Songwriting, Part 2

In this article, I've expanded upon the list of ideas for each concept. Before getting to that I want to point out most of these ideas are entry strategies for songwriting/composing. That is to say, these concepts (as well as most of the ideas listed in "Songwriting - Part 1") are usually best suited when beginning the songwriting process of a new song. They can also be useful in beginning a new section of a song. That being said, there are other ideas and techniques that are generally more effective for solving compositional problems (such as transitions, modulations, economy, climax, etc.) but not to worry, these things will be presented later.

Beginning With Melody First

After you have written a melody, begin to write the chords around it. It may help you to compose the chords for this melody if you record the melody first, listen back to the melody while writing the chords. Ok, after you have your new chord progression written, record it. Listen back the recording of the chord progression only (without the melody). Using the chord progression you wrote for your original melody, use your guitar to improvise/compose another new melody for these chords. Compose several different melodies. Sometimes the original melody may not be used in the song because. one or more of these new melodies may be better than the original. It is always good to have options from which to choose from.

If, after composing several melodies, your original melody is still your favorite, don't think you wasted your time by writing new melodies that are not as good. Many times you can still use at least one of these other melodies with the first melody. For example, your favorite melody may be used for the vocal melody, but you might want to use another melody as a counter melody played on another instrument under the primary vocal melody, or you can use the second melody as another vocal melody sung by a backup singer(s).

Yet another option is to use the original melody as the first half of a much longer melody and then use one of the other melodies as the second half of this new long melody. In this case, the second melody serves as an extension of the first to form a new long melody. Although this can be a very useful technique yielding more original results, it rarely works out perfectly the first time you try combining two melodies together to form one. You will probably need to make at least some minor adjustments (alterations) to one, or both, melodies to get them to connect in a cohesive way.

A variation on the last idea is to use two different melodies in the same section of the song in an AB form, ABA form, ABBA form, ABAB form or some other variation. It is important to understand the difference between this idea of separate formal sections and the last concept of making a single long melody. The long melody idea has a simple formal structure of "A" (it just happens to be long), vs. "AB". In both cases you are using both melodies one after the other, but in the long "A" idea (from the paragraph above) you typically need to make alterations to make both melodies fit as "one continuous melody". The "AB" form idea does not need to have the same level of cohesiveness. It is not seamless, the "AB" version has two distinct parts and can be rearranged in many different combinations (AB, ABA, ABBA, ABAB, AABBA, etc.)

Even if you finally decide to stick with your original idea and throw away everything else that was suggested here (sometimes this happens to me too), the process of going through all these techniques will make you grow as a songwriter, so its well worth the time and effort you invest.

Beginning With Chords First

Bear with me as this next set of ideas begin the same way as the last set, but the benefits and results will be much different. After you have written a chord progression you like, write several different melodies to go over the chords. Once you have composed a few melodies, record each of them without the chords. If you need to, listen back to each recorded melody and compose new chord progressions for each melody. If you wrote 5 melodies over the original chord progression, you will write 5 new chord progressions (one for each melody).

As you can imagine the same variations and combinations that were suggested above in the "Beginning With Melody First" section, can be applied here. The same ideas and variations can be used for the "Beginning with Chords and Melody at the same time" (discussed in Songwriting - Part 1).

The point here, in the above examples, is to keep you thinking about "developing" your ideas further and further before settling on the first good idea you come up with. Often times the process of developing your ideas will result in far superior results than you may have achieved without it. Of course, sometimes you may like your first ideas best for the current song, and use the newer ideas in a totally different song.

Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.

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