Songwriting: chords or lyrics first? Have I got it right?


When musicians are lost deep in convo it is one of the immediate topics of debate that springs up like the first daffodils in bloom … ‘So what do you come up with first, chords or lyrics?’ And to be honest with you … I just don’t bloody well know!

It depends …

It is a tricky question. You never really know when you are going to pop some lyrics together and come up with a banger. You may be bobbing along on a Greater Anglia train that was 5 mins late AGAIN and the only songwriting utensils you have to hand are the fluffy novelty pen from Tiger you treated yourself to on your lunch break because work was hard, and the glitter notebook you purchased to match. {What can a pen be w/out a notebook?} OR … You could be EQUIPPED to the max and have your instrument of choice and notebook at hand and the magic pulls together simultaneously. The thing is, whatever comes first is arguably dependant on the moment you are in and when you decide to get that no.1 hit down!


I took some time to think …

I’ve been an absolute crim for rushing the writing process in the past. So much so I was criticised for it during my degree. At the time I felt it was a hugely unfair judgement but reflecting back (as we all do so often), the criticism was RIGHT and it was HELPFUL. You can’t rush the lyric creating part of the song. Each sound, syllable and word should have a purpose. There should be a reason as to why it is being used in your masterpiece. Obviously, I am bypassing ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘to’ etc. I mean, without the linking words the song would sound v abstract aha.

This brings about the need to scrap and rewrite until it is just what you’d hope. For instance; writing I love you can be so powerful within a song but there are so many different ways you can imply it. ‘The jawline, the eyes, I’m forever grateful that your mine …’ Just a real different (and a little cheesy) way of saying you bloody adore someone. The difference is, is that there are more syllables to play around with the rhythm and more scope for a melodic line.

Although …

Sometimes, less really is so much more. So there isn’t anything detrimental to just writing ‘I love you’ if it is the right fit for your future hit. This is where we can draw on the impact of instrumentation and what chords are used!

In retrospect I guess I do come up with the lyrics first. And then I have a canvas with the sketch on to begin to colour in. I know what I want my song to say, and I know how I want the melody to ring out. All I am searching for now is the prize-winning chords (guitar) that will bring it together like pulling ya PE kit drawstring bag (do not miss those days AT ALL). I haven’t {yet} got an extensive knowledge of chords but I am confident in the basics and just a little more. I start off simple simple simple. Usually a trusty G major or a C major where I am confident of the triadic progression. I’ll ring out that first chord just to see how it sits with the first few lyrics and get a feel for it from there. Mind you, this part of the process could take 2 minutes… it could take 2 hours… in fact it could be a case of me having to leave the bloody thing for a day because I have a block as big as a boulder and it is best for everyone if I just come back to it.

Changing over time?


From here on out I tend to stick as solidly with the song as I can. Practice it each time I pick up my beauty of a Yamaha electro-acoustic. Run through the melody in my head on the always quite rushed for time stroll to work. I immerse myself in it (admittedly not as much as I would like to) and let it change in the way it naturally wants to. Half the time it could start off as a lovesick ballad and wind up being so jolly if laid down onto logic with a bit of synth and bass; you’ve got a club banger (DJ P Scar LOL). It is good to let the song breathe, once you’ve created it, the song has the freedom to grow, change and blossom. That is part of the beauty of music.

For future ref…

If you are anything like me {God help you} then remembering things can be an almighty challenge. So just before I wrap this little chit-chat up, I finish my songwriting sessions by making sure every desired lyric is NOTED down! Even with a hint towards the melodic line because there is nothing more fist clenching heartbreaking than when you nail a song to be prouder than proud of. And the next time you sit down for a sesh, it has gone out ya mind quicker than a dog to the food bowl.

I hope this short but sweet (around two sugars) post has been helpful! I am going to write more on the songwriter aspect of being a musician so keep watch if you are interested in the field!

Thanks for reading you ledge.





Leave a Reply