Have You Ever Written A Song? | Coursera Community
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Have You Ever Written A Song?

  • 2 September 2019
  • 16 replies

  • Music Community Leader
  • 795 replies
Yesterday, @Elochukwue asked me how he could learn to write and produce songs.
As a Music Community, I wonder if we could help him.

Has anyone taken a song writing course here?
Would you recommend it to someone without any music background? Do you need to know basic music theory first?

Have you written a song? If so, what advice might you have to give ?

Do you hear the music first and then add lyrics, or do you write the lyrics first and then set them to music? Do you do both at the same time?

When I have written songs I prefer to write the lyrics first. Somehow a melody always seems to flow from the lyrics. Or I will find a chord pattern I enjoy the sound of on guitar, and make up words and melody to go with it.

What do you do? Have you used Garage Band to help you create a song?
Let's share songwriting thoughts...

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I took a songwriting course here, the one given by Berkelee. I write a great deal of poetry and I play the flute and the piccolo, so I can't say what it would be like for someone with no musical background.
I discovered that I like writing poetry but I'm not a song writer. I've written poems that I intended to be songs as part of a couple of my science fiction novels that I haven't set to music.
I have never written a song as such, however I have been know to write my own guitar studies when I need to work on something specific and don't have a study handy that focuses on that problem in particular. I am not much of a poet, in any case, so a song with lyrics is probably out. 😆

Here is an example of one of the songs I wrote for 12th Night...using Shakespeare ‘s words.
Whenever I read good poetry, melodies pop into my head. They’re usually simple. Having worked with kids and also many adults, I found that people enjoy melodies that are easy to learn.

@Halla , I think you are a poet! You paint pictures with your words...I have heard many ballads in your stories.😀
Hello. Some years ago I wrote some songs, which later a friend of mine was in charge of musicalizing. But my musical theory is exactly equal to zero, although I would like to have the basics. Thanks and regards
I took a songwriting course here. It was great but it mostly covered song form, construction, types of rhymes, etc. I personally write songs from whatever inspiration I get. It could be a 3 word phrase on top of one chord, it could be a lyrical phrase that I like, it could be the sound of a train going down the tracks. Take inspiration from wherever you can get it. A song may start from the melody, a chord, a rhythm, a lyric, or anything else. If you look at songwriting like Arts and Crafts,---that inspiration is the art. The craft is what you will learn from taking courses,---that is how to write songs when you have no inspiration...
@yonick , what an excellent analogy to compare songwriting to Arts and Crafts. You seem to trivialize the crafts part though, saying this is how to write songs if you have no inspiration.
The crafts or the musical knowledge become your tools. By learning much of these mechanics you can use them to better your songs. For example, you mentioned you placed words over a chord, but what if you didn’t know your chords? You could be inspired to write a beautiful melody, but how would you harmonize it? Might you use a certain instrument in the background? Your inspiration will be greater and you will achieve greater results if you have more musical knowledge to draw from.

What was the course that you took?
Your ways of creating songs sound wonderful! Can you share any samples with us?
I started writing songs before I got myself any instrument. Just took a melody from some already existing song and wrote my own lyrics. Probably that's why when I write lyrics I always have some sort of a melody playing in my head. That is also the reason I hardly write any poetry, because there's no music in poetry. I didn't have any basic music theory knowledge back then, later I learnt a dozen chords from my favourite songs and started experimenting with them, looking for patterns, trying to make my own melodies by ear. So it's easier for me to write lyrics first and then music. Also I mostly write when I have inspiration, it's hard for me to write something intentionally.
Hi @Shtruger I think is is awesome that you stated writing before you got an instrument. That must have been hard. What instrument did you finally take up?
I agree that it is hard to write something without inspiration. What do you do when that happens? When I was doing creative writing I would keep a journal and writ everything in it when the idea struck me. Then, when the inspiration was not there I would pull out my notebook and go over it, looking for things that I had never had the time to work on, or that needed a rewrite and do things like that for a while. I found that that would often spark new ideas, too, which I would dutifully write down for later consideration. It seemed to work well for me.
I know that there are many approaches to songwriting, probably as many as there are songwriters. I remember reading once, long ago, an interview with Paul Simon. He said he wrote the music first and the lyrics were the last thing he wrote.
Thank you for sharing your process with us.
@Halla I can't say it was hard, though it was slow as the whole thing of songwriting was new to me, especially because I wanted to write in English and English was not my first language, so I had to learn how to write proper lyrics in English. The fun thing was that again I figured it out myself from the lyrics of my favourite songs, not from some textbooks dedicated to it. The instrument I took up was a guitar because at that time I was obsessed with early Bob Dylan (you can guess now who was my "mentor" in songwriting 🙂 )
When I have no inspiration, I either try to finish some of my incomplete songs or go through already finished ones to perfect them - and the latter I do all the time. It is really a never-ending process :)
But sometimes I have concerns about finishing incomplete songs. What if I forgot the idea I had in the beginning and the parts I add would have a different mood or style, making a song less of a solid piece and more of a patchwork?
From time to time I write music first. A melody also has a certain mood in it and this helps me write suitable lyrics. I usually play chords and mumble whatever comes to my mind from the mood a melody gives me and if I like what I get I start working with it.
@Shtruger it’s so good to read about the process you have used to write songs.
@Halla ‘s suggestion of using a notebook for lyrics the way she did for creative writing seems like a good idea. If you can’t finish a song, you could write the intention of what you hope to write so when you come back to it you might recall your thoughts.

