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When you write a song (or compose music)..


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What do YOU do first: write the lyrics, or compose the instrumentals?

 

I think what I would do, is kind of.. both.

Sometimes, I would think it'd be logical to write the lyrics first - to set the overall 'mood' or 'tone' of the song, which would then paint a clearer picture for me and/or my band as far as what to play to further set the mood and/or tone of the song.

It also seems to make sense that devising the music first would be just as wise - you aren't exactly limited to forementioned 'mood,' you're allowed to sort of freelance some jam content with your band, and if possible, get some solid outlines or building block rough drafts for verses/choruses/bridges/solos/breakdowns/whatever, and then shape the lyrics around that.

 

What do you guys think?

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When I was younger, it seemed easier to write songs in my head. A melody or chord structure would play in the background and I would imagine words over it. I wrote two songs like that, one when I was 17 and another when I was 21.

 

As I've gotten older, it's leaned more to the Elton John/Bernie Taupin style of writing. Taupin would write a page of lyrics, then give them to Elton to write music to. He was somehow able to come up with the chords and melodies just by looking at the structure of the words. I don't know why, but it's easier for me to do it that way now than to try and come up with words off the cuff from chords or melodies I'm playing.

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I used to write lyrics first but I found coming up with music for them was tougher or a complete crapshoot 99% of the time.

 

I've been writing on acoustic first and my productivity musically/lyrically increased tenfold. Amazing.

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When I was younger, it seemed easier to write songs in my head. A melody or chord structure would play in the background and I would imagine words over it. I wrote two songs like that, one when I was 17 and another when I was 21.


As I've gotten older, it's leaned more to the Elton John/Bernie Taupin style of writing. Taupin would write a page of lyrics, then give them to Elton to write music to. He was somehow able to come up with the chords and melodies just by looking at the structure of the words. I don't know why, but it's easier for me to do it that way now than to try and come up with words off the cuff from chords or melodies I'm playing.

 

Thanks for the replies. That's kind of the way I look at it.

I've always had a sort of knack for writing, and so when I look at the words I write, I imagine the riffs, the drum beats and timings, and when I'm really creative, I imagine myself shredding some sweet solo that I know I actually can't play. :p

Anyone else?

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Well, whenever I write the lyrics first, I seem to find it pretty hard to match the metric to the chords / instrumentation and usually end up changing half of what I wrote. Getting the guitar lines first and then trying to discover how it makes me feel usually helps when beginning to write; I'd say it's a 50/50 process. It also helps a lot when trying to synchronize the lyrics and the music to just play the guitar parts until I can do it without thinking, and usually only after that will I try to lay the text down.

 

There are, however, some exceptional cases where I imagine the lyrics and instantly come up with the melody (usually while I'm driving :facepalm:), and then it's only a matter of coming up with the harmony - those don't happen as much as I wished, though.

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It varies for me. Sometimes I'll write the music first and then write lyrics to fit the vocal melody. Other times, I'll write lyrics independent of any music and then, at some later point, go back and try to fit them into some lyric-less music I've written. If it works, that's great. If not, I hold on to them until another song comes along. There are times when I'll write lyrics with the idea of music to go with them, but that's not too often.

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Exactly. Yeah, I have a file of lyrics and another file of riffs and chord progressions, each waiting for the right "other parts" to come along.

 

I also have a file with about 30 song starts from dreams.

 

You know, Paul McCartney said he DREAMED the song "Yesterday"! Write that stuff down!

 

 

 

It varies for me. Sometimes I'll write the music first and then write lyrics to fit the vocal melody. Other times, I'll write lyrics independent of any music and then, at some later point, go back and try to fit them into some lyric-less music I've written. If it works, that's great. If not, I hold on to them until another song comes along. There are times when I'll write lyrics with the idea of music to go with them, but that's not too often.

 

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For me, the initial inspiration usually comes to me while I'm away from an instrument. Usually in the shower or in the car. A catch phrase and melody pop into my head and it just starts building upon itself. Only once that process has run it's course and I have something solid, will I go to the piano or guitar and figure out what the chords are. For some reason, if I've been playing through some chord changes, the lyrics and melody will somehow magically fit to it. Kind of like my brain is putting things together without me knowing it. If it's a period where I haven't touched a melodic instrument for months (thus not having been playing with any musical ideas), I just work out the chords to the music and lyrics in my head.

 

I have done it other ways of course. Written words first and put them to music, written music first and added words later, written a whole song at once while sitting with an instrument...

 

But the most inspired and mystical way is to be doing something completely unrelated to music and being hit by inspiration and coming up with a song right there. Those are the better songs. Almost like taking dictation from the beyond. I wish it always happened that way.

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tspit: I couldn't agree more. But... it happens the same for me; why is it that driving gives so many musical ideas?!?! This would be a good enough reason for me to drive more, if it weren't for the price of gas these days :cry:

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When I was younger, it seemed easier to write songs in my head. A melody or chord structure would play in the background and I would imagine words over it. I wrote two songs like that, one when I was 17 and another when I was 21.


As I've gotten older, it's leaned more to the Elton John/Bernie Taupin style of writing. Taupin would write a page of lyrics, then give them to Elton to write music to. He was somehow able to come up with the chords and melodies just by looking at the structure of the words. I don't know why, but it's easier for me to do it that way now than to try and come up with words off the cuff from chords or melodies I'm playing.

 

Being an Elton/Bernie fan, that's generally the way I do it too. I guess I enjoy the delayed gratification of writing a set of lyrics, and then imagining the possibilities of what the music will turn out to be. By the time I actually sit down at an instrument, I already have a general feel in mind for the song, although I'm still never exactly sure what I'm gonna do until I start. It's more exciting for me that way.

 

Typically, I start with lyrics, then I'll go to an instrument and find some chords, then I'll start singing melodic ideas on top of the chords I'm playing. Sometimes, I may adjust a lyric or two to make it fit better. Melodies rarely pop into my head fully formed. It takes a lot of work for me to come up with something that sounds not too familiar, yet flowing and natural at the same time. Having some lyrics and a chordal framework in place provides a structure, so I'm not just trying to pull notes out of thin air.

 

That seems to be what works best for me. But I reserve myself the right to switch things up if I feel like it. :)

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But the most inspired and mystical way is to be doing something completely unrelated to music and being hit by inspiration and coming up with a song right there. Those are the better songs. Almost like taking dictation from the beyond. I wish it always happened that way.

 

 

The problem I often encounter with that is when the melody comes at an unfortunate time. I find melodies are very fleeting at first and if one comes to me as I'm on my way to work in the morning, it's usually gone by the time I get home that evening to try to work on it.

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For me, the music comes first. However, one thing I'm trying out is to have a blank sheet of paper and just write catchy lines as they come to me during the day, or when I'm trying to sleep. I'll then expand upon some of them and/or rephrase them if I have written music that fits them.

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I write songs both ways. Sometimes, i'll be tapping a beat and then think of a melody to go with it, other times lyrics just come to me first and I can come up with the music later. Nothing happens if I just sit down to write a song, I just have to let the song come to me naturally. I write a lot more songs mowing the lawn than writing songs.

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What do YOU do first: write the lyrics, or compose the instrumentals?


I think what I would do, is kind of.. both.

Sometimes, I would think it'd be logical to write the lyrics first - to set the overall 'mood' or 'tone' of the song, which would then paint a clearer picture for me and/or my band as far as what to play to further set the mood and/or tone of the song.

It also seems to make sense that devising the music first would be just as wise - you aren't exactly limited to forementioned 'mood,' you're allowed to sort of freelance some jam content with your band, and if possible, get some solid outlines or building block rough drafts for verses/choruses/bridges/solos/breakdowns/whatever, and then shape the lyrics around that.


What do you guys think?

 

 

I am primarily a word guy. All my stuff starts with lyrics. If I was a better musician, that might be different.

 

Different genres are approached in different fashions. Most folks I know who write rock or metal insist that it's all about the music. The words are there primarily to "finish" the song. Country and singer songwriter stuff focuses more on the lyrics and that's where they start. Everybody has there own approach and what works for you works and that's that. I think the only measure is your finished product.

