songwriting advice

Songwriting: advice and insight on the craft of writing a song

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Updated March 2020

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We’ve posted songwriting advice that covers music theory, the use of interesting (and basic) chords to spice up your writing, lyric writing, and being generally creative as a writer. We also tackle topics like writing and producing children’s music, have exclusive interviews with hit songwriters, include excerpts from books, address songwriter’s block, and explore a variety of other topics that relate to the craft of writing a song. We’ve collected them here – check ’em out!

General Advice Chords/Theory
Songwriting advice: Cry when you write, dance when you produce
CLIMB podcast hosts Johnny Dwinell and Brent Baxter lean on some sage songwriting advice from veteran songwriter Ralph Murphy: deliver a positive tempo.
Get bluesy with Mixolydian and the Mixo-Dorian Blues
Study up on the Mixolydian Mode, queue up a nice Mixo chord progression, and you’ll see why guitar masters like Eddie Van Halen, Angus Young, and Duane Allman all love Mixo-Dorian Blues.
Choose the right key for your songs
There are a lot of factors that play into choosing the right arrangement for a song — but choosing the right key for you and the musicians might be the most important.
Lift ‘em up with the Lydian Mode
In music, a mode is a formula for creating a musical scale. The Lydian formula (W–W–W–H–W–W–H) can give your melody or progression an uplifting and yearning feeling.
Become a student of the songwriting craft
Want to know the number one reason why artists fail? I’m gonna be blunt about it: their songs aren’t good enough.
Surprise ‘em with the major mediant chord
While the mediant (iii chord) isn’t as structurally integral as the tonic, dominant, or subdominant, employing its major variation can provide an unexpected surprise that will make listeners’ ears perk up every time.
Songwriting tips to help you stay creative
Not all these songwriting tips deal with the time you’ll spend with your instrument in your hand, but that’s the point… your life should be rich and inspiring so that the music you create is too.
Use the zesty Neapolitan chord in your songs
A touch of exoticism could be all you need to lift your song up from the mundane. The flat-second, a.k.a. Neapolitan chord, can be just the ticket.
You need to work at being creative
Being creative is not an innate ability that you either have or you don’t. Creativity is not, in and of itself, a talent. Creativity is a way of operating.
Using suspended chords in your songwriting
Suspended chords offer more than just a frilly little something to add to your music. They work as substitution chords, they can smooth out chord progressions, and they can add tension to your music.
How to write a great melody: What makes a melody great?
While I can’t give you an exact recipe for how to write a great melody, I can point out some common traits great melodies have to help improve your melodic skills.
Two chords can make a song
These songs from decades past show us that, really, more is less. Let’s explore the magic of the bVII-I progression and how two chords can make a song.
How to write a great melody: Putting the rules to work
To write a great melody, throw in a dramatic flourish to enhance a moment, but sing the way people speak: It sounds better and makes a melody more memorable.
Sometimes, one chord is all you need
While it might be difficult to keep a song interesting if you limit it to one chord, it can help create tension, highlight your lyrics, or drive a hypnotic groove.
Hit songwriting elements that make a song great
While this advice is focused on songwriters looking to land a song on a major label artist’s album, knowing the elements that go into hit songwriting can help you excel.
Using augmented chords in your songs
Augmented chords can add drama and tension, as shown in these examples from popular songs from the ’60s through the ’80s.
Every song has a story
You can find inspiration from anywhere – every song has a story, even if the song has nothing to do with the source of its inspiration.
The magic of Nashville tuning
While Nashville tuning uses the same notes as a standard guitar tuning, used by itself and in layers, this tuning can bring an articulate presence to a recording.
Getting out of a creative rut
There will be inevitable periods when you find yourself in a creative rut. The challenge is knowing how to work your way out and get back to the business of making your art.
Need songwriting inspiration? Try alternate guitar tunings.
This post explores some common — and some of the more obscure — alternate guitar tunings to inspire you to write your next masterpiece.
Creative strategies to keep your songwriting flowing
Sometimes you may need a prompt or a process to keep the creative juices flowing and get your critical mind out of the way. Here are strategies to get your songwriting on track.
The lush world of eleventh chords
Eleventh chords can liven up music in any genre, but they can be confusing. Here are some charts and examples to help guide you in your pursuit of extended chords.
Intensify your musical arrangements with call and response
Your solos and musical arrangements can come to life when you incorporate call and response between instruments, vocalists, and any combination you can think of.
One note to rule them all: The pedal point
A pedal point is the repetition or sustain of a single note through various harmonic changes that can make a standard progression more interesting or ground it in the familiar.
A great solo can elevate your song
Whether it’s a virtuosic guitar, a transcendent piano, or a funky breakdown on bass, a great solo can add power and personality to songs in any genre.
Constructing a song from a melody
When you’re constructing a song, think of it in relation to the human body. You build the skeleton first, which can be a melody, and develop your song from there.
