Should You Write Lyrics or Music First?

write lyrics

Writing a song is an intensely personal act. Each songwriter may favor their own unique process. Fortunately, there is no right or wrong way to write a song.

Sometimes the hardest part is just choosing which journey to take on the way to your musical destination.

Here’s a field guide to finding what style works best for you:

A Way With Words

Many songwriters who write lyrics first draw inspiration from reading and writing poetry. Writing poetry can be an excellent starting place when beginning the writing process. Drawing a seed from other lyricists is also another great way to break through creative blocks.

Another great way to get excited about words is to explore alternative rhyme schemes.

Exploring and experimenting with different rhyme forms, such as End rhymes, Internal rhymes, Slant rhymes, Eye rhymes & Identical rhymes can give your lyrics an interesting and fresh relationship.

I Can Hear Music

Got a melody stuck in your head? You may find that it’s far easier to explore writing the music first. Writing music, as opposed to writing only lyrics, can prove to require more previous knowledge and training than the lyrical process. It seems that a musician is limited only by his or her own creativity, knowledge of an instrument, and level of musical training.

Sure, a basic knowledge of a few chords will get you far enough to record the basics of your ideas, but without years of musical training it can be difficult to capture the complexities of the music you hear in your head.

If you’ve got limited training, but you’re hell-bent on becoming the next Miles Davis, you’re going to have to invest some time and effort before expecting to create your masterpiece.

Don’t have time to go back to school to major in classical guitar or jazz studies? That’s ok too. Seek out collaborative partners to help you better convey your ideas. You just might learn more about yourself and your instrument in the process!

Working with a Writing Partner

Sometimes, you just don’t have the years of musical experience to delve as deep as you’d like into writing the music. Other times, the words just don’t seem to come out right. There’s nothing wrong with that. You just need a songwriting partner.

Fortunately, whatever your greatest weakness is, there’s someone out there that considers that very thing their biggest strength…. and if you’re lucky, they’ve got wifi.

With the advent of the internet connecting musicians all over the world, finding the musical yin to your yang has never been easier.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin may be the most famous of songwriting duos with over fifty years of collaboration. Famously, lyricist Taupin has said “I’m dealing with a guy that’s got more hooks than a tackle box” of Elton. This statement only further proves that Taupin’s way with words has met its match in a man so full of music.

Steal From the Greats

Disclaimer: Don’t ACTUALLY Steal. (Just steal some inspiration.)

In “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” author Austin Kleon elaborates on the idea that there are very few truly original pieces of art.

Viewing, listening, and consuming art (even art we hate) has such a strong impact on the patron, that it will likely influence your voice forever.

When we are moved to create our own art, it is nearly impossible to make without including a highly nuanced history of our personal experiences and the art that has most inspired us.

Try on a New Hat

If all else fails and you find yourself stuck and musically stranded, just pretend to be someone else.

Yup, we said it. Music is a lot like theater and creating a larger than life persona can be your ticket to inspiration and the big time.

In a world where everyone is always telling you to be yourself, it can be exceedingly difficult to define yourself in such succinct terms. One way out is to imagine yourself as someone else and try to write a song as you feel they would.

This isn’t to say that you’ve got to go against your instincts here, finding your voice should feel natural to you and shouldn’t go against any of your natural inclinations.

If your greatest inspirations are Biggie and TuPac, don’t force yourself to write an Alanis Morrisette inspired tune. (Unless you really want to challenge yourself to step out of your musical comfort zone.)

It could be a simple as trying on the persona of a favorite artist. Challenge yourself to write a tune that sounds like it could’ve been the missing bonus track on your favorite album.

Try on an alternative experience. What sort of song would you write about a lover you’d lost to a friend? What tone would resonate best for a song written by someone on top of the world? When all else fails, you can always ask yourself ‘What would the Beatles do?’

Set a Quota

Don’t get stuck in the mud. When in doubt, just churn it out.

Set a goal to write a set amount of songs in a set amount of time. Rather you want to write a song for every day of a year, or just enough songs to fill your debut album, just keep the ideas flowing. Don’t be afraid to put one idea down and pick up a new one, if you need a break.

Just whatever you do, don’t trust your brain to remember what you’ve written so far. Using the voice memo recorder on your phone is a great way to save those melodies that come at you when you least expect them.

Roadblocks in the Rearview

Still stuck? Don’t get discouraged or let a feeling of writer’s block hold you back from creating your masterpiece!

Join an online songwriting community to get your juices flowing or take some time to call up an old friend and take a walk down memory lane.

Old feelings and distant memories can always suddenly reappear to help us find a new source of inspiration.

Oh, and once you’ve finished writing that hit song? Don’t forget to protect yourself by copyrighting it.

Happy writing.

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