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Four Proven Ways to Start a Song

I was reading this interview with Lifehouse's Jason Wade in American Songwriter and he discusses how he wrote "Hanging By A Moment" in a matter of about 10 minutes.

"I went into the other room, picked up an acoustic guitar and it was almost an out-of-body experience. Within 7-10 minutes the song was completely finished… the arrangement, melody, everything. It was almost like channeling a song from another place. Hands down that is the quickest song I ever wrote."

Never seems to happens to me! (And when it does the songs aren't THAT great.)

But this is one of many anecdotes I've heard about some hit songs being written in a very short amount of time. Some songwriters say there are the songs that really are work and take sometimes years to write and then there are the magic ones that come in a dream or in a channel-like state as Wade describes.

Whether it takes you 10 minutes or 10 years to finish, here are four proven ways to start a song:

1) Melody: This is where some type of strong melodic hook or phrase comes to your mind as described in the Wade interview. You run with that melody and find the words that fit the melody. I have read Sheila Davis' Songwriter's Idea Book many times over the years and use it in some classes I teach. It offers up some great ways to activate different parts of your creative brain with great results.

2) Lyric: The opposite from the above, in this case a cool title or line comes to your mind and then you go in search for the melody that feels at home with it. Repetition is the key here. Some writers even like to complete a draft lyric or work with a finished lyric before starting to write the melody. 

3) Riff: Grab your guitar or sit at the piano and try to come up with a riff, instrumental hook or phrase that is the beginnings of a song. Sometimes it might come to your mind beforehand as well, but more pre-packaged as a guitar riff. That riff is the magic or memorable moment that inspires the songwriting. Then you "search" for song structure and lyrics. Need some inspiration? Check out the many "greatest guitar riffs" videos on YouTube. My Co-Writer is kind of a variation on this theme.

4) Groove: Find a drum loop or drum beat you like, or create one, and then with or without an instrument in hand, feel a melody or lyric start to emerge from that groove. Even country artists like Keith Urban have amazing grooves that play a major part in the overall feeling of a song.

Good luck with your songwriting.

Quint Randle is the co-founder of Drums On Demand, a leading drum loop manufacturer. He has written for Guitar Player, Mix Magazine and many other industry publications. He is the author of the book "Making Money, Making Music" and an award-winning songwriter.


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