Emotions can be so complex and sometimes impossible to express. But what if you are genuinely inspired to convey them in a way you can share with others? What if your fondest wish is to write a song? How, exactly, would you do that?
In this article, we will discuss how to write a song from the heart that is bold and honest, while also touching and inspiring.
Find Your Core Message
The first step is to relax. It’s likely not as complicated as it might seem. Let’s break it in to smaller pieces and examine them. First, find your core message. Are you happy, sad, grieving, excited, lonely? What is the central point you wish to convey to your audience?
Next, begin exploring words that express that emotion in a different or unique way. For example, you can say “I’m lonely” or you can say it more lyrically, “I’m so lonesome I could cry”. Look for poetic ways to say common things. For example, the word “happy” could be “thrilled” or “stoked”. The word “sad” might be “broken” or “hurt”.
Who Are You Writing For?
Your audience is an important factor in writing a successful song.
Who will be listening? Are they Country fans, are they Hip Hop aficionados, or maybe they are Christian Rock followers? No matter who they are, your style, your word choice, your rhythm and melodic patterns should emulate what you are accustomed to hearing within that specific genre.
That doesn’t restrict your creativity at all – be original. I am simply recommending staying within a specific style’s established framework to ensure that the listener will recognize the style when they hear it.
If you are not familiar with the genre you wish to write within, I highly recommend that you spend at least 3 months immersing yourself in that very style. Listen to anything and everything until the style feels natural to you. The best writers write from experience. So, if you haven’t experienced a specific style, you truly need to. That said, I believe anyone can write in any style if they have a strong desire.
Music or Lyrics – Which Comes First?
There is no right answer. This is unique to each writer.
For me personally, my songs float into my brain complete. The music and lyrics together as a finished song, like you would hear on the radio. I refer to them as “creative storms”. Because, just like a storm, once they pass – they are gone. You will figure out your process and what works best for you.
But, for our purposes here, let’s break it into parts -– lyrics first.
You have a list of pretty words, you know your genre and you are ready to begin, but what next? Well, now, the fun truly begins.
Start writing what comes to mind. Let your thoughts flow freely.
Read through Adele’s now famous chorus from “Easy on Me”:
Go easy on me, baby
I was still a child
Didn’t get the chance to
Feel the world around me
Had no time to choose
What I chose to do
So go easy on me
These lyrics are conversational and familiar. But, when you read the words, you can feel the poetic expression – the artful phrasing of raw emotions. This is what you are looking for. Find a way to express something common in an uncommon or unique way.
Hooks and Rhymes
All good songs have a hook – it’s what makes them “memorable.” It’s that iconic line or phrase that you sing in the shower or in the car when you’re caught in traffic. Sometimes, the hook is also the title, like “Sweet Caroline” or “I Will Survive.”
Other times the hook is a bit further in, like in “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, “If you liked it, then you should’ve put a ring on it.” So, spend time on your hook. It’s the one phrase you want everyone singing, after all.
While all songs need a good hook, not all songs need to rhyme. It’s true that rhyming phrases make lyrics somewhat easier to remember. But sometimes what needs to be conveyed simply doesn’t rhyme, and that’s fine too. Take a look at Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” for a great example of non-rhyming lyrics.
The lyrics tell your story. Spend your time there. Try any and everything that floats through your mind. Above all, don’t get discouraged. This is likely where the writing and re-writing and re-writing yet again will become a reality. It’s a natural part of the process. Try to both honor and enjoy it.
Music That Supports Your Words
Now, it’s time for a melody that supports your words. An interesting melodic pattern can take your lyrics to the next level. Finding this perfect combination is the secret on how to write a song from the heart. Just like the process of writing your words, here too you will want to experiment with what melodies fit your words, your verses, and your chorus.
Have your ever heard a movie score, without lyrics, that evoked strong emotions? That’s because certain melodic patterns, harmonies, etc. can cause a visceral response. Music alone can cause us to break out in chill bumps, bring us to tears and transport us to our own memories and life experiences. That’s the power of music.
While listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, take note of your emotions. How does that melody make you feel? Identifying how certain melodies and patterns make you feel is crucial because you are looking for a melodic pattern that supports the same emotions your words are communicating.
You should also look for unusual or surprising intervals and harmonies. Perhaps consider using dis-harmonic chords (like Major 2nds) that resolve into a tonic chord here and there. It’s sometimes the unexpected melodic rise or fall that pulls the emotion out of the words themselves.
Polish and Shine
Once you have words and music that work together, play and sing your song repeatedly. Record it and listen to it. Do not be surprised if you feel compelled to re-write a few phrases, substitute a few words, change a chord.
This is all a normal part of the process and it’s where the high-gloss shine is achieved. Also, don’t be afraid of criticism. Use every piece of input as a tool to help you perfect your song. You can also look for interesting structural additions to give your song wings.
You can write an instrumental intro, a unique bridge or any other element that makes your song stand out. Don’t feel confined to the ABABCB structure (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus). Certainly, there are structures and patterns you can follow; but don’t be afraid to experiment and create something that is uniquely your style.
This article was intended to merely give you an entry ramp for your journey in writing that special song from your heart. I hope it has inspired you to further pursue the craft of songwriting and do more reading and research into each facet.
It’s a fulfilling hobby that can bring personal satisfaction as well as meaningful interactions with loved ones and even strangers if you perform in front of a public audience. If you’re really dedicated and lucky, it can also be quite profitable.
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