I love chord patterns. Making up chord patterns is such a good way to write a song. Words often just flow from the chord changes to create a pleasing melody with words.

It’s so interesting that we all have our different ways of creating a song. I want to make sure that my lyrics are meaningful so I usually write these first. For some reason, once the lyrics are there a melody just springs from them, LOL.
I joined a local (Denton TX) Songwriters Guild and every month they have a prompt that everyone writes a song for. At the meeting we all perform our songs. It is interesting to hear how different people use the same prompt in very different ways. When I first joined I rarely completed a song, but now I seem to get one done. This helped my song writing in two main ways. The prompt limits to scope so there is not an infinite amount of things to choose from. The second thing is the deadline forces me to not try and write the perfect song that will be the next great hit, but just complete a song. I often keep adjusting the song after the meeting when new ideas come up while I'm playing it around town. Even if the song is not that good it is great practice in song writing.
@Ken Weiner , the Songwriter’s Guild you belong to sounds very inspiring and just the motivation needed to compose. You are so right about just completing a song and not feeling it needs to be perfect. We can become our greatest deterrents.
Just like becoming good on a musical instrument, it takes practice as well as a sympathetic audience to keep encouraging you to write songs.
I would worry that , if I am a novice and no one else is, my songs would seem so inferior that others might think think poorly of them. Do you see this in your group or is everyone very supportive and helpful?
@Judith You are right with how important the support and encouragement of a group/friends/audience is. Especially in the begining when you are just starting out. The right word of encouragement can keep you going through your self doubt. Once you develop some confidence you can wither the storm of negative feedback easier. The Denton Songwriters Guild has a great group of friendly people who are very supportive of anyone's song writing attempt. They also run an open mic night where anyone can play and you get the same level of support even when you mess up as I have several times. We've all been there at one time.

.I’m almost 40 yrs old and I just started learning music theory in the last couple of months. Regardless, I’ve already “composed” and recorded more than 20 albums of music - hundreds of songs - because I can play the guitar.

So you don’t need to know anything about theory to make a song, if you know some guitar, or piano chords. I never thought of myself as a musician, though - I guess “plastic artist of noise” is closer to what I did. I’m interested in lo-fi recordings, for example. In satire and subversion of standards. There was a lot of things for me to go on and create music from. It doesn’t have to come from music theory, just as long as you listen to a lot of music and get yourself used to a couple of formulas.

I set out to step over those formulas, so I had a lot of freedom. But anybody trying to create music should enjoy freedom, don’t you think? I’d say: if you want to write music, pick up your instrument and start doing it.

Sure, do study it and progress as you move along - but don’t wait for it to get easier than it already is. You’ll be able to make more types of music, if you study, but I bet you can already make songs in a couple of genres. For example: changing the lyrics for “Happy birthday to you”. Anybody can do that. Start with what you’ve got, and it will become natural, despite theory. Theory should improve it, but it won’t start it.

I’m mostly a writer (though English is not my native language, so sorry if my English text sucks), so I prefer to create a song first, and then I can put lyrics over it with easy. My musician friends can compose over anything, so they prefer to start with a lyrics.

If you just want to know how to manipulate chords, watch videos e read something about functional harmony. I’m looking into it now and it is very interesting.

Here’s a couple of songs I recorded. I hope it helped. Start today!


Note: text on video includes profanity (Note added by community manager per music forum guidelines)


Youtube recommended this video in my feed today. It seemed relevant to this discussion, so I thought I would share it here.


I think he makes a good case for his argument. Not in songwriting, but just in creative writing in general, I have seen people fiercely hold on to a passage or chapter of a body of work that should be edited out in the redrafting process. The become so attached to that section that they cannot see that it harms the overall larger work and should not be a part of that particular work. It may be able to be recycled for another story in the future, or not, but it does not belong in the story at hand however clever, well written or whatever it is.  And I can see this applying to songwriting, as well. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

@Halla , this is excellent! I hope everyone watches this. Thank you for posting it here.

Part of growing as a musician or artist of any kind is to just keep doing something. If it is songwriting, then you need to song write as often as possible. Many of these are just learning experiences, not necessarily meant to ever become something you might publish or play.But they helped you grow as a songwriter.

A cautionary note here is that, although the advice is to move on and sometimes leave behind unfinished songs, there are people who rarely finish what they started, have more unfinished than finished projects, and keep making excuses why. This is not meant as an excuse to yourself as to why you aren’t going to finish something. However, there are times when leaving something alone for a while is the best advice.

The closing advice, “try everything “ is a wonderful mantra .