are played behind and enhance the melody.

Another important principle in song writing is song form. The song form divides the song into separate but supporting sections. The song form will include these basic elements: verse, chorus, bridge. There are other song form elements but these are the basic ones.

There is so much more to songwriting, but these are a few basic principles needed to write a song.

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What are some ways to make a song chorus?

In creating a song you do want some contrast between verse and chorus. There are a few ways to do this.

  1. Raise the pitch of the melody as you introduce a new melody
  2. Vary the rhythm and meter of the lyrics
  3. Vary the chord progression.

Some songs will use the same progression throughout the entire song. The just vary other element like melody or rhythm.

As far as what chords to use. Basically you would use the same basic chords just in a different progression. For additional color you could include Dm or Em into the mix.

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What are some of the element of a hit song?

The song chosen to be a “hit” will 99% comply with a radio friendly format. There are several elements of a radio friendly format. These are some of criteria you can use to discover the best hit song.

Structural

  • The song length needs to be 3-4 minutes.
  • The intro should only be 4 bars maximum.
  • The song’s chorus should arrive before 60 seconds pass.
  • A familiar song structure like: Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus

Message

  • The words need to connect with the audience
  • The topic of the song needs to be relevant to the listener
  • Lyrics should be universal in order to appeal to a larger audience.

Production

  • The production of the song needs to be high caliber
  • The performance needs to be spot on
  • Music needs to be play excellently with no mistakes

Music

  • The melody needs to be simple and memorable.
  • The melody needs to “hook” itself into the listeners mind
  • Make certain that the chorus stand out from the verse by using creative contrast.

Hook

  • The hook in 95% of the time will be the title.
  • Make sure the song has a title that will hook the listener
  • The hook title needs a great melody behind it.
  • Repeat the hook as much as you can get away with doing.

Lyrics

  • Make sure the lyrics tell a story.
  • Watch for grammar mistakes. i.e. verb tense, pronoun usage.

Intuition

  • Most people can tell when a song is great. Tap into that feeling.
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What are some important aspects of the songwriting process?

Songwriting involves several disciplines. These include the ability to write a good story. Take that story an turn it into lyrics. The lyric need to have meter and rhyme. Then the words are fused with a melody. Therefore it’s important to write music. A knowledge of music theory is helpful in creating chord progressions. Then the song needs to take some sort of form like: Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus. Then there is the production where the song is recorded. Each of these elements come together in create a song.

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What are some good daily songwriting routines that work for you?

The most important thing to do is make a daily appointment with yourself. Keep that appointment everyday. This will create consistency and momentum in your writing. But what to do? Here are a few things to add to the daily routine.

  1. Start a new song. If you have an idea book, use that that to begin writing. Create a title, write lyrics, melody add a chord progression and give the song a form.
  2. Work on existing songs. It is a rare that a song is done in one day. Take an existing song and rework and rewrite it. Make tweaks to the lyrics, melody, chords and form. Make the song better.
  3. Finish a song. Know when a song is complete and finish it. These are just a few things you can do during your daily songwriting routine.
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What are some common mistakes that first-time songwriters make?

The biggest mistake a first-time songwriter makes is believing that the first draft of a song is good enough. The saying goes. Great songs or not written they are re-written. There’s a lot of factors that go into a great song. Things like chord progressions, lyrics, melody, form, and presentation. Each part need to be examine and polished to make a song great

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How can an music artist get permission to record and sell songs written by other people?

You will need to get a mechanical license to get the permission to record a song. Here is a website that offers this service http://www.songclearance.com Alternately you can contact the publisher directly. Another palce to go is http://www.harryfox.com

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How many songwriters does it take to write a hit song?

The number of songwriters needed for a hit song is as many as it takes. That could be one or seven depending on the circumstances. Now let’s ask how many people does it take to make a hit movie? Just saw Iron Man Three. I like to sit through the credits. There must have been literally a thousand or more people to make that movie. But that is what it took to get it out. The same is with a song. The seventh songwriter, no matter what their contribution was needed to get the song out.

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How does a composer sell music for song? 

Music compositions are actually licensed. That is how money is made. As a composer you own the copyright. The music can then be put into various media and put on the market. The music can be licensed for use in film, television, video games any where there is a need for music. Selling your music means you are selling the copyright.

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How do songwriter’s place or write lyrics over a rhythm pattern?

In the English language words with more than one syllable will have an accent that stresses that syllable. When matching words over a rhythm pattern make sure that the stress falls in on the strong beats in measure. The accent stress and unstressed syllables create a rhythm.

In poetry these are call “feet” Each line in a lyric will also have what is called a meter count. This is the number of syllables in the lyric lines. As a starting point, there is what is called common meter. The meter count per line goes like this: 8, 6, 8, 6. The first line has eight syllables. the Second line has six syllables. In most common meter the stress pattern used is called Iambic and can be represented like this: * = unstressed and / = stressed. Iambic meter for goes like this:

* / * / * / * /

to sound it out would be something like this : da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM.

Of course this is just a starting point that can be an abundance of different patterns. In music it is important that there be some level of repetition in the rhythm pattern. To give you some idea of songs written in Common Meter is his a short list

  • Amazing Grace
  • Yankee Doodle
  • America the Beautiful
    The Marine Hymn
  • I’ve been Working on the Railroad
  • Giligan’s Island
  • House of the Rising Sun
  • The Yellow Rose of Texas
  • Joy to the World
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • Beverly Hillbillies Theme
  • Ghost Riders in the Sky
  • Stairway to Heaven

To write a lyric over a rhythm pattern first establish the syllable count for each line of lyric then determine the accented beats. Then match that with your lyric.

