Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Write a Song

As a few of you may or may not know, I'm in a band with my best friend, Marika, called the Zii Trees. We've been playing together ever since fourth grade. Back then I played the guitar, but now I play the baritone and soprano ukulele and Marika jams out on both the ukulele and the piano.

We wrote our own songs from the very beginning. And, in the very beginning, they were...subpar (to put it nicely.) In case you were wondering just how subpar they were, here are some excerpts that I will reluctantly share with you, from our early days of songwriting.

Ningas - note, the spelling of ninjas with a "g" 
was intentional, cuz we were cool like that.
We are the ninjas.
we are the ninjas,
we are the ninjas,
creeping through the night.
We are the ninjas,
we are the ninjas,
we are the ninjas--
That's right! 

Snowfall covers the plains,
when will we see spring again?
Flurries of snow are passing by,
I-I-I-I-I watch them fly.

It took us way too long to trash those songs. Fortunately, our songwriting has improved immensely over the years, and now I feel the tiniest bit at liberty to share with you some tips about songwriting. I'm no professional, trust me. But if you've got an instrument and a notebook, you can write a song, and these are just a few tips to start you off.

1. Write the music first. One thing I do not recommend is writing a verse and THEN putting a melody/instrument to it. Songwriting is a whole lot easier for me if I make up the melody while I'm writing the verses--the flow is better, the tune works, and you don't have to compromise around words that might not fit right.

2. Songwriting is all about bending words to rhyme them. When you're writing, it's easy enough to incorporate "half rhymes"--words that might not rhyme in, say, regular poetry, but sound just fine when sung. For example, in a song I wrote recently I managed to rhyme "think," "dreams," and "in" all in the same verse.

3. Your song doesn't have to have a deeper meaning. You'll always hear famous musicians being asked, "Why did you write this song?" "What does it mean?" "What was your inspiration?" But listen up: you can bet at least 3/4 of the songs on someone's album were about nothing (unless they're Taylor Swift--but she's totally a level up.) I, for one, find it very difficult to write songs about specific events or people. Most of my songs are just angsty gibberish. It's okay to have no idea what your song is about, and it's also okay to admit that to people if they ask.

4. Songwriting is HARD.  It really is. Sometimes a song flows right out of you with barely a tug, and other times you have to pull and pull and pull some more, and even then you might not get a full song out of it. Sometimes you come up with a great riff, but for the life of you, you just cannot put words to it. Other times you write a really great verse, but you just can't write a chorus. Half of my songbook is strands of lyrics and half-finished songs that I ran out of steam on. Don't feel bad if songwriting is tough for you--we're all in the same boat.

5. Have a partner. So you're in a rut. You've realized that songwriting is, in fact, very difficult. Maybe you have half a song scribbled out, or just a verse or a loose chorus. You want to continue, but you just can't. This is when a buddy comes in handy. I'm lucky to be in a band with Marika, and every so often she pulls out my songbook and orders me to play her all my loose songbits. If she likes something that I couldn't finish, she'll help me. Same goes for me if she's in a rut. We sit down together and work through our songwriter's block, and the two of us can usually make it work.

That's about it, folks. I can't write your song for you, but I can give you a tip or two. Everyone has their own songwriting style, and these tips might not work for everybody. But if you can sing, and you can write, you can write a song. Bonus if you can play an instrument. Now go forth and write!


  1. That Ningas song is catchy :P
    I don't write songs but these tips seem helpful :)

    Neal Kind
    Daily Diaries

    1. Good to know!

      It's never too late to start writing :)

  2. I like that Snowflake one. Very nice, I can actually imagine a band singing that....

    1. Teehee, you'd need to listen to it before you can judge whether any band would actually want to sing it.


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