In my experience, one of the first questions a songwriter will ask about the songwriting process is “What should come first? Words or music?”

Well, there’s really no right or wrong answer to that question but I’m sure that if you asked 100 songwriters you’d definitely get 100 (slightly) different answers.

First of all let’s look at the definition of what makes up a song.

I’m an Australian songwriter so my songs are registered with an organisation called APRA (Australasian Performing Rights Association) and the definition that I use is loosely adapted from theirs.

According to APRA, a song is comprised of two main things:

  • Lyrics – The words in a song.
  • Melody – How the words of the song are sung.

Everything else that wraps around those two things such as the chords, format and dynamics, is  the arrangement of the song.

It took me many years to figure out that a song is not necessarily defined by the chords that are played, but by its lyrics and how it’s sung .

For instance, if a well known song is covered by another artist, more often than not the songs arrangement will have been changed but the integrity of the melody and the lyrics would still be intact.

The reason for this is that the covered song still needs to be recognised by the listener and if the listener sings the words and hums the tune then the song has a better chance of being remembered.

Generally the average listener doesn’t worry if there was a G chord or a G major 7 chord in the arrangement or not. In fact, they probably couldn’t tell the difference.

I use to write most of my songs by fitting lyrics and melody around a completed song arrangement but nowadays, I generally write the other way around. I fit my guitar arrangements around a melody inspired by a set of lyrics. I’m finding that by doing this I’m writing more songs than I used to.

You see, at the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong way to write a song but the question of whether the music or words are written first should not concern us as songwriters.

It doesn’t matter whether words or music come first, what matters is that the words and/or music come at all and by immersing yourself into the activity of writing songs as they come to you, you’ll notice your songwriting process becoming more of a personal thing that eventually integrates itself into your day to day life

So what do you think? How do you start off writing your songs? Words first or music first… Does it really matter? Let me know what you think as I reckon this would make a very interesting discussion topic.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting