by Roger Chartier:
My friend, Glory Wideman asked me to write a page about song writing techniques. She said she could use the information to help with some rehab work she is doing.
I said Yeah! But it's not so simple to explain because song writing to me comes out like an exhaled breath. I couldn't refuse her though. So, here is my best shot at an explanation.
To start with every songwriter has a different explanation about how they do it. As far as inspiration, sometimes a melody will come to me a split second after the words do or vice-a-versa. I am quite familiar with song structures, meaning the general outline of how a song is built. There are as many, many structures, but some are more common and familiar.
Here is an example: Musical solo introduction based on the chords of either the verse or the chorus or a bridge, followed by a couple of verses, a chorus and at last a verse and then an ending. I have written many songs some of which you can learn about at one of my websites, www.SailorSongs.com.
Here is a typical standard format or structure. The written page here of the song "Oh Suzannah" shows the use of verse - chorus - verse - chorus - verse - chorus. Read the lyrics and you will "feel" the difference between verse and chorus. Hear Oh Suzannah with a harmonica intro.
As far as melody is concerned that just has to pop out of your head. I have written songs in a dream and woke up and grabbed my guitar to find the chords that fit. If you are somewhere in a relaxed situation with nothing in particular on your mind and demanding your attention, sometimes you can just let one flow out from you. Let some words come out from your subconscious mind and then just sing them. Don't sing with the melody of another song but something that you can just do on the spur of the moment. It is often propelled from your subconscious by your feelings and emotions.
Here is an exercise in song writing, or I should say song creating. Sing some words (about two sentences) about person nearest to you. Hopefully it isn't someone that you strongly dislike but whatever. Use a simple melody of only a few notes.
Once you have the two sentences sung you may find that there is a sort of answer to the sentences, and that may be your next two sentences. It could rhyme at the end. To do it in a practical way write everything down as you go and edit later.
Sit down at a piano or with a guitar or another accompaniment instrument and just play random chords that sound good together. As you go, a melody may present itself in your head based on the chords that you play. Play until you find a pattern. Sometimes you can start with a verse of the chorus and fill in the intro and ending etc., later.
Lennon and McCartney, when they wrote together in the early years would each present a part of the song and edit together. Paul might have an intro and first verse and John would come up with the chorus or any combination of that.
To write a hit song takes a certain skill but sometimes a foolish little ditty will become a hit.
I wrote a song about a friend of mine called Kate who lived on a houseboat. "Houseboat Katie" was written in about 20 minutes as I had the inspiration spill out of me in a rush.
The recording of it presented me a chance to edit a few small bits such as a solo and intro.
I wrote a song called "Amigo" another song on my "Sailing Away" album that had a typical Spanish flavor with a recognizable flamenco flair. Express yourself as you practice your instrument and you will realize "hey, I just wrote a little ditty!". Before you know it, you have written a song.
Keep paper and pen and even better an audio recorder around when you practice, and it will be easier to capture the ideas that come on the spur of the moment.