If you’ve been writing songs for a little while then chances are you probably have a method, whether loose or rigid, that you employ when tackling a new tune. Perhaps you start with the melody, or maybe you’re a work-from-the-hook kind of person. Or maybe, if you’re like me, the muse strikes differently every time.
The good news is that whatever tools you employ are all correct, because the truth is there’s no one way to write a song. I learned this from writing songs with children.
When I first walked into the second grade classroom at The Goodwin School as an invited speaker for their reading week, I thought I would talk to the kids a bit about how I write songs and maybe play an original or two. After about 2 minutes in the room though I could see I was going to lose them if I went this route, so I quickly switched gears and decided to write a song with a group of 30 eight year olds on the spot instead. No pressure.
“Let’s write a song today!” I said. “What should we write about?” At first, they looked at me and each other with hesitation. Then one boy raised his hand and said, “Let’s write about our school!” and it took off from there.
The ideas started flying out. “Mine Craft!” said one. “Zombies!” said another. “M&M’s and tacos!” “Narwhals!” They were so excited to be able to be silly and not have to think about what they wanted to say. After I had a page full of ideas, I asked them if they wanted the song to be happy or sad. They all answered happy, so we went from there. In less than 20 minutes, we had a song with 2 verses and a chorus about The Goodwin School, all made from their brainstorming.
The kids were thrilled. I was thrilled. It was so exciting to make something from nothing and not care about the commercial potential or whether or not this song would sell. This was songwriting at its purest, and I felt like I had when I first started writing songs – I felt free!
After successfully doing this process again with elementary students, I was asked by a friend to give a songwriting workshop at his high school’s regional writing conference. I approached it from a similar mindset as the elementary sessions, but this time I broke the students into small groups after the initial brainstorm session to allow them to write the songs. The results were simply stunning.
Not only did each team successfully create at least a verse and chorus, some of them wrote a full song – in 30 minutes! The looks on their faces were priceless. They were happy, proud and excited to share their songs with the larger conference in a full auditorium of their peers, and all I did was tell them that anyone can write a song because there aren’t any rules when it comes to songwriting. They used that creative freedom to let down their guard and make some truly beautiful music.
As writers, we are our own worst critic. The lyric isn’t strong enough, the hook isn’t catchy, the melody isn’t original. What if we stop for a moment and realize that what we're doing is pretty freaking incredible? We are putting our thoughts and feelings into song form. That, in an of itself is something worth celebrating.
So make great music. Make horrible music. Just make music and stop waiting for it to be perfect. You just might be pleasantly surprised with what comes out. The worst case scenario is that you will have brought more music into the world. So get to it!