Legendary songwriting coach and author of The Craft and Business of Songwriting, John Brahney, hanging with TAXI CEO, Michael Laskow, in his office.

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how to write a songFor many learning how to write song is not so much the issue. However, learning how to find the problems in the songs they do write, is a valuable tool. To start with, new songwriters should just write lots of songs.

The best goal is to write 100 songs. Sometimes beginning songwriters need to write a lot of songs to find what isn’t working and figure out how to get them working better. And this is often difficult to do on your own, which is why looking to outside sources can be most helpful.

Take a song that you’ve written that you know isn’t quite right and consider why it is, what’s the problem? Is it interesting? Is it flat and without color? Eighty percent of the time it is a music issue that is related to one of the following most common faults in amateur songwriting:

  1. Lack of tension and release.
  2. Incorrect movement of the melody in the various parts of the song
  3. Musical punctuation/ phasing of the melody.


A successful song writer does not have these issues because he innately knows how to fix them. It is possible to learn about these issues and how to fix them and how to write a song well. There are many great books that will help to revise and understand the problems in your songs. Addressing these three issues alone regarding the music will make a song much better and easier to listen to.

The solution is to learn the basics that you absolutely need to know.

Learn:

  1. Chord progressions and what to use where and what chords follows what. Learn which chords that are not in the key of the song are available to add tension. Learn how to add tension with sevenths etc.
  2. How melody moves in verses and choruses.
  3. How to punctuate a melody


Once you have mastered these three elements of how to write a song, you will have solved 80% of your problems. It’s your choice whether to go deeper into musically theory from there.

The point is, if your song lacks color and you’ve studied the use of chords in songs, you will know where you need to add a bit of tension. You will know there is a choice of usually two chords, other than the basic one you have used, to do it. It is then simply a matter of trying one then the next and see what the effect is.

Without an understanding of the issue of tension, you may be unaware there is a problem. If you know there is a problem but you’re not sure what is, you will not know how to fix it. In either case, you will rely on trial and error, making life hard or yourself.

In summary, the best way to start learning how to write a song is to study how chords work together. Then prepare some memory aids that will remind you which chords work with the key you have chosen and which chords you can use to add tension (that might take you an hour’s worth of work.) Several half hour lessons would be enough to cover these basic elements. Well worth the effort. And the writing should improve.

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Ever wonder how songwriters find the songs to write to get started? Like any creative process it varies from person to person. The one thing that all successful songwriters have in common is… They start. And they don’t quit. Songwriting can seem mysterious and inaccessible to those on the outside. Unless you have songs naturally popping into your head or writing themselves as some songwriters maintain, you will need to create the environment for songs to write.

Some songwriters start in childhood making up rhymes and little ditties. Johanna Burns had a toy Casio Keyboard and used to sit in her room picking apart pop songs she heard on the radio. Her interest in how the songs worked and were constructed blossomed into songwriting and singing career at the age of 24. She has two EPs released independently, “Everything Til Now” in 2005, and “Music From & Inspired By,” earlier this year. Burns has shared the stage with Ingrid Michaelson, the Click 5, Melissa Ferrick and Fountains of Wayne, and has finished a two-song EP she hopes to release in the fall.

When asked where she finds inspiration for songs to write, Burns says, “I’ve become inspired more by how other people’s songs make me feel. Maybe it sounds loopy, but I kind of get inspired by the essence of a song, the whole picture. For example, John Mayer has a song called “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” off of his “Continuum” record. That song is so good, it’s almost something tangible.”

Connie Kaldor who teaches songwriting workshops suggests listening to a lot of music and deciding what you like and don’t like, “It is good to start with songs that you like.These are the ones that ring a chord in you. Those writers are doing something right. Not everyone has to write in this way. There are as many different writing styles as there are people. There are songs within every style that are worth examining.”

Kaldor loves the creative aspect of songwriting. She notes that is wonderful to make something out of thin air. The thing is songwriting can be a fun, playful activity. “It is the way I express myself and most of all, it’s fun to do.”

Some suggested steps to getting started on songs to write:

Take a song you know well and like and write new words. One of the easiest forms to start with is the blues. It has a clear pattern, it has a clear rhyme scheme and you can get by with four lines at a time.

If blues is not in your repertoire, try a simple children’s or traditional song. Take the first line and go from there.

There are always starting lines that will get you going, make sure the ending words are easy rhyme words like:

“I walked out and what did I see…”

“This is the way I feel today,…

“Tell me , tell me, tell me please…

“I saw you and what did I do…”

You can sit around and wait for a bolt from the blue and the songs to write themselves or you can get started now. Commit something to paper. Play with it. Have fun. I’ll be writing more about how to write songs from the beginners perspective.

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Have you ever wonder if you have songs to write inside of you? If you’re like me you’ve experienced hearing a song playing on the radio that you relate to so much that it seems like it’s about your life and how you were feeling right then. It’s like someone put a sound track to your life.� My favorite example of that was the songs from Joni Mitchell’s Blue album. (from my codependent, “he done me wrong” period). I could put on Joni and feel some how comforted and understood. On the other hand, no one else’s songs quite express exactly what I experience and what I have to say.

I have believed for a long time that had songs to write inside of me without knowing how to go about it. Many attempts at writing, books read on theory and I have yet to finish my first song. Yet, I remain completely fascinated by songwriting and how songwriters write songs.

This blog is dedicated to bringing out the inner songwriter and story teller in everyone one who suspects they have songs to write. For everyone who has wanted to write songs or tried and gave up, we will explore everything about songwriting from where successful songwriters get their ideas for songs to write, how to write lyrics, melodies to how to get recorded or published.

Take Vermont native, Pat Kelley, Owner Operator of Kelly Automotive Sales and Services for instance. He really dabbled in songwriting for decades while running his business in Vermont. It was a chance meeting with Nashville songwriting giant, Bucky Jones (Eight #1 hits and 25 Top 10 hits since 1975) that gave him the catalyst to really encourage him write songs in a big way.

Kelley was interviewed by Robert Smith in his weekly blog about Vermont and New Hampshire. He tells his story of meeting Bucky Jones and how he came to be a featured songwriter on the Nashville’s America’s New Artists Tour. Pat says he gave a tape of his songs to Bucky Jones to listen with the understanding that he would get honest feedback and coaching.

Jones liked the songs enough to encourage him to keep writing and even proposed songs to write together. To date they have written 20 songs together and Kelley will have two that he has written on his own that will been recorded on the new Mike Kidd album. “That’s a remarkable feat for any songwriter – especially a new one.” Read the article about Pat Kelley and his music.

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