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How do songwriters write songs for other singers?

To write for another singers/artist requires that you understand what message or image they portray. Every singer picks certain songs because they want to express their beliefs.

A good way to start is to go through and listen to past songs. If their is any press or interviews in the media check them out. That way you can get a decent representation of what they stand for. If you can, contact them directly or though their manager or producer. They will have valuable insight into what the singer is wanting.

It is also important to know and understand the music genre that they are most comfortable with. As a songwriter to also must be comfortable that the same genre.

When writing a melody, write in such a way as to match the range of the singer.

Depending on what access you have to the singer and if you have an existing relationship you may consider co-writing a song. Of course the more popular the singer is the more difficult this will be. However, if it a new or emerging singer there can be less barriers.

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How do songwriters go about composing music?

There are many elements that goes into writing a melody. The basis of any melody starts with the scale.

Without going into a lot technical explanation, the reason the notes in a scale sound right is because they are a series of “stacked” fifth intervals. Next to an octave interval the most pleasant sounding interval is the fifth. Study the circle of fifth and you will discover how the major scale is constructed.

Once the major scale is constructed, modes scales can be made by moving the tonic (starting note) to a different note on the scale. In doing this the emotional feel of the scale will change. The major scale in the key of C consists of these notes CDEFGABC. By moving the tonic to D the Dorian scale is created here are those notes DEFGABCD. Here is more information on Understanding Scale Modes

When composing a melody start with a small musical phase called a motif. The motive is just a musical idea. Composers will take that motif and morph it using various composition devices like, repeating, series, invert, retrograde. Doing this will create a musical phase. The classic example is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It starts with that four note motive and the composer morphs it into many different configurations.

A good melody will consist of a call and response or question and answer. One musical phase will be followed by another that contrast and answers the phase.

A melody line will 80% of the time follow a step wise note to note pattern. Other times there will be a leap in neighboring notes (an interval greater than a third). It is the leap that will create interest and memorability into the melody. However, to reinforce its effectiveness it needs to be used sparingly.

Many melody lines will follow an arch pattern. That goes like this. Starting note goes up, then reaches the highest note, followed by a descending notes.

To learn how to write a melody it is a good practice to study melody lines that you like and figure out what the composer did. Find the main motif. what are the musical phases?

There is definitely a method that goes into composing a beautiful melody. There is many other

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How do I use music influences in my own songwriting without plagiarizing?

Plagiarism is outright copying a song and claiming it as your own. That is word for word, note for note copying. You never want to do that. Music influences help inspire songwriters in a way they become a type of mentor. As in your case you probably have several music influences, what makes every songwriter songs original is your own life experiences. Everyone has a unique life to live. When you combine your personal life experience along with the influence of 3 or 4 other songwriters mixed in, you will begin to develop you own personal voice.

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How do I become a singer songwriter quickly?

Once you have written your first song and also sung it you begin your singer songwriter journey. It begins with a decision to start. Then after your first song write another. To become the best you can bee will require time, energy and dedication. There are many resources out there that will help you with your singing and songwriting.

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How can I become a better musician?

Simply practice and then practice some more. Also you can improve by performing in front of people. I just read a post today that claim that to be an expert and any skill you need to invest 10,000 hours. (not all at once though)

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How are songwriters paid when one of their songs is played on the radio?

Performance royalties are paid to the publisher and songwriter via a performing rights organization (PRO) like BMI, ASCAP or SESAC. You need to join one of the to get paid

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Does every musician know deep down who they are ripping off and just learn to live with it?

Every songwriter and musician is influenced by another artist. When learning how to write songs there is a tendency to emulate those by whom the songwriter is influenced. Ripping someone off is simply taking lyrics and melody, copying it word for word and note for note without various and making it their own. Creativity is the ability to take several influences blend and combine them is such a way as to create something different. In that process will be a part that which preceded it. All music has a genesis in something created previously.

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Do songwriters just write what comes to them, or do they use tricks/tools?

It is a combination of both. Essentially a songwriter has a story to tell their audience. Stories come from inspiration and life experience. Therefore in one sense songwriters are “inspired”

On the other hand there are specific skills and techniques to turn inspiration into songs. These could be considered “tools”.

For example, if I were to build a house. I would begin with the idea and inspiration of what I wanted that house to be. Inspiration alone will not allow me to realize the house. To complete this house will require the right tools, skills and techniques. It is like this with songwriting.

Sometimes inspiration needs a nudge and this is where certain tricks and tools help prime the pump.

A songwriter needs both inspiration and tools to bring a song to fruition.

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Can songwriters write lyrics to fit a given piece of music?

Yes, lyrics can be written to an existing melody. It is done all the time. For the lyricist it provides a strong framework on which to build. Essentially for many songwriters when they write the second or third verse to a song, they are in reality writing lyrics to an existing melody. http://learnhowtowritesongs.com/writing-your-own-songs/

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Is a “Bridge” or “Middle 8” really necessary in a song?

Song structure is used to frame a song’s story. That can be either melodic or lyrical. In answer to your question. Does a song need a bridge? The short answer is no. A bridge is not necessary, but it does add to a songs interest. However, at the very minimum a song must have a verse.

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