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Last week I published a blog that taught you beginner songwriter tips for singers. We learned how to get started with not only writing the lyrics of your song but also how to shape them into a song structure. This week we will continue working on your song with our songwriting tips for singers, but we will add music to it this time! If you are not a musician all this information will be absolutely new to you, and I will assume you are a complete beginner.
So keep an open mind and let’s get to it!
To get started, first we need to understand the absolute basics of western commercial pop music!
In western music, all we have is 12 notes:
C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B
These are all the notes you see in a given octave in the piano. Once you reach B, you start again with C, just one octave higher.
If you are singing a C4, for example, and then a C5, you are singing the same note but one octave higher, which means that C5 doubles the sound wave frequency of C4.
You don’t have to worry about the physics of that though! That was just a tiny introduction and if you are interested in understanding more about the physics of sound there are plenty of resources out there.
The major scale is the first scale you must learn when learning songwriting tips for singers. There are plenty of scales but by far most of the pop songs you hear on the radio are built around this scale.
As I said above, we have 12 notes – nothing else. The minimum distance between a note and the next note is called a SEMITONE. And the distance between a note and 2 semitones is called a TONE.
SEMITONE: 1 step
TONE: 2 steps
A major scale is composed of a structure that combines tones and semitones in the following order:
T – T – ST – T – T – T – ST
So in the C Major scale, the order of the notes that result from this structure are:
C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
Which in the piano are all the white notes starting from C (see image above)
There are 12 notes that we have available for us, therefore you have 12 possible major scales. Today however let’s keep it simple and stick to C major scale.
An easy way to start writing your melodies is to start by finding a chord progression that you like. A chord progression is a sequence of chords that guide your melody.
A basic chord in a major scale is composed of a TRIAD. That means that the chord has three notes, which are played at the same time. You have 7 notes in the C Major scale, therefore you have 7 possible triads you can use to compose your songs.
A given chord always is named after its root note or the lowest note of the triad. For example, in a C major chord, the note from where the chord is built is C.
A triad is then built in 3rds: That means that from the root note, you add a third above to find the second note of the chord, and then another third above that to find your third chord note.
And so, in the scale of C major, we have the following chords:
See the pattern?
Now, as you can see, in the third column of the above table we can find the QUALITY of each chord. Triad chords in a major scale can be either major, minor or diminished.
A Major chord is usually considered “happy”, and a minor chord sounds “sad”, while a diminished chord sounds quite unstable.
This is how all those chords sound, starting from C major all the way to B diminished and back to C major at the end:
All that said, now is time to find a chord progression from which you can start building your song! Commonly you would find a chord progression for your verses and a different one for your chorus and your bridge, although you could just use the same chord progression and create contrast from a different melody built around it.
There are chord progressions that are commonly used in a lot of different songs and they work well because our ear is used to them.
Perhaps the most common chord progression that you will find in pop music is the famous I – V – vi -IV.
This chord progression is used in many songs, which you can see demonstrated perfectly in this video:
If we used this chord progression in the scale of C major, the order of the chords would be:
C – G – Am – F
(When a chord only indicated with the capital letter it means that the chord is major – when the chord has an “m” to the right of the capital letter, that indicates that the chord is minor)
You can combine the different degrees of your scale in other ways until you find one that works for your song and you like. Play around it with a piano or guitar!
Once you have chosen a chord progression, it is time to start building a melody around it. A chord progression gives you a structured form in which you can easily guide a melody.
If you have a piano you can play the chords on it if you have figured out how to do it, or if you know how to play them on a guitar. If not, there are plenty of YouTube videos that just play a chord progression on a loop.
Now is the time to loop that chord progression and improvise a melody on top. Be intuitive at this stage. You will be able to find a melody that doesn’t clash with the harmony. This step will be really easy for some people and a bit harder for others, but with some practice, you will be able to find a melody that you are happy with. If you are able to, record a loop of the chord progression (or play it on YouTube on repeat), then hit record on your phone, close your eyes and spend a good amount of time just improvising melodies for a while. Even one hour! Until you find something here and there that you really like. With that material recorded, you will be able to find again the bits that you did that you really like, and edit them to create a melody for your song.
Next item in our songwriting tips for singers: now that you have lyrics, song structure, chords, and a melody, it is time to put it all together. Grab your lyrics and find a way to “fit them” into the melody that you have created. Perhaps you will have to modify your melody slightly to make your words fit. Or perhaps you will have to change some words, to make the melody fit.
As you can see, this activity needs you to be using both your creative brain and your logical brain. Your creative brain comes to take the lead when you do your free writing, your melody improvisations, etc. And your logical brain comes in handy when you have to edit all that to create a finished song in which the elements work well together
So there you go! This is how you can create your first song. It might take you several days to complete this activity, or maybe just one day if you are keen to spend some good hours creating some music!
Keep in mind that songwriting takes practice. But if you write a song every week for a year, chances are that at least one of them will be really good!
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