Writing the perfect song...or something like that
Updated: May 2, 2022
What is it that makes a song? How can you go beyond the notes and the lines to something deeper? How can you put pieces of music together that will move someone, to give them new feelings; to shake someone into woke-dome, to shift their reality and make them question everything they've ever heard until they heard...your song.
A wise man once told me that music is a simple thing, just notes over chords. You never have to wait until you've "mastered music" to write your own song. You can write your own song today. Performing it may be another story, but we'll cover that too in time. The most important thing about song writing is getting started. In music we have to pick a focal point called the root. The root is the home note, and is called such because that is how it makes us feel. Every note in our song will likely focus around the root, or the home note.
Once we've picked our home note, we've gotta move. Most songs don't simply play the same note over and over again, as that would be a pretty lousy song. There is no Tension. A great musician knows how to use the light and shadow of the notes to create TENSION. But the concept is fairly simple music theory.
We can't talk about great songwriting without examples. One of my favorite songs from Austin, TX named "One Chord Song" by the artist Stoney LaRue only has one chord in it (trust me on this), but it still has many notes making up the melody. The root of "One Chord Song" is D, and the song is in D Major, meaning it's using the Major Scale to make the melody. There's very little Tension in this song, it's a very joyful song, as songs in a Major Key often are. Certain chords sound good together, and this is the concept of playing within a key.
But that's all boring. What you want to know is... How do I make people feel something when listening to my music? How can I put my own spin on a classic formula for making a great song? How do I create something truly unique, something memorable?
The key is simple story telling, but not just lyrically. Great songs convey emotion, set tone, or create vibes. A well written song can literally change the way you are feeling. It could shift you into a happier mood, or a more melancholy one. It could be a horrifying tale about someone waking up to their reality, only to realize they are part of a magnificent machine. Listen to "Welcome To the Machine" by Pink Floyd, a song that largely uses just 2 chords, C and Em, to astounding affect.