Tommaso Zillio
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Learning To Compose Songs From A Single Sentence

Have you ever gotten that sinking feeling where you've got a start on a song, but can't seem to figure out how to end it? When that happens, do you store the fragment, hoping to one day complete it? Is it even possible to finish after that original idea has come and gone?

When people are first getting into song writing, this seems to be the most prominent issue they face. I, along with many of my students, also had to overcome this issue when I was first learning how to write music myself. In fact, it's perfectly normal if you've found yourself stuck in this situation. This is extremely common, and there are many ways to solve it.

If you're going through this like I did, then there could be plenty of recorded melodies hidden away on your laptop, or even written down on boards and in notebooks. From time to time, you might take a look back and see just how good they actually are, although you're still not able to finish the song, and might even be feeling frustration. And this certainly isn't because you aren't finding inspiration — it just doesn't seem to last long enough to make it into song.

if you're having trouble getting over this hump, the good news is that there are simple measures that can be taken. How would it feel to be able to go back and finally complete a few of those gems stored in the recesses of your hard drive or gathering dust on your bookshelves? For those who need a bit of help, here are some simple and effective solutions.

Step One: Question Everything

It's been said before, but sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a step back. So you have a great idea for a song, great! But what does it say to audiences? How does it express emotion? How do you want your audience to interpret it?

That was the easy part, now you have to prepare for by far the most difficult part in this process and possibly your entire life. Are you feeling it? Nice, because we're going there now.

Step Two: The Most Important And Avoided Step

Grab a sheet of paper and jot down your answers.

Okay, it doesn't seem all that complicated, but it's the most difficult because people just don't seem to do it. So it must be difficult, because when I show people the reason to do it, they often stop before getting to it. I've ever handed students a pencil and a sheet of paper, only to hear that it isn't necessary — it's actually kind of funny when these adults up in arms because they don't want to scribble down some quick answers.

The thing is, you need to write these answers down on paper to finish an elusive song. Believe me, this is more effective than you think, but only if you commit to it. And really, if it doesn't what did you lose? No more than a couple minutes and some paper.

Step Three: Break It Down

Now that you've answered the questions on the sheet of paper in front of you, it's time to break them down. The best possible outcome is to end up with a single sentence describing the theme of your song. Make it as simple as you can.

This theme will be your lighthouse beacon guiding your song to shore — so it's worth taking some extra time fine tuning it so it can cut through the fog. if you're not sure what to do, then look to what others have done before you (even if it doesn't have words) and break their song down into a single-sentence summary.

Here's a couple examples: "Me and Your Momma" off Childish Gambino's R&B album "Awaken, My Love!" is about the torment felt when trying to get closer to a forbidden love; Michael Rault wrote a song called "Too All My Friends," about his unconditional love for everyone who keeps him going on a tough tour schedule; and "If This Tour Doesn't Kill You Then I Will" by Pup is about the disdain and patience for band mates lost when in close quarters for long periods of time. Now it's your turn!

Step Four: Delve Deeper

Now that you've simplified the music, it's time to start working on how you're going to express the music to an audience. How are you going to use sound to convey that message? Which instruments will fit the bill? What rhythm will you use? Should the beat be fast and aggressive, slow and mellow, or should that tension build?

If you need to use lyrics, then how will you connect with the audience? Will you use rhythm and rhyme, or will you rely on word play? From which viewpoint will you express the idea?

Now it's time to bring back that elusive pen and paper and jot these ones down, too. The worst thing you can do is hold these thoughts in, blocking new ones from forming. Put it on paper, and new ones will continue to form. And no, now is not yet the time to pick up that instrument — that will come soon.

Step Five: Start Making A Composition

Now that you've got all of this down on paper, it's time to get started.

Try to make this idea into music in any form. A chorus, a verse, or even an entire song. If you lose your train of thought, go back to the that main line, and compare what you're writing to that original thought, and if you need to make any changes to bring it closer to the original. Keep working at this.

Although this part of the process might not seem like a big deal, once you put it into practice you'll see just how valuable it is. Once you start doing it, you'll begin to notice just how simple it is to write a completely cohesive song. Don't knock it until you try it!

Why Not Just Write What Comes Naturally?

That's certainly one way to do it! There are certainly those who don't need this, or more commonly, those who have gone through this process so much that it becomes instinctive. But if that sounds like you, then why are you still reading this?

What's Next?

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Begin with the third, or simplification, step in this process with your favorite songs. As tedious as it sounds, you'll quickly find yourself learning how songs are written rather quickly.
  2. Grab a pen and paper and go through every step in order. Make a goal to write an entire song in a single day. If you stay focused and take a half hour going through these steps, you should be able to write down a set of lyrics in an hour or less. And as you do it again and again, it'll take less and less time.
  3. Go back to all of those songs hidden in dusty books or portable hard drives and take another look. You probably won't be able to finish every one of them but you'll certainly be able to get further ahead in the process than you could before.

And if you need inspiration, Larry Niven's got a rule for you: "No technique works if it isn't used." It's time to get started!

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@fl3k   3 years ago
Lot of good ideas here Tomasso, this article is well worth printing it for future reading, in fact I will.

I would like to add my contribution, from my humble position, one thing which works for me is to have several songs "alive", that is not to become obsessed only with one of them but to have two or more songs in the works.

Listening to some other styles, but which causes a similar feeling to you has been also of help for myself.

Thanks for sharing!!!
@pauljones   3 years ago
i agrere with you, it's easier to get stuck with a song if that's the only one you're working on. By working on more songs, you also freshen up your musical ideas, and even sometimes two separate musical ideas can be put together to make a song.
Savo Kostic
@savo-kostic   3 years ago
Useful tips for someone who is trying to write a song sober. But, thats not me xD
@pauljones   3 years ago
Savo Kostic
@savo-kostic   3 years ago