 

It's probably easier to come up with music first for purposes of meter and rythym. Writing lyrics first, for me, forces me to come up with music that is "different" to make it work. I use some unusual meters in my lyrics. My nephew complains about it when I ask him to help with music and it takes longer, but we have come up with some pretty interesting stuff in the process.

 

When I say I write lyrics first, I do mean lyrics, not just lines. I work out the meters in my head and make them fit. I am especially ruthless with myself as far as meters go. I sing them a capella then write music to go with.

 

EG

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For me, the initial inspiration usually comes to me while I'm away from an instrument. Usually in the shower or in the car. A catch phrase and melody pop into my head and it just starts building upon itself. Only once that process has run it's course and I have something solid, will I go to the piano or guitar and figure out what the chords are. For some reason, if I've been playing through some chord changes, the lyrics and melody will somehow magically fit to it. Kind of like my brain is putting things together without me knowing it. If it's a period where I haven't touched a melodic instrument for months (thus not having been playing with any musical ideas), I just work out the chords to the music and lyrics in my head.


I have done it other ways of course. Written words first and put them to music, written music first and added words later, written a whole song at once while sitting with an instrument...


But the most inspired and mystical way is to be doing something completely unrelated to music and being hit by inspiration and coming up with a song right there. Those are the better songs. Almost like taking dictation from the beyond. I wish it always happened that way.

 

^ agreeeeee.

When I'm at work or in school, or doing something else that I'd much rather not be doing, I'm struck with ideas for songs and riffs and beats.

Or even when I'm in a {censored}-strung mood, I let the power of the emotion write itself out. I once tried a freewrite when I was having a crappy day, and turned it into a song in my head, imagined everything as far as musical setup; then, I lost the sheet of paper. :o

I don't think I have a particular consistent method of writing my material; rather, I devise what I'd like to write at a given time, or what I'm inspired to write, and I just.. write.

I won't say I write amazing stuff, but I wouldn't down it.

Of course, that's probably because it's my material, haha.

 

Anyone else wanna share? I like where this thread's gone. :thu:

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You know, Paul McCartney said he DREAMED the song "Yesterday"!

 

 

My best tunes have always come very early in the morning as I wake up. I'll sometimes have a melody and a hook line working in the shower.

 

Keep in mind that I get up at 4:30 AM....Sir Paul would still be dreaming.

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I do both. I have found that writing l;yrics first works well and I almost always work them out in my head with music but the music I end up composing usually doesn't match what I thought of.

 

Singing the lyrics to a tune in my head just helps me formulate the song.

 

There are other times when I have an instrumental and I write lyrics around that.

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chords -> melody -> lyrics


always. i wish i was a better lyricist. doing it the other way-- putting music to words-- seems like it could yield some great results.

 

 

Wow, I can't imagine starting with chords. For me I start with a melody. The melody, to me, is what tells the story. The chords embellish that story.

 

My singer handles the lyrics. Most commonly, I come up with the riff/melody/section and he will flip through his mountain of lyrics (which has accumulated to two large binders over the past 20 years) and find a song to sing over the riffs or he'll improv over it and we decipher the lyrics later. When he flips through his lyrics, I've never asked him if he's browsing for lyrics or searching out a specific set in mind. Would be interesting to know.

 

I would like to take a set of his lyrics and work from there, but that hasn't happened yet. We've been very prolific in our current method so who knows when we'll try it that way.

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chords -> melody -> lyrics


always. i wish i was a better lyricist. doing it the other way-- putting music to words-- seems like it could yield some great results.

 

 

It can yield some interesting results. It seems to me that writing music first, it's easy to fall into familiar patterns. The result for me is then unimaginative songs. I usually write my songs in prose first with no regard to lines, meter, rrhyme etc. By doing hat, I can map out the song, progressionally, then find a format for it. Generally, a line or sentence will suggest a meter for me, sometimes extremely unorthodox. This forces me to try a little harder to come up with music to fit.

 

Perhaps if I were a better musician that wouldn't be the case, but we all have to use the tools we have.

 

EG

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