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How do you write songs? By writing songs. Deceptively simple.

Write anything. Most of it will be crap. Most will be incomplete. But like any particular thing you can do, the action of doing makes some thing easier. For example, you got better at walking by walking, not by thinking about walking. 

In times past, this meant keeping a pen and notepad handy and that is still a good way to go. In addition to that, we have portable devices that we can write in or record sound in. Portable digital recorders like the Zoom H1 and others like it. Any smart phone these days. As well as tablets whether Ipod or Polaroid (android.) USB mics and other versions that will plug into any of these to get even better sound quality than the onboard mic in a phone. Of course, laptops, which can do full recording and mixing if you are willing to put up with the small screen that a lap top has. At the very least, you could record an idea and export to your desktop the next chance you get. There you will have your 24 inch by 14 inch or whatever you have. And DAWs these days can do split screen, where you could have track editing window on one monitor and mixing board on the other monitor.

What comes first, the lyrics or the music? The answer is both and it depends. Sometimes you hear a bit of music and a phrase comes to mind. Go for it. Other times, you think of a neat phrase or run of words. What music goes with that? Well, first, you need to sing it, get a melody going for it. Then find or make music that supports that melody. It's okay to be good at one thing and not everything. One of the most successful teams in songwriting is the duo of Elton John, who writes the music, and his friend, Bernie Taupin, who writes the lyrics.

Do you have to write a lot of music? Successful writers do but that does not mean that you need to do so. What is important in either case is that you write, even if it is incomplete. You may put several bits together and complete one song. If you do not write any of the bits, then you will never write a complete song. You can be a successful singer who never writes songs. There are grammy-winning artists who do not write the songs that get them awards for performer of the year and whatever else awards. Nor is having the award the end-all goal, though for some, it is.

Writing songs is like singing, you do it because that is what you do.

How to write a song. Pay attention to songs and you will see a few basic patterns. Most songs, regardless of genre, follow the pattern known as A B A B C A B or A B A B C B B. A is verses, B is chorus. C is a break or bridge that sometimes includes instrumental solos, usually guitar or keyboards. There is aslo AA all the way through. AB only. You can break these rules. Led Zeppelin broke rules with "Stairway to Heaven." Each phase of the song introduces something new and there is not one motif that runs from start to end. And the intensity, instead of oscillating, keeps increasing to feverish volume, even as the actual beat of the song remains steady throughout. That is, the guitar may sound like double time near the end but the drums have not shifted from the initial groove. I have been playing that song since 1980, which I think gives me some insight and time to reflect upon it.

So, why that first basic pattern I listed? One of the things about audio analysis is how the human ears are tuned to around the 2 kHz region because of how human ears are structured. This region has the strongest harmonics and resonance in the cries of an infant. This allows human parents to hear the baby cry and see to his or her needs and protect the infant from the big and bad world.

Fletcher and Munson constructed a graph that explains the tuning of human hearing and it is why a 2 kHz note at low volume sounds as loud to us as a lower frequency at higher volume.

Notice how human eye sight is good at some things? That is because of the patterns of reception in our eyes.

Same goes for lyrical content and formation of movements in music. Can you write songs in other forms? Well, it will still tend to fall into one of the three patterns I showed. And the most basic pattern is going to reach everyone, including musical "snobs" who would eschew something so "basic." You can fight it to no good end. Or accept that as the most adaptable and successful form of human communication. Don't get me wrong, some things are worth fighting, others not so much. But listen to all kinds of music. Punk is still following  A B. Some of the more successful punk songs followed A B A B C A B, just like every "pop" song you ever heard. What was different, then?

The tone of the instruments and just as often, the appearance of the musician. Look at Black Flag, Whitesnake, Toby Keith. What is different? Fashion and the tone of the instruments. You go from shorts and no shirt to a cowboy hat and pearl snap shirt. You go from guitars screeching through overdriven amps to a clean sound with some lap steel guitar thrown in. The song form is the same. The song form follows the human pattern of thinking.

This is going to help in the refinement of lyrics. In addition, rhythm. What looks good and so "literary" on paper can be nearly impossible to sing in rhythm. So, the active songwriter goes through re-writes. You may choose a different word that means the same thing but is easier to manage in a vocal melody that is moving.

There is a really good book called Song Maps that you could get and I would advise doing so. One of the best insights is to view the song in 3D. That is, a revolving display of the same object.

And that song forms follow a pattern of lyric arcs. Call and response or question and answer, or problem and solution.

Places and times.

And what I like to call list songs.

"Ironic" by Alanys Morrisette is a list song. And it is ironically titled because most of the things in her lists are matters of coincidence, not matters of irony. That is, indeed, ironic.

"Live Like You Were Dying" is a places song. Different perspectives of the same thing, the mortality inherent in our lives. It starts with a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer and shifts to a guy who begins to value the relationships in his life, and then to a guy who re-evaluates his morality and how it relates to his religion, all tied into how we face our own mortality.

"R E S P E C T" is a call and response. To understand me, you must respect me.

"Born in the USA". It is not about patriotism as the title might suggest. It is about the frustrations and the ennui of the blue collar worker who feels put upon by others. It is a list song.

"Red, White, and Blue" is patriotic and it is problem and solution. Others attack us and we retaliate to win.

"Jack and Dianne" - places and times.

Your song, whether you realize it or not, will fall into these patterns, but it helps knowing ahead of time because it will streamline your process and get the song finished faster.

It is like this - you can walk while stepping on your own feet but it will take so long to get somewhere. Or, you can quit stepping on your own feet and just walk there, efficiently.

What if you don't play an instrument for writing songs? Now is a good time to learn. And you do not have to spend a lot of money. In fact, I would advise against spending a big chunk of money on an instrument. Which one should you get? I would suggest guitar or keyboard and you don't need a full 88 key. Rarely does the actual chord progression of a song require using a full sized piano keyboard. How do you play?

Shoot, there are so many free sources. Thousands of hours on youtube. If you are into guitar, I would suggest going to groovy music lessons. That is the site of Scott Groves, a professional musician who spent decades, starting as a high school prodigy, on tour and in studios and still plays to this day, if his health allows, at local gigs were he lives. As of 09-24-2017, he has a deal at his site where you can download all of his easy to follow music lessons which is over 200 hours, for ten dollars USD. Or you can buy other formats. You will think maybe it is too much to get the CD rom but think of the storage media you would have to buy. One word of warning, maybe to parents, Scott uses adult language in some videos. But he is one of the best teachers I have seen and you don't have to have a musical education to start. Just start copying what he does. These lessons will teach you how to play well enough to write a song, and beyond, to where you can become as virtuostic as he is, if you so wish.

I have a thread elsewhere with my hacks and observations on guitar playing. I can play other instruments but I am better on guitar than other instruments. I also talk about setting up the guitar to play well for you. And you don't have to spend a lot of money. Go to pawn shops, ebay. Even Guitar Center has some incredible deals in their used instrument section with the advantage that they don't mind a bit if you plug in and try it out. I think it is best when you can try a guitar before you buy. Another word of advice in spending your money wisely. If you are at Guitar Center or Sam Ash and we will use the Epiphone SG as an example, averaging 159 dollars plus tax and they have a used one for a little less, like around 100 to 110, my advice in that situation is spend the extra 40 or 50. A new guitar gets you manufacturer's warranty, outside of whatever warranty GC would want to sell you. The only reason to go with the used guitar is if it is, indeed, everything you want and plays just right. A guitar is personal so, buy the guitar you really want, regardless of price points. But don't be afraid to spend a little more to get the best deal, not just the absolute lowest price. Certainly ask about what warranties you will get with either purchase. Some places will let you buy warranties on used items.

ebay is okay and if it arrives busted, you can return it. Same with amps.

There is no need to spend thousands. You will often find good amps at pawn shops. One word of advice, some pawnshops will sometimes try to charge the price of a new amp on a used one. In that case, since you are spending the same amount of money, buy new because you get warranty.

Again, in my thread on redneck guitars, I talk about making adjustments to your guitar and replacing parts. So, you could buy a used guitar cheaply and replace parts and modify things as you wish.

Believe it or not, I have seen a Walmart solid state amp hold its own against a Fender tube amp.

Effects boxes. After my years of experience, I agree with Scott Groves, you will not need anymore more than the Digitech RP55 multieffects box, or any of the RP series. Sure, the factory presets are funky but that is okay, the sounds are still good and I have always altered the factory preset of whatever box I have to something that suits me.

You could have all the guitar you need for a few hundred dollars. Something you could write with and also play real gigs with. My Fender 85 combo amp was less than 100 dollars at a pawnshop. 65 watts rms which is more than loud enough for a club or pub, more than adequate for recording. For recording and songwriting, you could even get away with an 8 to 10 watt practice amp. Point being, just pick one and stick with that.

