Have you ever had an idea for a song or daydreamed about writing a number one chart-topper?
Many of us have, but how do you write a song?
Songwriting is a craft which doesn’t always require great musicianship. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and bands like Weezer are examples of great writers who aren’t technically savvy musicians. They have a gift for writing great melodies.
In my view the ability to read music is not necessary to write great music. I play guitar, bass, keyboards, saxophone and violin and I cannot read a note. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the names of the notes I play on sax or violin. I have learned to play completely by ear.
There are times I hear a melody in my head or dream up a song. I have learned over the years to carry a digital recorder or call an answering machine with my cell phone and sing my ideas to the recording.
I once heard Billy Joel tell a story about being in the middle of a meeting with his record company and leaving the room to write down a song idea that popped into his head. He said he wasn’t the type of writer who writes more songs than he needs for an album and did not want to miss the opportunity to let one pass.
If you are a fluent music reader, I have great respect for your ability. It can be an invaluable tool. I missed out on numerous opportunities for studio work when I lived in Los Angeles because I couldn’t read music.
Like English, it is a language and it is sometimes difficult to communicate with other musicians without the ability to understand the dots of music.
In my recent interview with Amy Perry of Selah, she stated she barely plays piano; however, she possesses the ability to musically read and chart her ideas.
Amy mostly writes lyrics first, then chases after a melody. Her band partner Todd Smith is big on collaboration with other songwriters.
Andrew Patton, President and CEO of Patton House Entertainment LLC, stated that co-writing is very important. He compares it the biblical passage of iron sharpening iron. (Proverbs 27:17) Andrew offers seminars called “Sessions Conference,” a one-day intensive artist focused conference to help answer your questions about a musical career.
Strong lyrics and strong hooks are very important, Patton said, and I wholeheartedly agree.
The hook of a song is the part you sing and remember after only listening once or twice. Most great songs contain many lyrical and melody hooks.
The best way to become a great writer is to start jotting down ideas, getting to your instrument of choice and begin working with the material. Building your own resume of experience while staying true to yourself, your tastes and your beliefs is critical.
As a Christian, I can tell you that some of my best musical moments came about during prayer. While praying, parts would come to me which I never had the ability to conceive on my own. Whether creating music or just living your daily life, prayer should not be the last thing you do, it should always be the first!
Editor’s note: This is the first installment of Abbie Stancato’s series “So You Wanna Be a Star?” looking at the inner workings of the music business. Next week Abbie will take a look at recording your music at home.