Play while you write. Or.....take some of that poetry, glean the thoughts from the words and rewrite it with your instrument at hand.
I have books and books full of poetry, none of which I have ever been able to turn into a song, the music has to reflect the words and the words have to reflect the music your best off doing them at the same time then they fit together naturally. When Im working on a song I often put it on loop and just sing what ever comes into my head with what ever melody comes from my chords, with a pen and paper to hand I write down the golden moments, and fill in the gaps if needs be.
Figure out a melody in your head first. If you go far enough back, all music is evolved from speech, but compositionally it's much easier to treat the voice as a separate instrument as opposed to a method to get out words. The words will come in in stops and starts. Lyrics are also never final until you've played it so many times you forget that everyone else is still hearing words come out of your mouth.
That being said, I'll outline my method put as concretely and creatively as I can muster (Enjoy, it's a little long... lol):
Before I started in with music, etc., like most kids, I played with legos, tinker toys, did some puzzles, and played connect the dots.
Legos: I usually start with the "blocks of sound" that will eventually make up the instrumental (or basis thereof) portion of the song. Then I listen, and try to figure out what I feel emotionally from the song. Just looking for a direction really, and start thinking about where the melody will sit in the song. Basically you're just putting musical licks together that you like. Even if you don't realize it, you're laying the bottom most layer of what the words will eventually be.
Box of Tinker Toys: Now that you have big chunks of the legos put together, you can move on to the melody. Listen to the song, and find a melody line, and start planning the overall composition a bit. Find bits you like. These are tinker toys. You can take apart old projects, or steal/borrow a few from the kid next door. Just trying to find enough tinker toys make sure you'll have most of the ones you want when you need them. On top of your good beginnings to a solid little fort built of legos, start just sticking tinker toys in the crooks and cranny's to see if they'll stick, or if you can build the Legos around them some for support. And yes, tinker toys and legos are hard to connect, but you can make them work together, you just can't be a perfectionist about it.
1000 Piece Puzzle: I play through the song like a 1000 more times staring at my box of tinker toys, some of which I already half-ass bolted together and put back in the box, and some of which are just totally wedged into a mostly finished, but kind of formless Lego structure (Maybe a couple of tinker-beams are actually perpendicular and look like they're supposed to be there). Then I scribble down words, phrases, thoughts, until I have a super loose outline of maybe what the lyrics could be. Those, my friend, are puzzle pieces. Anyway, the whole point of trying to build up the scaffolding of tinker toys is so that it will at least probably hold the puzzle you're working on when you get further along with connecting the pieces. You're looking for the pieces that you can put together without knowing what the picture is, cause it's just a bunch of dots. Find any "edge pieces," and it gets easier. If you can figure out some pattern to your particular set of dots you might start to see what the picture is eventually going to be as well.
Connect the dots: At this point, your lego structure should be pretty much done. You may want to put on some of the cool beveled pieces here and there, or try to match up block colors, but you know what it looks like and swapping out a piece or two probably isn't gonna make or break it, you're really just making it look nice. The scaffolding is shaky, but you've been working on it while you got the outline and several big sections of the puzzle done. There's a few pieces missing, but you can maybe start connecting the dots into whatever pattern they seem to be. Do it in pencil though. To be clear, since I haven't explained this metaphor, connecting the dots is the meaning of the song. As the bottom layers start to actually look structurally sound, and maybe even work together in cool ways you didn't set up intentionally, you're done with the puzzle. There's a piece or two under the couch somewhere, whatever. Mom'll find it next time she vaccums back there. You're trying to make the dots work, and they're obviously some kind of four legged animal, but the face is really hard. You'll get it, it just takes time and maybe some extra-creative connections. You're pretty close already, and you're friends should already be kind of impressed... or worried about your mental health. Both are good, after all their sanity never got them an awesome, epic tower of juicy metaphorical meanings, lol.
I suppose my point here, is that first of all, it's a lot of work. Second of all, it takes a lot of time and tweaking. Thirdly, you have to work in layers and in little parts that become bigger parts, but you really can't do one layer at a time. Each layer has requirements from the layer above and/or below it, it kind of just has to evolve. The song will be fun if you have fun with your creation, it'll be serious if you're serious while you're working, etc. Seriously, even when you finish connecting the dots, you can always bust out some colored pencils and put some pizazz in the final picture.
For the record, I sometimes think it would be faster and less tiring to build a fort out of legos, make scaffolding on top of the fort with tinker toys to support a 1000 piece puzzle of dots that I'm going to make into the portrait of a puppy. My final word of advice though, is don't be too turned off if the puzzle turns out looking more like picture of a cat when you're done. It was obviously a cat the whole time, and you were too distracted by stupid little kids toys to realize it back when you were snapping together Legos.
I've been extremely lucky over the last six years in that I have gig that is basically writing and producing original songs for educational curriculum. I mention that because I wanted to point out that I have to come up with a lot of music and hit specific deadlines. This year I have four specific deadlines and have to come up with 22 songs that deal with specific subjects. The people in charge of building curriculums give me a list of the subjects to be covered (with a short description) and that is all I have to go on.
After working this way for so long, I've come to the belief that the single most important thing you need to figure out is your subject. More specifically the title, even if it's just an instrumental piece. Because I am given a specific subject, I don't have to dwell on the titles as my song titles tend to be variations on the subject.