Songwriting on a tight timeline
Limiting your songwriting time may seem counter-intuitive, but it can help fuel your creativity in interesting and unexpected ways.
The awesome power of power chords
Power chords might not be chords, but they’re powerful intervals — especially when mixed with distortion.
Collaborating with another musician can boost your exposure
There are many benefits to collaborating with another musician, including creative growth, more press opportunities, and a chance for a whole lotta exposure.
Supercharge your music with the flat-six chord
Borrowed chords are commonly used in music influenced by the blues, including rock, jazz, R&B, even country and folk. Today we’ll focus on the flat-six chord.
Songwriter’s block: where does it come from?
Creativity comes from divergent thinking, and the stresses of work and family life can cause it to disappear and leave you with the dreaded songwriter’s block.
Sixth chords can add subtle complexity to your songs
Sixth chords have an inherent lack of identity and purpose that can be riveting — a sixth chord can set dark moods and add a layer of complexity to your music.
How to do children’s music right
The 2015 Grammy nominees give a lesson on how to create children’s music that treats kids with respect, doesn’t dumb down the music, and keeps things fun.
Ninth chords add space, dissonance, and ambiance to your arrangements
There are many diverse kinds of ninth chords, and they are used in different ways. We explore different kinds of ninth chords, how to use them, and provide examples of their use in popular music.
Don’t limit your songwriting to 4/4 time
Experimenting with different time signatures can give your songs a creative edge and lead to better songwriting – and we’ve got examples to prove it.
Spice up your musical arrangements with substitution chords
Jazz musicians know and integrate substitution chords on a regular basis, but musicians who play other genres of music can also employ this concept to great effect.
Avoiding common songwriting obstacles
In this post, Ben Camp shares his perspectives on the art and craft of songwriting, including methods he uses to develop compelling song ideas.
Music theory can help you write a great chorus
There’s no “formula” to write a great chorus or hook, but these techniques can spark ideas to write, rework, or critique your own songs.
Writing, recording, and performing children’s music
We’ve got ten tips on how to succeed performing and writing children’s music from Grammy Award winner Jennifer Gasoi.
How to find the next chord when writing a song
When you’re writing a song and can’t find the chord to complete a progression, using applied music theory will help you discover your best options and complete your song.
Writer’s block: 11 tips to help the songwriter get unstuck
What do you do when you can’t remember how to write a song? Here are tips from experienced songwriters to help you overcome writer’s block.
Songwriting and a quick lesson in music theory
Music theory won’t dictate the correct chord progression or choices for your song. Instead, it’s there to help you with chord choices, melody decisions, and more.
Popular Songs/Artists Analysis Lyrics
Songwriting tips from the Beatles’ “Help!”
Few popular songs meld music, lyrics, and theme as potently as the Beatles’ 1965 hit single, “Help!” Here’s how they did it.
Seven Things Every Lyricist Should Know
This post is excerpted from “Seven Things Every Lyricist Should Know.” Realizing these points has really helped me in my songwriting career and will be helpful no matter what you do.
Brian Wilson’s songwriting tricks and techniques
We look at recurring songwriting and chord techniques Brian Wilson used to create some of the most beloved and enduring songs in 20th century popular music.
Writing lyrics with depth
If you are interested in writing lyrics with depth, you need a deep artistic well to draw from. All output requires input, and as a lyricist, I recommend you begin with words.
Songwriting lessons from John Lennon
We settled on three compositions that provide virtual songwriting lessons from John Lennon: “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Julia,” and “Watching The Wheels.”
Using writing exercises to craft lyrics
Nobody is born a poet. These writing exercises can help you do something about it.
George Harrison’s songwriting brilliance
From his earliest work to his successful career as a solo artist and collaborator, the simplicity of George Harrison’s songwriting belies the brilliance this great artist.
Five lyric pitfalls to avoid when writing Country songs – or ANY songs!
Want to know how to write a country song? This Nashville songwriting teacher lists five pitfalls to avoid when writing songs for any genre.
The song worlds of three musical greats
We highlight Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and Robyn Hitchcock, artists who create their own song worlds over the course of multiple albums and years.
Music theory and “The Hills,” by The Weeknd
Knowing a little music theory can help you dissect your favorite songs and better understand how to write songs of your own. We break down “The Hills” by The Weeknd.
Ask a songwriter: 5 questions for Five For Fighting’s John Ondrasik
Excerpted from our new guide, Songwriters on Songwriting, here are a few insights from hit singer/songwriter John Ondrasik.
Ask a songwriter: 5 questions for Byron Hill
Excerpted from our new guide, Songwriters on Songwriting, here are a few insights from hit songwriter Byron Hill.
Ask a songwriter: 5 questions for Rachael Sage
Excerpted from our new guide, Songwriters on Songwriting, here are a few insights from indie pioneer and innovative songwriter Rachael Sage.
Ask a songwriter: 5 questions for Kent Blazy
Excerpted from our new guide, Songwriters on Songwriting, here are a few insights from hit songwriter Kent Blazy.

Professional songwriters offer advice on how to write a 

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