The Songwriting Process

A few people have asked me about my songwriting process and at the end of this blog post I invite you warmly to share yours (or your creative process in general), if you like.  It is interesting to explore the differences and similarities in how we create.



1. The most standard way I write songs is when I sit at the piano and improvise.  I never even do this in the first place unless I am feeling that a song is lurking and needs to exist, so to say - I never force myself to sit at the  piano to compose - it calls me.  



Back to improvising:  I start playing chords and singing without words.  Let’s assume in this case that I am onto something and a nice musical gesture begins to form…usually then at least one word joins up in the improvisation, if not more, and I notate everything worthy of notation as I go in a sort of chicken scratch, very short-hand notation, most comparable to jazz notation.  I also notate any text I happen to be singing.



I will continue to work through the song like this, looking for natural changes in the harmonies to create form and variation in the song.  In most cases the song is, after this first session, 30-50 percent done, at least in terms of the idea for the form and chords.  Sometimes funny things happen and the whole song appears - that is nice and it does happen sometimes.  



The random words or phrases that come to my mind while I am improvising I try to leave in, or at least a rhyme or variation of the word because I want to respect the improvisation.  But I don’t always keep them if they really don’t work or are too cliché.  As for the rest of the text, I work on that at this point both away from the piano and then at the piano to make it work as best as I possibly can.



2. The second way in which I compose is when the songs start "knocking" to exist but I have no time because, say, it is Christmastime and I can’t leisurely play and sing nonsense with a bunch of family around.  Then they might really know how crazy I am.  And besides, the process is personal and I have to be alone.  



So in this scenario I get an idea - a musical gesture in my head or a line of text and I just sing it quickly into the low-quality microphone in my phone to preserve it until the moment that I can develop it.  When I wrote “The Mountainside” I was making a stack of pancakes in the kitchen nearly as high as the ceiling and the ideas for that song arrived in a pushy way.  I sang them into my phone, a bit panicked about burning a pancake, but more panicked that I would lose the musical idea, and I could retrieve them several days later to develop them further.  



3. The third situation is a different type of composing.  This is when I have time but no instruments and no musical ideas in my head, say on holiday.  In these moments I write poems and then a few weeks later back at the piano, after having improvised something with potential, I check whether any of the poems will work with the new song.  If so, I have just saved myself time, which is of great importance to me because time for music is not something I have a lot of.  That doesn’t worry me or bother me - it just causes me to optimize my life more and better.



So, please feel free to share your thoughts or your creative processes below - I would be very interested to hear them!

Write a comment

Comments: 4
  • #1

    Leo Kienmandl a.k.a. Leo K. the Bassman (Thursday, 20 September 2018 20:28)

    I often wake up with some melody or lyric-hookline in my head - of course not always time for finish the idea, but on some lucky days I sit down, take the guitar or the bass and try to work it out. Other ideas I get from walking - when endlessly goin in the woods I fall into some rhythm and kinda meditation and then I get some ideas - for example the song "different now" that I have just released was composed "in the woods"
    Best Regards Leo

  • #2

    Justin Nugent (Sunday, 23 September 2018 16:47)

    Songwriting is obviously not such a straightforward process, but nonetheless, one that is most fascinating. There are some very interesting similarities with the process of writing poetry, and I can relate very much to a lot of what you have said. I too find that you should never force an idea, it would not be right, and it never turns out the way you want it to. Ideas for poems come at the strangest of times, it might be a word or a line; which in its own time, will evolve into something more. This is why it can take a long time to finish something, because you have to wait for the inspiration to come knocking on your door again. It is strange then, how a simple line can turn into a wonderful piece of work, even though it could take months.

  • #3

    Jason Hoberg aKA Jaykle (Friday, 19 October 2018 09:37)

    that's such an interesting blog and is so different to the processes i go through, really dig it. i also need to write alone, well that is when scratching out words, my main way is to write the first line. then walk away and write the rest as i'm going about my daily routines, lyric i hardly write to the music. We are all so different with the same goals.
    Nice piece Elizabeth

  • #4

    Keith Symes of The Strawkites (Tuesday, 26 February 2019 12:25)

    Song writing for me is painting a picture in sound and getting all the colours to blend in.
    As to creating a new track you can never tell it could be certain sound on the keys or guitar a drum pattern, or for me going back sometines to old tracks that didnt work first time around but now just come togerther.
    Music can be very powerful there is a track called an ending by Brian Eno that to me is magical headphones on sit back and drift into the track all your troubles will fade away
    And of course when music and video meet wow so powerful