If you’re serious about improving your songwriting skills you’ve no doubt searched for the answer to “how to become a better songwriter”. The key to writing better songs is the same as improving in any other area of life… do it consistently and more often.
How to become a better songwriter- 7 Steps
- Write in a Foreign Language
- Set an Alert Notification on Your Phone
- Look at the Best Songs You’ve Written
- Rewrite the Lyrics to an Existing Song
- Write with a Better Songwriter
- Add Content to Your Favorite Band’s Song
- Develop a Songwriter’s Mindset
It’s as simple as that. What do weight lifters do to gain more strength? They lift weights on a regular schedule. How are marathon runners able to finish that 26.2 mile course? They have a daily workout routine that builds up their stamina and endurance over time to allow their bodies to accomplish the task.
How do songwriters write terrific songs that win Grammy awards? They have worked their way up to that point by writing hundreds, maybe even thousands of songs. They have studied the craft of songwriting. They find ways to sharpen their songwriting skills a little every day.
I’ve put together a list of seven ways you can start improving your own songwriting chops. Some you may have heard of, and maybe one or two that are new to you. The important thing is to try a new technique or put forth even more effort with one that you’ve found works for you. Here are some ideas to sharpen your songwriting skills and help you reach that goal of how to write a song that is better than the song you wrote before.
1) Write in a Foreign Language
While I was attempting to learn Spanish there was a point where I was learning the words to various beverages. I came up with an idea to write a song about them, in Spanish. Spanish is a wonderful language to write songs with. There are so many words that end in vowel sounds that it’s not too difficult to find some to fit into your songs.
I even created the music track to have a Latin feel. Writing music in a foreign language makes you concentrate more on the task at hand. Not only do you need to assemble words that rhyme, but they need to work together. As in the case of Spanish, the feminine and masculine words go together in certain ways.
I was corrected in a few places when I ran it by a native Spanish speaker. If you’re interested, you can listen to my song, “Tomo Todos Los Dias“. So, that’s one way to become a better songwriter… writing songs in a foreign language.
2) Set an Alert Notification on Your Phone
Try this, pick a time interval, maybe every 3 hours, and set your phone to notify you when that time arrives. When you hear the notification, look at what’s happening at that moment. Are you driving, walking, studying, working, in conversation, shopping? Whatever it is that you’re doing at that moment think of a creative song title that would represent that activity.
Remember, in songwriting it’s all about “showing” and not just “telling”. Don’t just use a title like, “Reading a Book”. How about, “Surrounded by Words“, “Lost in the Story“, “Under the Cover“, “The Curse: Chapter and Verse“, “The Last Chapter“? These are examples of what I mean about creating song titles out of everyday activities. Now, most of these titles you come up with may not turn into a song idea.
The titles above I just brainstormed as I’m writing this, in real-time. Don’t be hesitant to just throw things out there. You never know when one of them will spawn a song idea. I can tell you this, you are more likely to get a song idea doing this exercise than you would by not doing it.
3) Look at the Best Songs You’ve Written
If you’re stuck in a songwriting rut and start feeling a little down on yourself try listening and looking at the lyrics to your favorite song that you have already written. This can be a real motivator. What is it that makes you proud of this song? Is it the song idea? How you came up with that idea? The clever rhymes you included?
A great bridge that you came up with? Looking at your best work reminds yourself that you are a pretty good songwriter. You’ve done it in the past and you can do it again, and even better. It’s easy to fall into self-doubt as a songwriter.
One way to get better at songwriting is to constantly remind yourself that you are actually a pretty good writer. This is one way to become a better songwriter…. review your past work then accept the challenge of writing a song even better.
4) Rewrite the Lyrics to an Existing Song
This is one of the best songwriting tips I received when I was starting out on my songwriting journey. It’s common to go through dry spells with your songwriting, known as “songwriter’s block”. Writing to an existing song already gives you the melody to work with.
If you choose a song that’s in the public domain, even better. Your finished product will be a song that is 100 percent your own work. As an example, leading up to my first grandchild’s birth I wrote a verse to the melody of “Jesus Loves Me”. On the day of his birth, I recorded a video singing it to him.
Not only is this a great exercise to further advance my own songwriting skills, I also have created a memory for him that will last his lifetime and be passed down to future generations. Here’s what I wrote. (to the melody of Jesus Loves Me)
Jesus loves you, you should know
For the bible tells you so
To our Savior, you belong
You are weak but He is strong
Yes, Jesus loves you, yes, Jesus loves you
Yes, Jesus loves you, the bible tells you so
Grandpa loves you, you should know
I can’t wait to watch you grow
In my prayers, you’ll always be
Welcome to our family
Yes, Grandpa loves you, yes Jesus loves you
Yes, we all love you, I wanted you to know
A simple song, but one that will be (I hope) cherished by the family for years to come. And it came about by just rewriting the words to an existing song. The key is to use the same syllable count in each line as well as the same emphasis each syllable has in that line. Look through it again and this time sing it out loud and see how each syllable is replicated from the original even though the words are different.
5) Write With a Better Songwriter
If you can find a cowriter to work with, that can go a long way in improving your songwriting. If you can find one who is a better writer than you are at the moment, even better. It’s not always easy to find an individual who is willing to “write down”, meaning one who will partner up with a less experienced songwriter.
It can happen, especially if they connect with you on an individual basis. Try joining a songwriting forum and get involved by leaving comments on other songwriter’s lyrics. You have the chance to present who you are and how helpful you can be. Get to be known as someone who is engaged and encouraging and that will lead to connections.
Establishing positive relationships first is crucial to finding the type of songwriters you’re looking to connect to. You can read my article, “How to Find a Songwriting Collaborator” for ways to connect.
6) Add Content to Your Favorite Band’s Songs
Whether it’s an additional verse, chorus or bridge, add something to the songs of your favorite bands. Make the new content improve on the song’s message. If the song doesn’t have a bridge write one with a new twist to the lyrics and with an interesting melody.
This is just a songwriting exercise, not to claim as your own work. It is a way, if you’re having difficulty coming up with a song subject or melody of your own, to bypass that and get right to work on new material.
7) Develop a Songwriter Mindset
If you want to improve your songwriting you need to write more songs. To write more songs you need to spend more time thinking like a songwriter. With every conversation you hear or are involved in keep an ear tuned in to possible song topics, titles, ideas, etc. Create a challenge for yourself that you’ll write down at least one song idea each day.
Keep a songwriter’s diary. If you look through the book and see there are too many days between entries then renew your effort. You will not become a better songwriter by hoping it happens. You must take ownership and make it happen. How bad do you want it?
These are just seven ideas for how to become a better songwriter. I hope at least a couple have motivated you to try them. Brainstorm some ideas of your own. The important thing to remember is more writing leads to better writing. So get your pen and paper out and get after it! Write on, my fellow song pioneers.