And it doesn't take long to learn enough chords to put a song together.
So you write a great first verse. Then you go forward to figure out the second verse and hit a wall. Nothing. It has a name in the business. The second verse curse. One of the short cuts around that is make your first verse that was so awesome become the second verse. Now, you can write a new "first" verse that leads up to it.

A song idea may start with just a phrase. And may never progress beyond that. That's okay. Keep it around because you could put it in another song where it could fit. In all the books I have read on songwriting, including books by award-winning writers James Blum and Simon Hawkins, writers will have boxes and folders and envelopes full of lyric bits and a bunch of sound files of tunes they hummed when they thought about it. And that has helped others. The most famous example I can think of came from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.

He had gotten into the habit of having a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder around (this was back in the 60's.) One night, he halfway woke up and hummed a few bars of music into the mic and then fell back asleep, leaving the recorder on. The next morning he listened and he had 15 seconds of a guitar riff and 35 minutes of his snoring. That bit he hummed into a recorder before he fell back asleep? It was the main riff to "Satisfaction," one of the biggest songs ever for the Rolling Stones.

Sometimes, you will write a song that seems so short and you think, shouldn't there be more verses? Not necessarily. Some songs are meant to be simple and the power of the song is the clear and direct message. It is okay to repeat a verse from before. And certainly the chorus repeats, though you can also change chorus, now and then.

And you don't always need a huge build-up to a chorus. Dave Grohl said it best in an interview he was doing with Kyle Gass from Tenacious D. "Don't bore us, get to the chorus." Then he proceeded on the spot to start improving a song called "Life's a Bitch." Do one but no more than two sets of verses then get to the chorus.

The reason for this has to do with the natural human attention span. And too many people want to abhor that but I think it is a survival mechanism. Our attention span, as short as it is, is a benefit in the environment of this planet. There is danger everywhere, from weather to other animals that could be our predators. Shifting focus and attention is what keeps us alive as a species. Most people listening to a new song will give it about 20 seconds. If it does not interest them, the move on to something else. Every single song that becomes a huge hit gets to the chorus in less than sixty seconds, usually getting in around 20 to 40 seconds, not including intros.

Guys who were masters at distilling this process were the Ramones. Seriously, they could play 2 and 3 minute songs, rolling one into another, all killer, no filler. Like a one-two punch from a street fighter.

You can vary from all of this but treat it as the skeleton or framework on which all songs rest.

Other times, you are goofing off on guitar or keyboards and you hum a long and a melody starts to appear out of it. That is okay, too. What does the melody say? It can sometimes inform you but not always. The trick to songwriting and staying out of ruts is, believe it or not, staying out of ruts. Do something different or backwards. Ritchie Blackmore did that. He took the starting motif from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and literally reversed it. When you hear "Smoke on the Water," you are hearing the reversed notes from the Beethoven 5th. That is directly fromn Ritchie's own words.

Another thing I will do is find new chords by using a bit of music theory. If you treat the circle of fifths as a chord chart, you can use that as an inspiration. Take a chord. Go the fifth. And then the fifth from that. See if one of those chords fits better as a major or minor chord.

The only scale you need to learn on the guitar is the major scale and the only mode you need to learn is minor pentatonic and add one note, the flat 7th to make a blues scale. If you do that, you can play anything on guitar.If you have read my guitar thread and I talk about two frets as the basis, that is the major scale on guitar. Starting at A, every note is two frets apart until you get to the B string and it shifts one fret up. That is because there is 4 steps up from the G string to the B string. I should have included this in the guitar thread. All those cords that say 6, 9, 13, diminished, augmented? Those are simply including 1 more note in the chord of 1, 3, 5, or replacing one of those notes. That is all it is. So, a real blues guitarist when asked will tell the key of the song is G demolished. Kind of an inside joke. That A major scale on guitar? I saw Scott Groves do that, something he has always done that no one ever teaches. He just figured it out because it sounded good and everything came from that.

But don't get bogged down in the numbers. There is an old saying in guitar. You are never more than one fret away from a good note. So, use that to find your way through a song.

Even if you only play one instrument, learn to think in bigger arrangements that include drums, bass, keys, more guitar. For one thing, it will help solidify what the song is meant to be. And these days with DAWs, you can MIDI program instruments that you don't play or own in real life and fill out the song. Especially if you are a songwriter, this is absolutely awesome in putting together songs you hope to sell to someone or, if you have a publishing contract, complete and basic songs you can give to your publisher.

And they don't have to be complicated. Get in the habit of writing down arrangement notes, even if it is your own special short hand, like bass intro 1, bass intro 2 add high hat, snare roll, main beat. Stuff like that. Not just for you when composing, but also notes for whomever may record your song for an album. It tells the studio musicians what to expect. And, in that case, it is really worth your while to read a primer book on the Nashville Number System that is used by everyone, not just the studio geeks in Nashville. It is a simple and quick shorthand that literally everyone will understand.

And write tabs if you play guitar. These days, you can find tablature blanks. When I was younger, no one made those and I would take regular manuscript blanks and add another line. You can also go about learning how to read and write manuscript which will help. But if you at least get used to the Nashville Numbering System, your stuff will work anywhere.

What should you write about? Whatever suits your fancy. Every genre has love songs, so go for it. Plenty of people write "serious" songs. Others write comedic songs. Both are great. Some write party songs, songs about having a good time and no worries. That is okay, too. People need a break from all the serious stuff in life. Every doubt you had about whether your song is good or whether others will accept it has been faced by every single great songwriter you have ever known. These are the stripes you earn in your path to being a prolific songwriter.

The advantage of writing your own songs is that they will fit best in your voice because you are writing them with your own voice. Whatever that voice is. You don't need the "perfect" voice. Some of the most famous songwriters did not have "pretty" voices and often their songs were performed by others with pretty voices who made it a gigantic hit song.
So, the trick to songwriting is to keep writing. All the big songwriters for whom you think it is so easy? It is not. The difference is that they never stop writing. They have boxes of crap and gems arise out of it. And so you will go through the same mountain of snippets and bits and pieces.
Another great book about songwriting is better songwriting by Pattison. First exercise of the book caused me to write a song in my head in 10 minutes. Another 10 minutes to actually write it down. First exercise, look at an object and write anything about it. What does it remind you of? Do you have this object? Where does it fit into a story? I mean, damn it, I was having a hard time reading the rest of the chapter because my new song was running in my head like an ear worm and it would not let go.

When I was done, I wondered, wow, where did that come from? In some sense, the song was already there and I found a key, the exercise of describing an object, to unlock it and let it out. I was literally scrambling with wordpad to get out of the way of the song so I could get it down. I already have a melody. See, I was reading the book on the kindle app of my tablet but I was in the bathroom and then jumped in the shower and sang the whole thing beginning to end while washing off the sins of the day. Then got out and tippety tappety, clickety clackety, and "save as."

Juxtapose that with another song I have been working on for over a year that I cannot seem to finish. That is going to happen to all of us and either one is okay. And if I were to be honest with myself, the unfinished song might have limited market appeal but the new one that wrote itself, I already know it is a hit song. That happens in a lot of efforts. You spend so much work and time for something that yields limited results and another one takes no time at all and is huge. We have to learn to accept that.

I think there is a common miconception that only country songs tell stories because, at least for male singers, the range is in the speaking range and it sounds like a story being told. But all songs are telling stories, even the ones with limited lyrics.

The story does not always have to be long and convoluted. But it can be, if that aspect is important.

A distant friend of ours, Ray Wylie Hubbard, is a legendary outlaw country musician/songwriter. As I have mentioned elsewhere, he wrote "Redneck Mothers." Most recently, his song "Time to Rock and Roll" was in the soundtrack of the movie, "Hell or High Water." Most have not heard his original recording of "Redneck Mother" but most have heard the cover of it recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker. youtube it to hear both versions.

In "Redneck Mother," the song consists of the chorus repeats and then, in a bridge, he reveals the word mother is an acronym. The rest of the song is him talking about his early days as an outlaw country guy. And of course, the sage advice, "can you sing this song for the next fifty years?"

Another person who is a master at this kind of singing stories thing is Arlo Guthrie, who wrote famous songs like "Alice's Restaurant Massacre" and "The Significance of the Pickle (the motorcycle song)". And his father, Woody Guthrie, was an american folk music legend. However most people first knew of him from his cover of a song called "City of New Orleans," written by a young man presented to him at the end of a gig. And Arlo had nearly passed on the song but, to good result, he stayed, listened, and recorded it.

And so, the more you write about anything, the easier it gets, mostly, to write about anything. And often the advice was to pick a genre and get good at it. But others prove that wrong all the time. Write what you feel and it is okay to change style. Darryl Hall from Hall and Oates was big in R&B back in the day. Modernly, he sounds more rock and blues than earlier days, and that is also okay.
How can you write a song from bits and pieces? Simple, really. Because most guitar-based rock music is based on bits and pieces. We guitar players call them riffs. Short bits of melody or movement on the guitar and we cobble some words together to go with them. The example that first comes to my mind is "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin.

"Hey hey mama said the way you move gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove ..."

Then twiddly bits on guitar with Jimmy. He could have changed his name from Jimmy Page to Jimmy Riffmeister,

You can do a lot of instrumental work. ZZ Top early stuff would include some lyric and story telling and the rest was soling instruments. Mostly Billy noodling over Frank and Dusty. However, when they got into shorter songs with more lyrics and a tighter structure, they sold a lot of albums, like the Eliminator album. Songs like "Sharp-dressed Man" and "Jesus Just Left Chicago". Those were the most commercial songs by then, and far less esoteric that anything from the DeGeullo album (pronounced day - GEH- yo).

You can go completely instrumental like Eric Johnson or Steve Vai, save for having some guest singers. Those are guys for whom guitar is the primary expression where they are most comfortable. Since we are mostly singers here, I would imagine we will write songs with lyrics in them that we will sing.

When dreaming up riffs on guitar or even keyboards, go ahead and write parts for bass and drums, even if you don't play those. Later, you could program MIDI or get with a friend who plays and you show them your notes or ideas of how you expect the bass or drums will sound and if they are any good, they can take your idea and run with it and you go "yeah, man, that's it!" and away you go to rock and roll heaven.

For example, maybe you do not know how to write drum music with manuscript (there is a specific method) or even RL notation. Write it down as a sound. For example, guitar riff, riff, then drums go rat-a-tatta-boomp. That would translate to a 4 strike snare roll followed by a kick single hit. In the regular part of the song, you could simply write 4/4 boom snap. that is the standard Beatles back beat in 4/4 time. A regular drummer is going to know that is alternating snare and kick with the closed high-hat playing 1/8 notes. If you imagine drum rolls or fills, write them. Like s -s -s tom 1 (high tom). That would be 3 snare hits followed by 1 hit on the high tom or first tom. Same with cymbals. Crash is c, ride is R.

Same with bass guitar. make notes. Either the bass follows the melody or it is harmonic to the melody. For example, standard country bass is usually the 1 and 5 of the key. So, in the key of G, the bass would play G and D, with the D note being the one below the G, not above it, Though you can do that, too, if the song is really helped by it.

In what song would a bass play the melody? "Sweet Child of Mine." In reality, Dufff McKagan is a guitar player but he plays bass in GnR and the beginning of the song, he is playing the melody, In the main part, he shifts to a harmonic line as Axl takes over the melody from him.

You can write songs on instruments other than your main instrument or shift from one instrument to another. I was writing a song on guitar. And then wrote the bass part for it and it was just as busy and I thought, well, crap, now two instruments are fighting. So, I moved the riff to the bass and the guitar will be the accent, instead of the other way around.

That is a cool way to freshen up your song and songwriting. Take a bit you compose on one instrument and put it on another. Worst case, it won't sound as good and you can drop that, knowing that you tried.

How would you record the song you are writing? Well, you could start out with the guitar and lyrics and add the other instruments later. They may or may not line up. Or you record the scratch track of guitar and lyrics and use that as a guide to write the other parts and then later you will record again the guitar and lyrics against your other tracks that have been refined.

What if you don't play drums and are not interested in learning them or programming them? There are numerous sites for free drum loops, some DAW software already includes several loops, the most popular to date plus a few funky ones.

Once you have built the drum track, you can do the bass part. If you do not have a bass guitar or a keyboard to play bass notes, or you don't know how to program MIDI in your DAW with a bass VST, you can do like I used to do. Play your guitar on the 4 lowest pitched strings then use your DAW to transpose those - 12 half steps. 12 half steps is 1 octave. A regular 4 string bass is the top four strings and 1 octave below a regular guitar that was in standard tuning (A = 440.) And the bass part does not have to be complicated. If your chord progression is G C D, then you can play just those notes, in rhythm, for each measure or time length in the song.

Then you can do other chords and noodly bits on the guitar over all of that. And, of course, singing your lyrics wherever they go.

Can you use the same drum pattern in several songs? Yes. Remember the boom-snap in 4/4 time? That is in over 50 percent of all recorded music. What about 3 beats? That is 3/4. Play it double time or twice as fast and that is 6/8. Want to get crazy? Compose in 3/4 and switch to 7/8 in part of the bridge and back to 3/4. Voila, you are the RUSH of this generation. They were masters at slippery time signature changes.

If you have a bass line that you use a lot, write it as a MIDI file and save it. Then, for each song, change the key to match the key of whatever song you are writing. Can you write a few bits and copy and paste and arrange? Absolutely and it is what the pros do all the time. Especially if doing MIDI programming. So, you have the main drum beat formed in one measure. So, copy that for the whole length of the song and then snip where you want a fill and re-program or paste in your saved file or sequencer pattern for a fill right there. Cheating? Sure as hell is and who cares? You are making music. The more professional and complete the song is, the easier it will be to have human musicians you may encounter later to pick up and play what you composed.

And I guarantee that if songwriters had these digital editing tools 40 years ago, they would have put out even more music. And a lot of songwriters do just that, these days. Good example is Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. I mean, he can still write on instruments and does but for the sake of work output, he can paste together the best bits and then learn his song as it is written and show it to other bandmates in an already finished form and they can go home and learn it fast in their studios instead of taking up valuable time in a studio for hire. Though some might say that MIDI sounds too perfect, I would counter that at least it is on the beat and in time. That is better than nothing being in time together. Loops are used all the time for the past 50 years. Beatles used a bunch of them on their early albums, partially because of limited gear. Pink Floyd made good use of a loop or two in their hit song, "Money." "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley starts with a drum loop, ironic since Henley, the founding member of the Eagles, was also the drummer. He and the late Glen Frey created the beginnings of that band.
What makes you a songwriter? Writing songs. There countless books you can read and I have. There are any number of songwriting clinics and seminars, some free, some cost, that you could attend. But in the end, it gets down to you sitting down and putting stuff together. And you could co-write with others. Sometimes, a slightly different perspective will teach you something and make the song move forward.

A lot of songs have background vocals and you can write those, too. In fact, it is best to have those figured out before you record the finish version. Decide what you want and stick to that. Whether you sing them or have others sing them, know where they go. Not every song has to have BV (background vocals) but many do and it makes the song better and has stronger emotional impact on yourself and the listener. In fact, I could say that thinking of a song as a listener will help you be a better songwriter.

Learn to accept inspiration when something comes to mind. Write it down, right now, even if you have to pull the car over to a safe space. Not only will you remember it better, you will not forget the gem of an idea. And the more times you do that, the more bits and snippets you have to draw from. Some say to set aside a specific time for writing but really, the successful songwriters like Diane Warren, while she does have a "work time" during the day, she really does keep writing materials and recorders nearby to capture every bit that happens, which can happen any time, not just during your rigidly scheduled "songwriting time."

You can use songwriting time to flesh out arrangements and sounds of instruments. Here is a secret to recording and mixing. Mixing starts during songwriting. Plenty want to record direct to a DAW and change instrument sounds later and that is okay. But then you face a never-ending plethora of changes that may never finish. I think it is better to know the sounds before you record.

In the thread about music business, I mention a short-cut for professional gigs. You have a multi-effects box for your guitar, like my Digitech RP55. Set and program 3 main sounds right next each other. One is a clean guitar sound for pop and country. Another one is a bluesy rock guitar sound. And the other is a heavy metal guitar sound. Granted, you can use all the funky other ones and those will inspire different songs in you and, by all means, use those. But for most songwriting, you are going to use one of the 3 main or user-defined presets. You can also do that in your DAW. Save a guitar track template with your effects plug-ins already in the track. Save a template as "rock guitar." Another as "pop guitar." Another as "metal guitar." Then, if you are recording direct into the DAW, start a new track with that template already to go and do your thing. This saves time. Pretend you want to write a traditional blues song. So, start out in the blues preset.

You can start a 4/4 boom snap. In a DAW, you could save that with drums already in it as a template. Change the drum VST to another kit, if you like, but the boom snap is already there. Only thing you might change is the actual fills. maybe instead of tom fills at one spot, you want just crash cymbal hits. Do that. Bass can be the single notes in the root of each chord. Let say it is in the key of E. So, E A D are the chords (1-4-5 in Nashville Number System.) It all plays in 12 measures and the music biz calls this the 12 Bar Blues. Yes, they really do that. Go into a Nashville studio and tell them it is 12 Bar in E and they will already be playing your song for you in 4/4 boom snap.

Then you can do the walking guitar part and sing your lyrics.

"Since my baby left me, I ain't doing so well. I burned the water and drowned the toast and said oh, what the hell" or something like that.

After that, you can record guitar fills between lyrics or as a solo in the bridge section. The bridge is often 8 measures long and the industry calls it "the Middle 8." And what is more important than how fast you play is how well it fits the rhythm and emotion of the song. Cry through your guitar, rather than do math on your guitar.

See, you are already writing your first hit song.
You can write songs about things that happen in your life. Did you ever get a speeding ticket? Write a song about it. Sammy Hagar did. In his own words, he wrote the song "I can't Drive Fifty-Five" right after getting a speeding ticket for a few miles over the posted limt, which was 55 mph.

Things in life that you think are unfair? Springsteen wrote "Born in the USA" on that gripe.

You know a lot of freaky people who seem to conform to nothing in regular life? "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed.

You can sneak in stuff from your love of books. Robert Plant snuck in references to the Lord of the Rings. "'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair but Golem, the evil one, crept up and slipped away with her..." from the song, "Ramble On."

Sting, who was an english teacher before becoming a rock star, put literary references in songs. Like the lyric "caught between the Scylla and Charibdis..."

But you don't have to experience a lot of bad stuff to write great songs. There is an idea that you write the best stuff after personal tragedy or pain. I think it is coincidental. A songwriter is able to write about anything, and that includes the good and bad times in our lives.

Sometimes, write something silly just to keep writing. "I don't like purple, blue is okay. Orange is too bright and I don't know about gray..." Stuff like that. it does not always have to have such a tight rhyme scheme but that is a good place to start.

And when you write music for it, play it simply. You can refine as time goes by and often, you will.

When I was thinking about how all the songwriters are so prolific, I tried to stand in their shoes. In an interview, when asked how it is that you walk, you all of a sudden try to explain it because people are expecting an answer when, really, you just walked and never thought it needed explanation. So, the constant writing and bits and pieces are not the requirement of songwriting but a side effect. That is, don't assume that writing a bunch is the path to songwriting but see it as a result. If you concentrate soley on the idea that you must write a bunch of pieces to be considered a songwriter is a misplaced concentration. Like thinking speed picking is because you flap your hand, which is a result, not a cause. So, do not think that you have written enough or, conversely, that you have not written enough. Just write. And, if interviewed by someone who takes special notice of your prolific output, you will find yourself in that odd position of explaining why it is you walk, instead of not walking. You just walk. And write.
How can you write a new song when everyone has used all the chord progressions before you? It helps to remember that you cannot copyright a chord progression. That is why Led Zeppelin could have "Babe, I'm gonna leave you" and later, Styx could have "Suite Madame Blue" and not be guilty of infringement for using the same progression. The presentations are different, the lyrics are different, the story is different. Consider the "Canon in D" by Pacobell. The basis of the great "4 chord songs" by Axis of Awesome. 1 - 5 - 6m - 4. For example, in the key of D, the chord progressions would be D - A - Bm - G.

It is the basis of songs like "With or Without You" by U2 and it repeats endlessly. "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey. And countless others. And you could write a canon song, also. Pacobell and whatever estate of his does not own copyright on the progression. Even if they did, it would be public domain by now.

Music theory tells me how to describe that but it does not really describe why that sounds good, which might be a matter of psycho-acoustics. So, really, music theory is more music fact than theory because you are describing actual sonic relationships rather than ideas that might be proven wrong. And granted, I am only speaking of the 12 tone western scale but it would apply regardless of scale.

In blues, the 1 - 4 - 5 is a standard pattern and not copyrighted and you cannot count the number of recordings made with that pattern. And you could write a song today based on it and still be valid and relevant. So, I guess the theory part would be that you could arrange patterns with a different sequence but it would merely describe what has been done before and the main value of assigning numbers to the chords is that, like the Nashville Number System, it makes it easy for studio musicians to immediately get the pattern in whatever key you have chosen.

There is nothing wrong with writing your own song based on a popular chord progression. It is going to happen. What is copyrighted is the product you put out. Copyright literally means the right to make copies and presumably make money selling those copies.
So, let's get back to the blues song. The burnt water and drowned toast. Let us say that we are going with a standard blues format. The chords would be 1, 4, and 5. So, in the key of A, that would be A, D, and E. So, you can play a pattern or short riff in each of the chords. In A, you might play the open 5th string, which is A and you would also play at the same time, the 4th string, which is the D string but you would play it at the 2nd and 4th frets. These notes would be E and F#. So, in writing, that would be (A-E) (A-E) (A-F#) (A-F#). When you change to the D chord in the progression, you can move this pattern to play D-A and D-B.

