Songs You Love
So after many hours debating how people (including myself) learn to write songs, I have tried to figure out how I started writing songs and how I developed. And I discovered something very interesting when I went back and looked at my very early songs. The first 20 or 30 songs are very poor, dull, predictable and not even slightly interesting, not very personal or expressive, had bad or no structure, poor or non existent rhyme schemes, and constantly changing melodies. But then something changed and the songs worked better as songs. I went back to my note books and found that between these two "periods" I had done some study...
I remember thinking about playing guitar and how I learnt to play. I listened to records that I liked and learnt to play the stuff that I liked and let it absorb in. So I did it with songs, and I am sure it made a positive difference to my writing. I would recommend that you try it.
Write a list of 20 songs that really move you. Think back and try and get on that list only songs that stir something deep inside you. Songs that make you cry, songs that make you feel good, songs that remind you of a certain moment. Songs that have connected. Now take each song one at a time through these exercises.
Write out the lyrics. Read them through. Ask yourself what it is about them that touches you? How do you relate to the song? Are there specific points in the song that reach in?
Look at the lyrics from a technical point of view. Where have metaphors been used? Where have similes been used? What is the rhyme pattern? Does it rhyme? Is alliteration used? Are the words simple or complex? It is poetic or literal? Is it written using modern words and themes?
Look at the lyrics from an art point of view. Do they use a lot of imagery? How do they describe things? How much detail is used? How is colour used?
Look the the structure of the song. Divide it into Verses, Pre-Chouses (old school people call this the bridge), Choruses, Bridge (or middle 8), Outro and also note Instrumental sections. You will find that there are very common patterns that most songs follow. But not because they have to, it just often works a certain way. Learning about form is one of the most important aspects to writing. Study this well.
Learn the song harmonically. Work out the chords. If you can't, then use the web to find out the chords. Play the song. What are the chord sequences? You will find that many songs you like will have similar sequences. If you understand theory, what key is it in? does it modulate? Is it a major or minor sequence? Are the chord simple or complex?
Focus on the melody. Work out how to play it on your instrument. Is it using notes from a scale? Does it use notes from the chords? Where is the highest note in the song? Is the melody the same every verse, or are there slight variations? Are there big intervallic leaps or is it scale like?
Listen to the dynamics of the song. Where is loud and where is it quiet? Where is it the most powerful? How does the band or artist delivery the most powerful point?
Find the hooks. What is the bit of the song you remember best? What is the hook that caught you? Are there melodic hooks? Is there a lot of repetition?
After all this study, listen again, and it's very likely that you will hear it very differently. What has changed? What stands out to you now? Does it still connect in the same way, or is it deeper, or just different?
I'm sure that after just a few songs you will see writing in a different light.
This is the way that I learnt to write songs. I bought books, but never read much of them. I have tried doing specific exercises, but I never once got a song I liked out of one.
Doing exercises like this will help you learn the craft.
But songs come from living. So don't forget to live! ;)