We’re starting a new year, but this month we are going to stick with the topic of songwriting and how we can use it to grow and develop. Last month, I wrote about how to end a song and related this practice to how we can end our year. This month, with New Year’s resolutions and rituals being celebrated, I really want to share about starting a new song.
How many times do we start something new?
So many times, and at least once a year on January 1st. But think of all the new jobs, new homes, new friends, new schools you have started. New projects, new ideas. New relationships, new communities. Thinking of all this newness is inspiring but also a little overwhelming. A blank page is full of possibilities, but it can also feel like one of the most intimidating things ever. And as much as we are built to explore, expand and create, I think we really love things that we can sink back into. The old ways. Routine, roots, rhythms.
Facing The Blank Page
Music is a beautiful example of how we can balance the new and the old and bring together structure and spirit through song. It is also fun way to lighten up those moments of overwhelm when you are faced with another one of life’s blank pages. Plus songwriting is a great way to bring your ideas and intentions to life. If you are looking for a fun New Year’s ritual to do, write a song!!! Here are some ways that you can start today.
Find a Main Theme
There are two ways you could start out a song. Writing down lyrics (assuming your song has lyrics) or finding a chord progression or musical riff on your instrument. All you need is a start, one single note and everything builds off of that.
When I am working with my classes during music therapy group, we usually start with lyrics. My goals for the students are for them to identify and express their feelings and share their life perspective with the whole group. When we are writing a new song in class, I literally have a blank white board and I ask the class what topic or theme is up for them. What has been on their mind, you know just kind of repeating itself over and over again. When we find the main theme, such as bullying, friends, living life to its fullest, we write it on the board and then start brainstorming lyrics.
When I am writing songs for myself, I often just start with the music. I find a chord progression I like to play over and over on my guitar, or I plunk out a little riff on the piano. The main theme, although not emerged as words yet, takes the form of accompaniment. A lot of times, when I have something brewing in me, I can’t see clearly what it is. I find that playing my instrument, or humming a short melody can actually help ground me and clear out some of the brain fog. Once my emotions start to take shape in the form of a musical theme, I start to see where the song is going.
What is the main theme for you as you go into the new year?
Can you see clearly and identify what you want your year to be about?
Try getting out a blank piece of paper or a dry erase board and brainstorm a song title for your year. See if you can write out some lyrics, which can double as how you see this main theme showing up in your life this year.
If you have no idea what direction you are going this year, how about sitting down with a musical instrument or simply whistle or hum a melody that comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be right or perfect, it can just start with a single note and move to the next one. Once you find a pattern that you want to repeat over and over, you know that you have found your main theme. Notice if you get any more clear on your yearly intentions after you have spent some time playing music.
Find Your Tempo, Find Your Tone
To help my students develop their main theme into a song, I usually ask them to decide if they want the song to be fast or slow. Then I ask them to choose between two chords progressions that I play. One usually involves a minor chord, one a major. Giving students an option of tempo and tone allows them to choose how they want their song to sound.
How do you want to pace your year?
Are you full steam ahead with a driving beat, or do you see yourself gliding through the year steady and slow?
And what about the tone of your year?
Do you want it to be happy and cheerful or do you anticipate more depth with twists and turns in the progression?
Try setting the tempo and tone to help you lock in how you want your song to feel and to amplify your main theme.
Arrange the Parts
Once the structure of the song has been established and the content has been made with lyrics or melodic solos, the next part of the songwriting process is to arrange the parts. During music therapy group, we involve all of the students, everyone has a part. It is really fun to see how one student’s lyrics can develop into a really amazing song once we ask other students to add piano, drums, rhythm instruments, guitar or vocals.
Whether your song is simple with acapella vocals or it is an elaborate symphony with many parts, think about how you want it arranged and what pieces need to be there in order to bring your song to life. As you plan your year, ask yourself who you want to play the parts in your life song and how/what they will be playing.
Have Fun There Is No Right or Wrong
I like to let all of my students know that there is no right or wrong way to create a song. Truly, we should all learn to create something without the fear of being judged. Wouldn’t it be great to write a song or create a life knowing from the start that there was no right or wrong way. That the whole purpose of it was for fun.
We have so much criticism in the world, and I think that is part of the reason why we get so overwhelmed when we look at that blank page. I think it’s why we have trouble taking the first step.
This year, I encourage everyone to plan out their year, or write their song from a place of fun!! How will your song sound if you start it knowing that whatever happens, wherever it goes, it is going to be just what it should be? Your New Song.