At MayosMusic we offer Private, Semi-Private and Group guitar, bass, ukulele, banjo, fretted instrument and auto-harp lessons. Plus, we are a complete luthier service that includes guitar and amplifier repairs/restorations. Through the years we have been asked numerous "Guitar Lesson" and "Guitar Repair" related questions (many repeatedly) by new/current/old and prospective students and customers. Here is our answer to: Do you teach songwriting and can anyone learn to be a songwriter?
It was once told to me by the multi-award winning songwriter Al Kasha, “songwriting is 5 to 10% inspiration, and 90 to 95% hard work.” I have come to believe this. One does need that 5 to 10% inspiration, the idea or theme, but then what? And how do you, or can you get the inspiration and where do you start?
First, I want to define songwriting, and compare songwriting to arranging, producing, playing on the record, etc.:
Now back to the songwriting process. Where can the songwriter begin when first creating the song? Some starting points are:
For myself, I usually like to start with the lyrics or the theme of the song. When writing a song, you are trying to communicate an idea, express a feeling, tell a story, etc. and words do this foremost. The melody and chord progression support the feeling and mood of the song and can make or break the song.
Can one learn and develop the skills needed to become a successful songwriter? YES. A good starting point is to analyze top rated songs and try to get into the head of the songwriter. What were they trying to say? Why did they choose those chords and play them in that order (progression)? How does the melody affect the mood? What about the timing, rhythms and supporting instruments?
Let's start with the lyrics. First choose a pre-existing song by an established songwriter/singer or band. Best to choose a song with a structure of 2 to 4 verses, chorus and bridge (optional). Now, starting from the beginning of the song (usually the first verse) analyze the lyrics, phrase by phrase, line by line, and restate your analysis in your own words. Repeat these steps with each verse, chorus and bridge. For most songs the theme or synopsis is found in the chorus. When finished, you should be able to see what the original songwriter was trying to say.
Now you are ready to backwards engineer a new original song. Start with a new theme or idea. Do not worry about writing the lyrics yet, just start with the theme. The theme can be simple, but will still need a focus. For example "love" may not be enough. Next, outline what you want each verse to say. Normally the pattern is:
During the outline phase, it may be helpful to over state your thoughts and list everything you can think of. Afterwards, go back and circle all words and phrases that are most important to each verse. These become your key lines. Repeat this process for all the verses, chorus and bridge.
Another useful technique after the outline phase is to write parody lyrics to the original song you just analyzed (think: Weird Al Yankovic). Write new lyrics that copy the rhythm of the original song, syllable for syllable if possible. This teaches what I call “economizing the words,” and you will learn to say what you want to in less words. When you are done, sing your new words to the music of the original song.
Now you are ready to analyze the music: the key, chord structure (diatonic or chromatic), phrasing (timing), etc. of the original song. I however, will leave this and the rest of the songwriting process for future private lessons. Good luck.