A songbook on top of a piano. It’s important to have an environment where you feel most creative with your songwriting. Photo by Everette Cogswell

The thought of writing and playing your own music can be a daunting idea. Whether you are an experienced songwriter or a beginner, you will always face bumps in the road. While I’m no Taylor Swift, I do have some tips and tricks to keep in mind when embarking on your songwriting journey. 

The most important thing to remember when creating your own piece of music is that it is all your own. You have total control over what you are making, and that’s what makes it fun. Songs can be many things: silly, dramatic, lighthearted, sad, and more. One of the most common misconceptions about songwriting is that you have to have a certain style, which is far from the truth. Songs are meant to convey all kinds of emotion, so there isn’t any need to try to conform your writing style to only one emotion; it’s important that you explore all kinds.

There are many different ways to approach writing a new song. Typically, I begin with a chord progression, which can take a very long time. Then I start putting words together to match whatever emotion I’m feeling, and to create the sound and energy of the song. However, some people prefer to write the lyrics first and then create a chord progression to match. Franklin High School senior Anna Gunderson says, “I tend to write the lyrics first, almost like a poem. And then when I’m feeling inspired, I put them to a chord progression, and after spending a little time figuring it out, it usually works.” Lyrics and poems go hand in hand, so it’s very common to view your lyrics as a poem to aid the songwriting process. 

Finding a place to start when writing lyrics can be hard. That’s why I recommend keeping a note of any quotes or phrases you find that really speak to you. I probably have around 30 random quotes in my phone that help me when I’m facing writer’s block, or when I need a place to start. You don’t need to have experienced something to write about it. Sure, you might not be able to relate to the content as much, but you can write about anything you want, even if you aren’t an expert on the topic. For example, in an interview with Apple Music, Harry Styles shared that his song “Matilda” is about another person’s experience and not one he’s personally gone through. 

Music can be an outlet for so many things. I tend to write a song when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed because it helps to calm me down. “Songwriting has always been just a way of processing, kind of like journaling. For me, it’s a way to create a stream of consciousness, but put a little more effort into what thoughts and ideas I want to give energy and focus to,” Gunderson says. What I love most about making music is the way it can connect you with others. It can be scary sharing your work with other people, but you never know how your pieces can touch a person. 

Whether or not you have access to instruments at home to play around with chord progressions, there are other ways to create sounds to go with your lyrics. Producing software such as Garageband and Bandlab are free to use and are super fun to mess around with. If you are in search of an easy instrument to pick up and start learning, I recommend the ukulele. The ukulele has a very nice sound to it and is quite basic to learn. If you are planning to learn a new instrument, my advice is that you go into it with a lot of patience and dedication; it can be difficult but rewarding.

Songwriting serves as an escape for so many people, and it’s never too late to mess around with some lyrics and tunes. Always remember that songwriting is meant to be a fun experience, so if you find yourself getting frustrated, don’t be afraid to always try adding new sounds. When it comes to making music, there’s something for everyone and that’s what makes it so special.