Where Do I Begin?
For many songwriters, getting started is the absolute hardest part of writing a song. Some write down the first thing they think of, knowing that they can rewrite or make changes later. Others use techniques like brainstorming or word palettes to get the creative juices flowing. Many start with music and worry about lyrics once a “mood” has been established through composing. In short, there are many ways to begin a song. It doesn't matter where you start. What matters is that you
Starting with an idea is good if there's something going on that inspires or moves you. Current news, neighborhood gossip, books, movies, and relationships provide a never-ending source of new ideas for songs. Learn to look and listen with a writer's eyes and ears; you'll be amazed how much there is to write about.
Where do great song ideas originate?
Just about anywhere. Jackson Browne's hit song “Doctor My Eyes,” in which the eyes are a metaphor for the self, was inspired out of a real eye problem Browne was having at the time. Use what you have, be creative and open minded with it, and see what happens.
The different meanings of a word, the rhythm of a particular phrase, the sound of a rhyme, or the flow of a sentence can all be good jumping-off points to a writing session. Don't be afraid to “doodle” or play with words as if they are building blocks or puzzle pieces. If you find a word or phrase you like, look for other words and phrases that go with it and find rhymes for all of them. Try twisting or reversing the meanings of things.
Countless songs have been written with a common phrase as the starting point. Even if you start with an idea, you may want to look for a short phrase that sums it up nicely. A short phrase used as a central theme is called a “hook.” Many professionals prefer to start with a hook and build a song around it.Starting with Music
A bit of melody, a chord sequence, or an instrumental lick have inspired countless songs. Some writers prefer to create within the confines of the imagination, whereas others may hum, whistle, or plink around on the guitar or piano, looking for the little something special that gets things moving.
Many songs use identical chord patterns but, if the words and melodies are different, people don't usually notice. A good exercise is to take the chords from a favorite song and write your own song over them. Try putting familiar chord patterns to a different groove or arranging the chords in a different order.
For those with home studios, an increasingly common way of coming up with musical grooves is to sample an existing recording, build a loop from a small piece of it, add tracks around the loop, then delete the loop, change the tempo or other elements of the new tracks, and see what it sounds like.
Starting with a beat or groove is a great way to write a specific kind of song. Left to their own devices, most songwriters write ballads (slow songs) nine out of ten times. Publishers and recording artists, however, are usually looking for fast songs (up-tempos). See a problem? A good way to overcome the natural inclination toward ballads is to write to a beat or groove from a drum machine.