How To Get Started In Song Writing

Tommaso Zillio If you are like most musicians (and you are reading this article) then my bet is that at some level you think that writing song is something magical that happens spontaneously… and you really really want to be able to do it, but you don’t know if you have the “talent” for it. Well, good news first: you do. Writing songs - like many other activities - is something that you can learn and train and get better at. And YES, once you get familiar with it then other people will look at you and think that you must have some special “natural talent” as songs seem to come so easy to you. Here come the ‘bad’ news, though: you have to learn how to do it. In fact these are not bad news at all: it’s very fun to learn how to write songs, to experiment with music, to get better at self-expression. Now, for the technical component of songwriting (chords, scales, musical forms, etc…) I will refer you to your teacher. Let’s talk for a moment of another, arguably more important component of songwriting. Something that you can start working on immediately… and will never stop working on while you are an artist. That is: what are you going to write about? You see, many young artists have this burning desire to compose songs, but when you ask them what they are going to write about, they don’t know what to answer. And that’s ok at the beginning, you can desire to be the messenger even if you don’t know yet what the message is. But before or later you have to find it. You can write about world-wide social problems, or you can write about intimate feelings. You can write about the progress of mankind, or you can write about you last break up. Everything goes. But it has to be something YOU care about. So try this right now: pick a topic. Any topic: no topic is too big or too small. Write something about that topic: either put together two chords that “feel” like that topic, or a short melody, or a couple of lines of lyrics. Don’t try to ‘finish’ it: just get started. We are not trying to write a whole song: we are just trying to stimulate your creative muscles. Chances are that after writing something about a topic, you may want to change it. Or you find another way to write about that same topic. Or you discover that you want to go about it in a completely different way… but you will not know that if you don’t start. Here’s an advice I give to my students: “write something that you will throw away”. Don’t write to ‘keep it’, don’t try to make it good: just write. If you can let go of your judgment and just write, you will see that you will find your voice very soon.

About The Author

A professional prog rock musician, Tommaso Zillio is a regular writer of columns about music composition.