NSAI: Songwriting Essentials

At NSAI, our members utilize services such as one-on-one mentoring and song evaluation to tighten the nuts and bolts of their songs. But what are the nuts and bolts? Things like melody, lyrics, song form, hook, and title fall into this category, to name a few. Song form is the basic structure or canvas that lyrics and melody are painted onto. The structures or musical forms of songs in popular music are typically sectional, repeating forms. Taking metaphors and analogies and giving sense to them enable songs go from good to great.

Just a quick primer, the verse and chorus are considered the chief elements in song form. Each verse usually has the same melody (possibly with some slight modifications), but the lyrics change for most verses. The chorus usually has a melodic phrase and a key lyrical line that is repeated (the “hook”). On top of these fundamentals, songwriters personalize a song with their heart and perspective to convey thoughts and emotions that only they can express.

No matter where you live as a songwriter and how far along you are in your creative journey, you can bloom where you are planted. As much as songwriting is an art, it is equally a craft and there are practical tips you can apply to your writing today. Here is a quick list of some of our favorite tips from some of our beloved teachers:

Mining for titles, diamonds from the deep. (Pete and Pat Luboff) The title is the hub of the wheel of your song. If your hub isn’t strong, your wheel won’t roll! You can find titles everywhere – a phrase pops out of your own or someone else’s mouth during a conversation, you hear a line of dialogue in a TV show or movie, even a headline in a newspaper or magazine. The qualities that make any good writing strong hold true for titles – imagery that excites our curiosity and interest, inner rhyme/alliteration, and conflict/drama/suspense.

Don’t overlook resources like a rhyming dictionary and thesaurus. (Debi Cochran) While utilizing these resources – even if you don’t find the exact wording you were searching for, simply stepping away from your lyric may spark ideas you may have never thought of otherwise. No matter how long you have been writing, these are basic tools you should have at hand in any writing session.

Evoke through imagery. (Sheila Davis) Images are words that suggest physical sensation. The most common are visual ones, which are often referred to as word pictures. Skillfully arranged images can produce a gamut of sensory experience. Skillfully arranged refers to the ability to create a series of word pictures that start at a distance and gradually come close enough to touch. Consider the fact that we are able to hear and see objects that are far off–mountain peaks and train whistles–but in order to touch and smell and taste an object, such as blueberries in a bowl, it must be at close range. A lyric, therefore will mount to a climax through “a progression of images.” In the very best kind of writing, the word pictures grow sharper in outline and more intense as the lyric develops.

Put your song on a diet, trim the fat. (Shereé Spoltoré) Take out any and all unnecessary words like and, that, but, just, so, really, there, somewhere, etc. Your lyric needs room to breathe. People need time to receive the message, assimilate the thoughts, and apply it to their life so they can have the “a-ha” moment connecting them to your lyrics. An abundance of unimportant words can clutter up the lyric. When your lyric is too cluttered, it doesn’t give the artist room to put their emotional delivery.

Find an original angle. (Sara Light) When you’re coming up with your title and your specific way to show the universal truth, think about how you are going to make it fresh and different. Often that just means sticking with what you know. Be authentic. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” Write from your personal experience or from a story you understand and relate to.

Take your listener on a journey. (Brent Baxter) Think of a song as a story: it should have a beginning, middle and an end. After you have introduced your theme and characters in the first verse and chorus, make sure the second verse moves the story forward. There should be some sort of emotional resolution by the time the listener gets to the end of your lyric, ie. a lesson learned, decision made, love gained, etc…

Expressing one idea and one emotion. (Jason Blume) You only have three to three-and-a-half minutes and probably somewhere between twenty-four and thirty-six different lines of lyric in which to tell your story. That leaves no room for subplots and extraneous details. Ideally, you should be able to express the idea of your song in one sentence, and the lyric needs to stick to that focus.

For more songwriting tips, check out our recommended reading page that you can find on our home page, NashvilleSongwriters.com

What’s happening at NSAI:

• Interactive Song Evaluations | NSAI now offers you the opportunity to interact via Skype, with an NSAI Song Evaluator without having to leave your home.

• NSAI Song Contest presented by CMT (August 1 – October 31) | The only major song contest that is open to only amateur writers, this contest helps establish and build relationships within the music industry. Visit the NSAI website for more details and prize information.

• World’s Largest No. 1 Party (September 19)| Help us celebrate the writers of the year’s No. 1 songs under the party tent at NSAI.

• SongPosium (September 20-23)| The ONLY comprehensive, week-long, educational event exclusively for songwriters.

*Visit nashvillesongwriters.com to jump start your songwriter career!*

By: Debra Gordon

1 Comment

  1. Debi Cochran mentioned using a rhyming dictionary as source of inspiration. One of the best rhyming tool that I have found especially in regards to creating song titles is Rhyme Genie which lets you look up close to 50000 titles of hit songs of the past 50 years.

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