Stuck In between a Chorus and a Hard Place!
April 3, 2012 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Im writing a song right now on my acoustic guitar, my first song, and I'm a little stuck, I've got some good chord progressions, I know my key (C) I just dont know where to go from there

All my progressions sound like choruses (lol), if your a guitar player, you can play these (im in drop C on my acoustic btw)

Dm7th-Am-Em-Fmaj7th x4

Dm9th-Fmaj9th (open e)- C maj (no middle finger)-Cmaj9 x4

Am-Cmaj-Em-Fmaj7th x3
Am-Em-Cmaj-Fmaj7th x1

I've been playing for like 4 years now, and i can link all of them together nicely, i dont know how to put lyrics in the song. I can write poetry, fairly ok, but Idk how to put it all together in a nice big casserole of a song. Maybe if someone could give me some pointers, or some lines to jumpstart me, that would be great... All is appreciated! :D
posted by sizzil34 to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My strategy is to just sit there grooving on the repeated chorus or verse structure over and over, for an hour if necessary, and begin improvising vocals just using a "la la" syllable. Eventually I hear things I like and keep those, and gradually some of those develop into words that make sense. Once you have about a quarter or a third of the main chorus and a verse or so written, you're kind of there, and from there I generally find it transitions into actual pen-and-paper writing to fill out the rest of the lyrics.

But what I've learned talking to musicians over the years is that there are several different strategies, none right or wrong. Some people write a lyric and build music around that. Neither variety comes out better or worse. But for me, once I'm at the point you're at, where I have a solid progression and want to use it, the next step is to pair it with some general vocal direction and start to see what the song wants to say.
posted by Miko at 7:55 PM on April 3, 2012

Insert your poem into the song willy-nilly and after, like, four hours it should start to take shape. I would usually just take a couple of lines from some poem I wrote, ideally which rhymes somewhat, and just say it over the song wherever I think it might fit. Eventually it turns into something (although sometimes it turns into crap).
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2012

If you haven't tried this yet, how about recording the guitar part and working with that? I find that it can help free up the lyrical/melodic parts of my brain if I'm not trying to multitask with the playing guitar part of my brain. Even if the playing part feels effortless. One of the big hazards of doing it that way is you might end up locking yourself into a guitar part (because it's already recorded) when you'd be better off adjusting the guitar part to fully realize a brilliant lyrical/melodic idea you have. But if you use it as a stepping stone, it can sometimes get you headed in a good direction.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:08 AM on April 4, 2012

Don't play guitar, but if I'm reading you right, you got your chord progressions down, and now you are trying to put the lyrics/melody on top of that?

In my very limited experience, I find that really difficult to do, I prefer to start with the melody, then form the chords/bass to support that melody.
posted by TrinsicWS at 4:36 AM on April 4, 2012

There really aren't any right or wrong strategies in songwriting - there's what works for you. Unfortunately it is hard to figure out what works for you at first. I have tried lyrics first, melody first, chords first... sadly, there is not a magic routine that works every time (at least not in my case. Dylan says he's worked out a mathematical formula, but he might just be pulling our legs. Again.)

I would try recording that chord progression and then singing along to it. Sing anything. Nonsense syllables. Read the newspaper. Get a feel for where you want to put phrases and then build off that. I keep a notebook and jot down any lyrical ideas or concepts or turns of phrase I can think of, and then leaf through that for ideas when I don't feel inspired.

The other thing is: don't care too much, especially when you're starting out. Write stuff just to practice writing, do some moon/june/spoon kind of rhymes to figure out melodies. Write songs from the perspectives of dogs or inanimate objects. Write songs that you don't think you'll ever play for anyone. Think of it like a sketchbook... you've got to do a lot of little sketches to figure out your methods and style. You can't be too precious about the sketches.

It is possible to beat an idea to death in the creative process. I have spent lots of time working on something and... it never panned out. That's fine! You should be totally willing to step back from a song that's not coming together and work on something else for a while. Maybe coming back to it in a couple weeks will give you a different insight. I try and work on 4 or 5 songs at a time, and I keep going back to older ones as well, playing them again and figuring out if they still work, or if a word should be changed here or there.

Another thing: Try some of the MefiMusic Challenges. There's one a month, and i've found them to be really helpful practice for the writing process.
posted by dubold at 4:56 AM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only thing that jumps out at me is that I associate 7th chords with choruses, at least to the extent that this may be why they sound "chorus-ey." Experiment with different forms of the same chord, i.e. minors or majors, 9ths, etc. instead of 7ths. It's not a "rule," I'm just suggesting it as a way of breaking out of the box you're in.

I recently transposed a song, and just moving it to another key forced the chord forms to go from 6 string forms to 4 strings, and it totally demolished/changed the way the song sounded. So think about that too - the fancy term is "voicings," but if you don't know that term - it's just "how you make the chord." It can (it will) totally change how the chord sounds in relation to others.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:18 AM on April 4, 2012

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