Two that I am currently working on are "Dulcimer Song" and "Music Helps You Study," which are basically the titles for those two lessons. The Dulcimer lesson called for a musical piece to allow the student to hear what a dulcimer sounds like, so that meant the song had to be based around an actual dulcimer. So drums/percussion were out, as they would overpower the featured instrument.
I find it's easier to sit words on top of music, much like scoring any other melody instrument. Therefore, I first came up with some chord patterns based on an actual dulcimer. I found an excellent sample-based dulcimer for only $30.00 from the good people at Indiginus. It's for contact and I was able to come up with an interesting chord pattern and a hook by playing around with it for a few hours.
Next, I built the various patterns and hooks into a structured piece of music. I am constrained by a child's short attentions span so I rarely go beyond 2 minutes for a song.
The song subject dictated that it would be an acoustic piece with a basic Appalachian/backwoods type feel, so I built the arrangement accordingly. I also decided at this point that I would be casting the song for a female voice, which dictated where the key would go and gave me some boundaries on how wide the melody would range. I have a half hour commute to work each way, so after I get a basic demo down for a song or two, I make a CD and just play it over and over for a couple days. I start singing along with it in my head. Sometimes a bit of a lyric will start to emerge. At this point I was mainly interested in something to go along with the hook I'd developed. Once I had that I started writing words.
The title/subject also dictated the lyrical content. When I am writing a descriptive song, I research as much history/facts/etc. that I can and copy/paste it all into one doc. Then I start pulling out what I deem are the most pertinent bits of information and paste them into my lyric writing program. I use MasterWriter and it's the best investment you can ever make as a songwriter. I used to use the Clement Wood Rhyming Dictionary, which was awesome at the time, but MasterWriter is the most efficient way to put a lyric together. There are different options to license it and you can purchase it outright for under $200.00. There is also a free demo you can download. It combines a large rhyming dictionary that shows the words in columns, which makes it easier to find the rhymes you need. You just highlight the word you want to rhyme and bring up a list of all the possible rhymes. You can also get sound-alikes and phrases. You just click on each word/phrase and they are put into a list for you. To round that out there is a very good Thesaurus and Dictionary that work the same way. There is also a simple audio recorder that you can put your idea down on.
I apologize for going on and on about that product, but I honestly couldn't do my job without it. I think that regardless the style of music or type of lyric you want to write, this will simplify the process. It also puts everything into a convenient, searchable database and has an option to allow you to register your finished song. Enough about that.
I also apologize for the longwinded post, but I wanted to express what I feel is the most important thing about a song. Of course it isn't the only/best way to work, but for me it is a method that has consistently produced results.
30 Years and I feel like I have just arrived at lyricsville. Finally. Lately I have been able to express full melodic metaphors mixed with real life images in real time. In the past year, the amount of useable ideas on playback has jumped noticeably. I have had more comments about these stories at open mics as well, so I know something is improving. It is a long road but I am loving the trip.
Jason Blume and Pat Pattison have some helpful guides for writing songs. It's really not a complicated process to get a decent sounding song that other people enjoy. Some things I wish new songwriters would do to make their songs nicer to listen to (be kind to your audience):
1. Format songs ABABCB while learning the ropes
2. Find the songs Hook/Chorus idea first and write the rest around that
3. Use your Verse and Bridge lyrics to help your audience see your Chorus in a different light each time
4. Use lots of repetition (ultimately the melody should be memorable enough people can tell your song when you whistle it)
5. Differentiate the verses, chorus and bridge (busy/sparse rhythm; high/low melody; front/back heavy rhythm; etc)
6. Make sure past, future and present tense do not get mixed up
7. Write from a 1st person perspective (I/you has much more impact than he/she)
8. Less is more - try to say what you want in as few words as possible
9. Avoid cliches like the plague, they make people snore (use a tool like b-rhymes, or your head, to find original rhymes)
When starting out, follow these basics. Once you have 20 or so songs under your belt, if you want to, start breaking the rules and experimenting. If you listen to the majority of hit songs, they follow most of these rules.
Last edited by Daniel Munro; 12th March 2012 at 08:15 AM..
And I almost always write around a vocal melody and a couple lyrical hooks that have context with each other very fast.
Usually after emotional roller-coasters with huge peaks and valleys...in the past these could have been the deaths of friends, break ups...strong feelings about the path the U.S.A. has taken in the global community...etc.
Lyrics tend to be more fun if they're telling a story you want to tell, and helping you sort your feelings about something out. It could be personal, or it could be more broad in terms of subject matter of course...but I find that most of my songs could be interpreted directly in a very literal manner, or with a grain of salt depending on how your mood is listening to them.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's better have this mantra that you're only in competition with yourself, and that you'll try to make the next song better, or more fun, or more interesting than the last and not to take getting there so seriously.
People all too often arrange songs badly with too many things going on stepping on obvious melody and groove.
I also tend to release songs that are interrelated in themed groups...so that the listener again has a wider context to appraise and appreciate hopefully.
Telling facets of a larger story with several pop format songs is kind of my thing that way.
But of late...I just write when it comes. IE: I let something obviously musical write itself and I try my hardest not to over-complicate it.