6.1 The song: Where do you start?

This question can cause so much uncertainty in all of us.
Luckily we have the tools to demystify this question and create a solid foundation that we can use at the start of every new song.



1. Capturing Inspiration.

This is the age old question. How do you start a song? Where do you start? Do you always start with drums? Or do you start with a guitar? Can you write a song from just a melody?The answer is ‘Yes’ to all of them. There is no right or wrong way to start a song.
The key is to start with something that excites you. Something that makes you feel that making music is fun. It’s meant to be fun so let’s keep it that way!

– Start from wherever you feel inspired.

The amazing thing about inspiration is that it can come from anywhere. However, you don’t know how long that inspiration will last.
Therefore it’s imperative to capture it when you find it. So:-

– Always, ALWAYS record your inspiration.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a melody in my head or played something on my guitar and thought, “Oh that’s cool, I’ll remember that later”. Not so! However, if you assume that you will forget it, you will never forget to record it!

Luckily, most of us have a phone capable of recording our moments of inspiration. Fill that phone with ideas! My phone is full of ideas inspired while walking, on a bus, in the shower, at a gig etc……anywhere.

2. Building on that Inspiration.

Take your ‘piece’ of inspiration and use that as the foundation for your song. No matter if it’s a vocal, melody or the smallest of guitar parts, it can still be a great starting place.
Then ask: What other musical elements could surround this inspiration?
We will consider the three main musical elements of a song and leave lyrics for a later module.

A. Melody.

This is often the lead vocal of a pop song. It can also be the lead line or musical ‘hook’.

B. Harmony

This is all the Instrumentation that surrounds that melody. Piano chords, guitar chords etc.

C. Rhythm

When we think of rhythm, we instantly think of drums. While rhythm is most definitely drum related, melody and harmony also have rhythm within them. To demonstrate this, try singing the chorus of the first song that pops into your head. Whilst you will be singing the melody, listen for the rhythm attached to it.

  • Continue to ask, “What is the next element my song needs?”
  • Let’s say you started with a vocal melody that you really love.
  • Look for another piece of inspiration from one of the two elements left, harmony or rhythm.
  • Try putting some piano chords to your vocal melody. Is it making you feel inspired?
  • How about adding some guitar chords? Inspiration?
  • It’s important to understand that each different harmonic instrument will add a different feeling to your song. One is not necessarily better than the other, they are just going to add a different tone or feel to your song. Your job is to pick the one that instantly makes you feel something that seems to ‘connect.’ (NB: Even if you don’t ‘play’ piano, it doesn’t mean you can’t use this instrument for inspiration!)

Once you’ve found a harmonic element, try adding a rhythmic one. Take things one step at a time.

If you’re leaning on inspiration to guide you through each step, I can guarantee you will be far happier with the results when you’re done.
This leads us to our last point.

3. Trust your ‘gut’ feelings.

Learning to trust your gut takes time. It works like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.

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