Songwriting and Composition Techniques – Part 1
Whether you are new to making your own music, suffering from a bout of writers block, or just looking for new ideas to try out on your next project it can be worth spending a little time thinking about your creative process. In this article we will look at a range of songwriting and composition techniques for you to try to boost your creative output. If you enjoy the article, please check out www.theaudiotapes.com for more.
1. Getting Started
- Carry a small notepad and pen with you wherever you go, you never know when inspiration may strike. Jot anything down at all that you think may be useful, as you can return to this book at a more convenient time for inspiration and to work on any ideas you’ve already started. A good example of this is to write down ideas for song titles and use these as inspiration. Song titles may come from overheard conversations, dreams, current affairs, news headlines, social media or just random thoughts.
- Working somewhere away from any distractions and interruptions can help you concentrate. Find somewhere you can be ‘in the zone’, and turn off your TV, phone and internet to ensure you remain focused. While it can be good to find somewhere that you are comfortable and productive when composing, remember to mix this up sometimes and try working in a different location. If you are working at home try moving to the garden, the garage or even the loft and you may find the random element triggers a new idea.
- If you are generating musical ideas by jamming or improvising on your chosen instrument, make sure you record your experimentations using a computer or mobile phone. You can then listen back to these recordings to analyse any parts you might want to use. It is also perfect for capturing those spur of the moment ideas that you would otherwise have forgotten.
2. Songwriting Challenges:
- Limited Technology – if you are composing in a software program with lots of different instruments and effects, why not limit yourself to composing an EP using just the sounds from one or 2 instrument plugins. This encourages you to be creative with these limitations, it pushes you to master the plugins, how to generate and edit the sounds they create, and to rely less on pre-set sounds from vast libraries.
- TV Themes – set yourself the challenge of writing 3 different theme tunes for different types of television programme. You can choose anything you like, but here are 3 examples to get you started: 1. Quiz Show 2. News Bulletin 3. Police Drama. If you want to be more specific you could choose an existing programme or even select a scene or clip to compose to.
- Places – choose 3 of your favourite places to visit, this could be anywhere from a coffee shop to a coastal or mountain walk. Your challenge is to write a song or piece of music inspired by each of these locations. Think about what each place means to you, why is it important to you, what historically significance does the location have to you personally and what moods, feelings and imagery does it conjure that you could reflect musically.
- The catchiest songs are often made up of simple and repetitive melodies which make them easier for people to sing-along to. With this in mind, try writing a melody using only 5 different notes.
- Try varying the rhythm of the melody between different sections, this makes for a more interesting melody and helps to keep the listener engaged. For example, if you have written a fast paced verse, try writing a chorus melody using longer sustained notes.
- Try using the highest pitched note of the melody in the most important part of the song, in most cases this will be the chorus. This gives the melody, and the track as a whole a sense of building to the chorus or climactic point.
- Try writing a song that uses just 2, 3 or 4 chords. Using a simple chord structure can help to make a song catchy and familiar to the listener and there are many successful songs that use just a few simple chords.
- Work out the chord sequence to one of your favourite songs and then use these chords to write your own song. You may decide to use chords from all of the song or just one particular section.
- Vary the length of the chords between each section. For example, using faster chord changes in the chorus can give the impression of a tempo change and heightened sense of importance of the chorus.
- Try matching your bass notes with the hits of the kick drum. This helps to give extra punch to these beats and locks these two elements together.
- Use the root notes of the chords on the strongest beats in correspondence with the drums, you can then fill the gaps in between these strong beats with extra notes from the chord, the third and fifth notes would be a good place to start.
- Anything that makes a sound can be used as percussion, and you can use everyday items to make new percussion instruments. For example, you could use an empty wine bottle hit with a drum stick or put dried rice in a tin can to make a shaker – be creative.
Written by: Michael Denny
Biography: I am a freelance composer and music producer and recent credits include 25 hours of music for the Calm app, sample content for Sample Magic and Native Instruments Sounds and multiple remixes including Nick Hodgson (Kaiser Chiefs), Chvrches and Maximo Park. I am currently working on a series of library music album projects alongside new compositions for mindfulness. I also run the new Music and Creative Industry blog The Audio Tapes featuring reviews and tutorials.