We can learn a lot by critically listening to songs. When you know what to listen for, you will find many ways to quickly improve your songwriting skills.
When you start writing songs on guitar for the first time, it can often be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? What do you do? Those first obstacles of getting your first song together are too much for some people.
The other side of the spectrum is, once you’ve written a few songs, how do you improve your songwriting? Is it something that you can improve, or are you stuck with what you are able to do?
Today, we will look at some of the different elements of songwriting, and how you can use them to find inspiration from other peoples songs.
In order to get the most of this lesson, work with your 5 favourite songs.
Then we will look at the 3 following elements to better understand why these songs are so effective:
1. The Structure
The most basic “big picture” feature of a song, is it’s structure. When we talk about structure, we are talking about things like verses, choruses, intros, outros, bridges etc.
So take you list of your 5 favourite songs, and listen to them with a pencil and paper. Write down the structure of the song as you listen – you might have to pause the song a few times!
Once you have done this with your 5 favourite songs, compare the songs. What can you see?
Are there any similarities?
You can take this exercise a step further, by writing down how many bars each section is. Are there any similarities between the length of song sections?
Now, you don’t have to do what your favourite songs do, but it gives you a framework and guidance, if you are stuck, that you can take advantage of.
2. What Happens On The Chorus?
Usually, the most important part of a song is the chorus. This doesn’t mean, at least it shouldn’t mean, that other areas of the song are neglected, but we want the chorus to “jump” out at us.
Listen to your favourite songs, and write down what changes with the chorus:
- Has an additional instrument been introduced?
- Has the chord density changed?
- Are there additional harmonies?
- Is there a rhythmic change?
- Something else?
You will usually find there is some sort of change that you can replicate in your songwriting. Does your favourite song have a keyboard playing a long held note on the chorus? Then why not experiment with that on the chorus of your next song… ?
3. What Layers Are Being Used?
Rock and metal songs are usually made by their layers. For example, if you were to listen to the rhythm guitar part for say, a Nightwish song, you might think it’s not all that.
But you when you hear that rhythm guitar part, with all the other layers, instruments and vocal parts happening simultaneously, it sounds awesome.
Often when songwriting, especially as a guitar player, we get lost and suffer from tunnel vision, thinking solely of the guitar part. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that there are other instruments in the band.
So, listen again to your 5 favourite songs.
How do the vocal parts and harmonies change through the song?
How do the guitar parts change over the course of the song? Do some sections have a clean guitar, a clean guitar and an overdriven guitar…?
Is there are section before the chorus where all the instruments drop out… or just one instrument drops out…?
Understand the layers in the song and you will have a bigger picture for your songwriting.
How Do You Use This In Your Songwriting?
After analysing your five favourite songs in the above way, and writing down your answers, you have effectively created a cheat sheet for yourself, on how to write awesome songs.
By this stage… you’re probably already inspired and brimming with ideas that you can apply to your songwriting, but if you need some help, maybe try some of the following:
You’ve probably got some riffs and ideas lying around. Can you put them together into something similar to the structures you saw in your favourite songs? Do you need to write a couple of sections to join the riffs together?
If you have some complete songs, can you add and remove layers like you saw in your favourite songs?
What can you do to your choruses, that you saw in your favourite songs?
Songwriting, like everything else with guitar and music, is a skill that you can learn.
Analysing music you like, to find out why you like it, is a great way to work on your songwriting – and also a lot of fun!
So get to work, write some new music – and have fun!