Writing a song is personal

How do you guys go about writing a tune?

I tend to hear a melody in the head and build it outwards from there. Then, maybe, shuffle through a book of scribbles and thoughts.
I can’t play any instrument particularly well (life-long strummer and tweaker) but enjoy trying to learn to play what I can hear in my head on anything that fits.


Usually I’ll hear a very short melody in my head (or on N-track’s midi piano roll!), maybe even just three notes. Then I’ll add one note at a time, normally on guitar, until it becomes a longer melody line. Sometimes this would become the verse but usually it’s the chorus. Although, recently I’ve been kind of abandoning any semblance of song structure (thanks a lot Tangerine Dream). In any case, it becomes some part of the song.

The second most often way I’ll do it is by coming up with a guitar riff, and then build from there. Tends to work well for heavier sounding material- for me anyway. Don’t know if I’d try it with an acoustic folk ballad.

Been trying to learn and play the modes recently, so I try to stick a little bit of them in with my usual pentatonic rock/blues approach. Don’t know how I played guitar for so long without looking at the modes. That was a bad idea.

A friend just gave me a book called “88 Songwriting Wrongs and How To Right Them”. This wasn’t actually about songwriting at all, which is kind of weird, but it did have a few interesting things to say about the music industry and a songwriter’s approach to it- albeit slightly outdated.

What were the 88 wrongs, then? It’s hard to imagine any “wrongs” in something where there fundamentally no rules other than the ones you impose on yourself.

I don’t write songs. I bash out song structures and hope a melody occurs. Mostly it does. The same melody, every time, no matter the key, tempo, time, whatever. Keeps me out of jail.

Bummer is that we’re now waiting to take care of a little radon problem, so I haven’t recorded in almost 2 weeks. I’m about to bite my feet off.

Yeah, Tom, that book was funny. Enjoyable to read but I didn’t agree with some things they said. They did have lots of valid points to make- at least from a potential listener’s or recording industry’s perspective.

I shouldn’t have said it didn’t have anything to do with songwriting itself. It’s just that there are chapters like:

“Don’t put your best song at the end of a twelve-song demo tape”
“Don’t continue to work when the session is going badly”
“Know how to deal with a song when there’s interest and you can’t find your collaborator”

"Cope with your success"

Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever have to worry about that last one.

I’d recommend the book to anyone who:

1. Writes songs- pop songs
2. Writes songs for others to perform/record
3. Has a specific interest in “making it” in the music business

Woops. Forgot to mention don’t bite your feet off, Tom!! That should have been the 89th chapter in that book: “Don’t bite your feet off if you’re unable to record for a while”.

“Auto cannibalism”!? Yuk!!! What’ you on about, Geoffo? Feet! Yuk… :laugh:

Ok. Have you ever tried to master a new (to you) instrument, just to play a short passage?

Too much music, and so little time.

Just trying to go with the flow!

Weeeeelll, the fact that the book deals with the issue in chapter 89 does sort of rehabilitate it in my opinion.


The things you listed are good pieces of advice, but it surprises me how often folks just starting need to be told these things.
I mean, we never made those mistakes, eh? Which accounts for how well I am coping with my lack of success.

My best tunes are written while sitting on the biffy after a massive late-nite Dagwood samwich. :cool: