All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tips, Ideas & Help In One Songwriting Resource

Category: Songwriting Tool

What I’ve Learnt About Writing Songs By Playing Covers

Personally, I love learning covers in my own unique way almost as much as writing and playing my own music and the main reason for this is that by learning to play covers that have been proven to be hit songs themselves, I know I’ll learn how to write my own songs better.

Here are some ways I reckon that learning covers has helped my own songwriting process:

  • I learn different song formats, song structures and chord patterns.
  • I expose myself to singing different melodies, and lyrical ideas.
  • I spice up my guitar practice regimen.
  • I maintain my musical theory knowledge by learning a song by ear.
  • I get to know my favourite songwriters more by learning their songs.
  • For every song I learn other ideas come up for my own material later on.
  • The trick with playing covers is that you don’t do them like the original.

Now, I don’t like hearing a cover done in exactly the same way however, if I hear someone do a cover in their own way and in their own style, I get hooked into their version every single time.

Some performing songwriters I know feel that playing covers is just selling out but, I don’t agree. I mean who is going to say that Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen was a sell out on his part? I mean, it’s one of the most beautiful performances of any song I have ever heard.

Of course, your goal as a performing songwriter is to play your own songs as much as you can because there’s nothing more satisfying than people actually being touched, moved and inspired by what you are playing and singing that has come from inside you however, an amazing thing happens when you add the occasional cover song into your repertoire.

The audience becomes much closer to you.

I cant tell you how many times a quiet gig became a much greater gig after I play a well chosen cover (in my own style of course). Every other song I play afterwards becomes music to their ears.

For me, the term “selling out” is generally used by people who wish they were in the same position as the other musicians they were commenting on. Jealousy rears up its ugly head in the music industry all the time.

If you keep focused on writing your own music and at the same time learn a few covers (at the very least for research purposes) to break up your songwriting process from time to time, you will have better gigs, become a more well rounded instrumentalist and (most importantly) you will be a real hit around the odd campfire or two 😉

I believe playing covers affects your ability to write your own songs only if you allow it to.

Have you had any experiences where learning the odd cover or two has enhanced your own songwriting? Let me know about it.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tip – Mind Mapping Your Songwriting Ideas

You know what… I love mind maps.

I love them because I’m a visual person, and developing a songwriting idea by using a mind map really helps me write my song lyrics more clearly and effectively.

Right now though you’re probably asking “what the hell is this mind map?” Well, according to Wikipedia a mind map is:

“…a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing”.

This mind mapping exercise is a simple, but a very effective way of fleshing out the body of a song from a single idea, phrase or a word. It shows that from one single idea, many ideas will form.

Here’s how I do it.

1. I take my idea, phrase or word and write it in the middle of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it.

2. From that circle, I branch out five lines in different directions. At the end of those lines I write a word that is associated with the central word or phrase. These words could be the basis for your verses and choruses.

3. From each of those five words I start writing five other words that relate to it.

4. I then rinse and repeat the process as many times as I need to.

If you follow the above steps, by the time you have had enough (or you run out of paper), you will have a whole song laid out in front of you. Start from the central theme and work outwards, following the word paths you’ve created.

Can you see what phrases you can come up with from doing that. All you then have to do is collate that information into a song format.

Be careful not to have too many initial branches springing out from your central theme. This will turn your mind map into a complicated mess of too many ideas pulling against each other.

Up to five branches is plenty to work with.

You dont have to use all (or any) of the words you have written down, this is another way of opening your mind to new ways of generating songwriting ideas.

Most of us are visual people. As mentioned before, I personally access information the best this way. I can tell you having a whole song mapped out in front of me makes the job of formulating a song so much easier.

Give it a go and see what happens, you’ll be amazed at some of the paths and tangents you create.

Let me know how it works for you…

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Writing Songs – Pen And Paper VS Keyboard And Computer

Call me old fashioned but I still prefer writing songs with a pen to paper rather than to use a computer.

There have been many times where I’ve attempted to use a computer keyboard and word processor instead of pen and paper to jot down my songwriting ideas and I’ve found that each time the special feeling of continuity I get between head, heart and computer screen is not as intense as the organic scrawling of a really good quality pen onto paper.

It’s like the act of putting pen to paper somehow allows me to become an integral part of what I’m writing whereas I feel an uncomfortable distance from my songwriting ideas if I just type it out.

Yes, I know that for this very post to exist I would’ve had to have typed the words into a word processor or directly into the WYSIWYG editor in my blogging platform of choice, WordPress however, this particular post was written on paper first.

I got the idea for this post from automatically and randomly writing on pieces of paper as a means of clearing my mind of the stuff that has collected in it over time. A bit of mental cleaning as it were and some indication that automatic writing works.

I’m a big fan of technology but at the same time I’d hate to see the art of writing a song with a pen and paper disappear for good.

What do you think? Which medium do you prefer to write songs with? Pen and paper or keyboard and computer?

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Using A Random Image As A Songwriting Prompt

We songwriters are very sensory creatures and we have been known to use a variety of stimuli to kick off our songwriting processes.

I have, in previous posts mentioned that listening to music or reading some poetry might be a good way to find some inspiration but I have not yet discussed whether a random image could spark off a songwriting idea or two.

So, with that in mind, try this songwriting exercise and see what you can come up with…

1. Go to any one of these random image generators

2. Go with the first image that is presented to you.

3. Start writing in point-form/long-hand your thoughts, feelings and detailed descriptions of what you see. Use all of your senses and your imagination. Give yourself a time limit if you like (say ten minutes).

4. Once you’re finished ask yourself… “Can I write a song from all this?”

Give this songwriting exercise a really good go, put your everything into it and write down as much as you can. The more information the better.

Doing this will train your eyes to really observe what it sees rather than just to casually look at something and by writing everything that you see down you’re giving yourself an excuse and a reason to write.

By eliminating choice through randomness you’re dismantling your inner critics tendency to become paralysed by too much choice.

If nothing comes of it don’t worry, the exercise might have been the very thing that break your songwriting block however, if something comes from it then let me know. I’d be interested to see if my theory works.

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tools – Randomness And Oblique Strategies

Oblique Strategies (with the subtitle “over 100 worthwhile dilemmas”) is a set of published cards first created in 1975 by ambient music pioneer and music producer to the stars, Brian Eno and his longtime friend Peter Schmidt.

They were designed to break creative deadlock through generating thought, discussion and inspiration from randomly chosen phrases or cryptic remarks written on a set of separate cards.

Oblique Strategies is now in its sixth edition.

A number of songwriters have used the concept of randomness as a songwriting idea generator.

Most notable of these writers is David Bowie who used the technique of cutting up words, throwing them up in the air and creating lyrics from the end result.

If my general knowledge is correct, some songs that were written in this way are featured on his albums “Low” (1977), “Lodger” (1979) and “Scary Monsters” (1980).

I have been fascinated by the Oblique Strategies concept for a long time and I can really see how they would be extremely helpful in my own songwriting process.

Like most songwriters, I have songwriting ideas in my archive that I can’t seem to progress any further because I’ve unfortunately set the songwriting idea in concrete.

Every time I revisit these ideas I find myself playing the same things over and over again and it’s in these types of situations that I would find the Oblique Strategies cards useful.

Speaking about randomness…

If you have taken my advice in my other blog posts “Brainstorming Possible Song Titles” and “Expanding On Your Possible Song Titles” you would have at your disposal quite a large collection of lines, phrases and semi completed songs.

Look at your list as your own personal set of Oblique Strategies. You’ve created your very own songwriting tool to help you break through those periods of creative deadlock that we all face from time to time.

Even if one line from your list sparks an idea that finishes a song that you’ve been agonising over for ages, it would’ve been well worth the effort.

Here are some other Oblique Strategies links for you to check out:

Plus, to finish things off, here is my favourite Brian Eno song. It’s called “By This River” and it’s from his 1979 album “Before And After Science.”

It’s a song I wish I had written. Enjoy…

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tools – The Capo

I reckon the capo is one of the most overlooked songwriting tools that there is.

Recently, I went out and bought myself another capo as my old one finally snapped its spring after 12 years of faithful service.

It actually prompted me to think about why I use one and how much of an influence it had on my songwriting.

(In this post I’m making some assumptions that you, the reader knows what a capo is and what it looks like. If you don’t know what a capo is then I suggest that you go here. It’s very interesting stuff)

The capo is either loved adoringly or hated intensely by the guitar community.

In the hate camp the opinions range from “it encourages laziness in playing technique” all the way to the nonsensical “you’re not a real guitarist if you use one.”

I, on the other hand sit well and truly in the love camp. I love the capo is because I find it greatly helps my songwriting. Heres how…

Capo’s are used to change the key of a chord progression whilst still playing the same chord shapes at the same time. As part of my songwriting process, one of the things that I like to do is to take a chord progression of a well known song and transpose it up to say three semitones.

Once I start playing the chord shapes again I change the strumming and the rhythm and start humming some other melody just to see and hear what would happen.

Of course if nothing comes of the exercise that’s perfectly okay but most of the time by doing this I get some flash of inspiration which propels me forward onto another songwriting idea altogether.

This is where the fun starts.

Now I don’t see anything wrong with adopting a new idea from an old source (apparently Bob Dylan has said in interviews that he does this a lot in his songwriting too). Capo’s are a great songwriting tool for making this easier.

Capo’s also take the headache out of transposing a song to another key especially crucial if you are working with another singer.

If you are a songwriter/guitarist and you have been resisting using a capo then don’t resist anymore. Go out and get yourself one (at least for your songs sake) and start experimenting with the different keys, harmonic possibilities and open chord shapes on offer.

You’ll be very surprised where the capo journey can take you.

Until next time, keep on writing

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting