Songwriting Tutorial: Simplicity and Complexity

How to begin writing a song by choosing a lyrical theme and a musical mood.

The Keys to Simplicity

Selecting a mood / topic for the song

The central theme of your song can come from anywhere - your mood, the news, or a conversation you heard while at a coffee shop. After choosing something, stay in that mindset until you find the need for a well-placed and meaningful contrast.

It’s important to capture your ideas as you create them by recording and/or writing them down.

Choose a musical direction by planning ahead.

Now we can begin to create/refine germs of both musical and lyrical ideas. Then, you can play/improvise to find the mood and tempo.

Analyze what you’ve played

Ideas evolve by intelligently asking how to serve the original idea. This allows you to generate more ideas based on what you have.

Are you adding to the meaning or making it unclear?**

Always ask “Do I like it? Is it “filler?” Constantly shape your song by refining the message, not intentionally being “different” or obfuscating the point.

Interest can be created without intentionally bending the rules.

While getting used to this process, there’s no need to stray from tried-and-true methods of writing a song.

Plug into song forms and lyric templates.

When you use forms and templates, it leads to songwriting that is easily followed by a listener. I will discuss the following in great detail, but for now, refer to Graham English Speed Songwriting Course for the following:

  • Rhyme Schemes
  • Where your title fits in
  • Point of View: 1st, 2nd, 3rd person

Knowledge of Diatonic Music Theory

Knowing the difference between major and minor helps serve the message of the song. There are other modes besides these 2 that we’ll explore later. You can change keys globally and locally to add complexity, but only if that serves the song’s central message.

Your foundation depends on simplicity.

It’s easy to fall in love with bending the rules for it’s own sake (as evidenced by my own stylistic quirks), but you can write a great song by remaining simple in your message and form.