But the actual progression of chords is A to D then back to A then to E, down to D, then back to A. Or 1 4 1 5 4 1.

So, play the pattern in A and the lyrics of the first line. "Since my baby left me I ain't doing so well. I burned the water and drowned the toast. Oh well, what the hell?"

Then move to the pattern in D and sing the next set of lyrics, which we did not come up with before. You could repeat the lyrics from the first section or come up with something different, either way is okay and has been done countless times by others. Basically, we are writing a song about what things have gone wrong or are going wrong since breaking up with your love. So, it could be a list song. What other things could go wrong? We have burnt the water and drowned the toast, so we like to get things backwards because of our sorry emotional state. It could be things going wrong that you have no control over but they coincide with your misery.

"Walking in the rain so that no one sees my tears." In fact, just sing that twice while playing the D pattern.

Then go back to the A pattern with no lyrics, just playing. The go to E, then to D. While in D, you start the chorus that will end up in the A pattern. "I've got some broken-hearted blues."

So, that is your chorus and it could also be the song title. "Broken-hearted Blues." If you play other instruments for this, they could be simple. Bass, just play the A note, D note, and E note to match when those chords are playing. Drums? A simple shuffle beat which is usually two snare hits followed by two cymbal hits or even two hits on another piece in the drum kit. You could sprinkle in some keyboard, something super simple. Seriously, just a few notes. Save the Mozart stuff for another day.

So, you went through two sections of verses and one section of chorus. You could do some more verses and another chorus. Either you could repeat what you have already done or come up with new lyrics. Again, what has gone wrong since your love has left you?

"I just can't eat, I just can't sleep, I think of you all the time.
I just can't eat, I just can't sleep, you're always in my rhymes.

Walking in the rain so that no one sees my tears
Walking in the rain so that no one sees my tears

I've got some broken-hearted blues."

And you will notice in these lyrics, the words are chosen to also provide a beat or rhythm. You are not just reciting poetry, you are creating music with your voice and that requires rhythm or a beat.

So, now you have done two verses and a chorus, another two verses and another chorus and now what? well, you can do a solo. You can solo with any instrument but guitar is certainly a traditional instrument for solo performance. And you could repeat the chord progression for the solo.

And for that solo, of course the blues mode, which is basically pentatonic with a flat 5 note. Minor pentatonic will also work. Major could add an odd texture but mostly, you want blues scale or blues mode. And you don't have to play fast, just play with emotion and feel. More important than how fast you play is how well you express through the instrument. You could totally improvise on the spot, for a recording, but you can also work out in advance, specific things you want to do, which is what a lot of guitar players do. Like anchoring points in the passage of the solo. That way, if you want to recreate that solo at a later date, it will be easier.

Coming out of the solo, there are a few choices. You can just repeat the progression of E D A and the chorus a few times and either stop on a note or fade out. Or you could do another set of verses and another chorus as a finale. For verses, it is standard to either come up with something new or repeat the first set of verses.

So, we go back to burnt water and drowned toast and finishing with broken-hearted blues.

So, what kind of sounds do we want? Often the timbres of instruments can help or hinder the song. Drums can be any basic rock kit, whether real, e-drum, or programmed MIDI, choose a rock and roll set 8 piece. Bass, can be mostly clean with some compression. Keyboards? Choose a basic piano voice, believe it or not. A regular old piano sound.

Guitar? You need a little crunch. So, get a crunchy or slightly distorted sound. If you read my other ideas about having a special effects box set up with three main patches of clean sound, rock sound, and metal sound, choose the rock sound, to be traditional. Full on metal is not heard all that much in blues. Something on the edge between clean and full distortion. So that it sounds kind of clean at soft volume but at soon as you lean into it, it gets growly.

And there is your hit song. How do I know it's a hit song? Well, look at the last hit song you remember. What makes it so special or different than other songs? Not a lot, really. Just whatever the public likes about it. Or, just as easily, how much money "independent promoters" paid Clear Channel or IHeart to put the song in rotation. That is really what happens a lot, these days. So, your broken-hearted blues could just as easily be a hit song.