Start a Band

Tips, trials and thoughts about starting and building a band in Australia

How to Write Songs

Let me start this post by saying that everyone is different when it comes to writing music. What works for someone else may or may not work for you but it certainly can’t hurt to increase your repertoire of tricks – particularly for those times you have writer’s block.

For me I usually try to find a riff, hook or chord progression that sticks out in my mind. I know a small amount of music theory and will sometimes work from a scale. That initial riff can sometimes make a song so it can be very rewarding when you come up with a good one.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a good riff or chord progression, you can try playing on a musical scale (search the web for them, there are plenty – if you’re still stuck, a popular one is “e minor”). Alternatively, you can look for inspiration elsewhere. Learning covers can heavily influence the style of originals that you write so you can try playing a few covers (or just the interesting bits) in the same genre as what you would like to write in.

Many popular songs will have a verse and chorus and will often have an intro and bridge. As always, this will vary genre to genre so when you’re starting out, you can look at other songs in the same genre and use a similar structure.

Let’s start with a riff. You might have already come up with a cool sounding riff but don’t let it stop you from experimenting. Often a short riff can be lengthened by repeating the riff with a different starting note each time. If you’ve already come up with some verse chords, try using the root notes of those chords. Often it can be easier to come up with the chords first and then move on to the riff.

When moving from the riff to the verse, you can try a few different tricks to make it flow from one to the other easily. If you haven’t come up with a verse yet, you can try recording the riff and playing over it until something works – try to pick out notes from the riff to use in the verse; Some will work better than others.

If you’re writing a chorus next (again, depending on the style) you’ll want it to stick out as the catchy part of the song. To do this, you may want to make the instrument parts simple so that the vocal melody has more options. Don’t be afraid to repeat a chorus twice if need be and it can help to limit the number of lyrics in the chorus. I’ll write more on lyrics in a later post. If you’re stuck writing your chorus, try playing your verse with a backing drum track and see where you feel like going from there.

The bridge of popular songs often contains a key change and can be a departure in style from the rest of the track. Be careful though, if it’s too different it may not flow from one part of the song to the next. A useful guide is to look at how many parts of your song have changed from one part to the next. There are many aspects including key/scale, tempo, time signature, tone, beat and melody. Change too many of these things and it will sound like a completely different song. Try changing two or three of these and see how it sounds.

Once you have those three parts down you’ll need to end your song. You don’t always need an outro as a lot of the time you can just end on a chorus or verse. Sometimes your outro can be the same as your intro or a modified version of your verse (perhaps with fewer instruments playing).

By now you should have all your parts and you just need to arrange them into a song. You probably have a pretty good idea of your song structure already but if you don’t, arrange them into a preliminary structure. If you haven’t written lyrics for your song, play it and sing along with some temporary lyrics (they don’t have to be any good) and see how the song flows with lyrics. If some sections feel too short or long, change their lengths.

Once you feel your song is somewhat complete, show it to some friends and get feedback. Be prepared to receive some constructive criticism and don’t be afraid to change your finished product. There are plenty of bands that change their songs years after recording and selling them.


Writing Music For Your Band

So you’ve started a band and you want to know how to write original songs. My band writes songs in a few different ways and we find that this gives us a good bit of variation in the music we produce.

I’ll go over the first today. It is probably the most obvious – writing songs through jamming. Often things sound great during a jam that you would never consider using if you were writing by yourself. The first thing to take into account when using this process is that each individual in the band will have a lot less control over the direction a song takes. Sometimes this can be a good thing, at other times it can be limiting. An important thing to remember is not to step on the toes of the others during a jam. Don’t be afraid to sit out on a jam for a minute and listen for opportunities. Once you’ve jammed on a song and you all decide “that was the most awesome jam and solo in the history of new age alt punk pop-rock!” you need to turn it into a song.

Most people would suggest recording your jams and that is a good idea but you can’t just record them and be done with it. If you can’t or don’t record your jams you’ll need to write down and if necessary, tab out your parts as soon as you finish the jam. The next step is the homework.

If you’re satisfied with the number of parts and the way they work together all you have to do is arrange them into a song structure. Once you’ve done that, print out the structure for each band member for your next practice. If you have a whiteboard available at your rehearsal space, use this instead of printouts. You will be able to change the song around a lot easier than if everyone needs to keep track of changes individually.

The vocalist of the band needs to write lyrics and come up with a solid melody for the song as soon as possible. For this reason, it is important that the vocalist is able to play the song or have a recording of it so that he/she can do their homework. Anyone who hasn’t written their parts for the song will need to do the same so an early recording (even if it’s only guitar and drum machine) can’t hurt and can cut down the time you waste during practice (which will help keep everyone more enthusiastic).

Once all of this has been worked out, it’s time to practice the song. Make sure you keep track of any song structure changes and don’t be afraid to make changes to the song as you go on (as long as it isn’t too close to a gig).

There you have it: your own song. I’ll be going over individually writing songs in my next post. Stay tuned.