Monday, April 13, 2015

Make It Monday ~ My 1 Step Songwriting Process

When I decided I wanted to learn guitar my mother arranged for me to borrow one that sat in our pastor's basement collecting dust.  I knew exactly zero things about playing.  I sat on my bedroom floor with that poor old beaten beast laying flat across my lap like an auto harp, tapping the strings and calling my sisters in to tell them how I'd invented a new {and better} way to play.  I had no idea how to form chords or what a strum pattern was.  It must have been a month before I even figured out what I was trying to play was actually a left-handed guitar.  No wonder what I was attempting to mimic from the 'Teach Yourself Guitar' book given to me by my best friend's mother sounded positively horrible.

I received a right-handed Yamaha acoustic for my sixteenth birthday.  I thought it was the most excellently extravagant gift I'd ever been given and, with that paperback teach yourself instruction book always by my side, I dove in and learned enough to start writing my own songs.


Everyone handles their season of teenage angst differently.  I navigated those waters by writing poetry and music.

I did not write good music.  It was rare for anything to have more than three chords.  My lyrics were heavy with my first heart break and the only people who heard my music were the kids that would sit on the disgusting carpet in the church basement after youth group on Friday nights.

The chorus of my very first song went like this:

       I don't want to hear your problems
       I don't want to watch you cry
       I don't want get my shoulder wet
       You've got to let my flower die

What??!!

Ugh!

That was a two chord wonder.  {So is Tom Petty's Free Fallin' but it would be unfair to compare.}  It had something like seven stab-a-needle-in-your-eye verses; but, because I was the only guitar-playing-singer-songwriter in my circle of friends they all told me how amazing it was. {Liars!} And, because I loved the attention {but played humble} I kept on writing them and bringing them to the church basement and recording them onto cassette tapes with a two track system that made me sound like I was being murdered in space.

Like any hobby or skill, improvement comes over time and though I'm still not a great guitar player - never adventuring beyond a chord & strum method - I have improved in production value, in my melody variances and my lyrics.

I have found it is never something I can force.  I write music when I feel it bubbling up inside me.  Any time I've said, "I think I'll write a song today," it doesn't happen.  It has to fall on me and I have to grab on and go for the ride or it will leave me.

The process is different for everyone.  I've listened to interviews with prolific songwriters who talk about the days...weeks...even years they spend making their song perfect.  I can't relate to this, though it fascinates me to no end.  I suppose when it is your livelihood, perfectionism is important.  Me?  I'm really just doing it for myself {much like my approach to this blog which goes against all the rules of successful blogging} so it's not about perfect, it's about saying what I want to say, having fun doing it, and feeling creative and alive.

I can't remember an instance where it took me more than a couple of hours to write a song from start to finish.  I'm not saying that to brag - I mean, I wonder what I could turn out if I actually dedicated real time to such a hobby...?  But an hour or two gives me enough of an outlet to create something that makes me happy - whether I'm pouring out feelings, being silly, or capturing a memory.

Songwriting.  It's like therapy.  But way cheaper.

So, how do I do it?

Step 1: I do it.  I just do it.

Sorry.  That was rude.

I can't tell you because it doesn't make any sense.  I pick up my guitar, I set a piece of paper and a pen in front of me, I strum a chord and I start singing.  Once in a while I'll have an idea for an opening lyric.  Usually I'll know the theme or tone I'm going for.  I never know how I'm going to find a bridge that works so luckily it finds me.  With my latest song {see below} - and this was a first for me - I had the whole first verse when I sat down.  It came to me in the car on an early Sunday morning as I drove to church for the pre-service worship practice/sound check.  I sang it into my phone before going up on the stage to the piano because I was afraid I'd lose it among the Hallelujah's.  I'd never come at a song-writing session so prepared.  It was kind of awesome.

If you want to write music, all I can say is do it.  Throw yourself in.  Find inspiration everywhere.  Don't be afraid to sound stupid.  {Let my flower die? I mean, come on!!??!!} 

Your process doesn't matter.  What matters is that what you do brings you joy.


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4 comments :

  1. Lovely! Your right, "home is were the heart is" Lets all move South :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Alanna, thank you so very much for sharing this sweet post with the Creative Inspiration Link Party. Your thoughts and song writing process is so insightful and your advice is priceless. I hope you'll join us again Monday! Party link goes live at 8pm CST.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I was happy to find your link party and look forward to participating again :)

      Delete

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