Tips for songwriting without music knowledge

A few weeks ago I published a blog post titled Songwriting: A creative passion and outlet, which explored how my love for this art form originated and what it means to me. I also touched upon my blocks to pursuing this passion fully, limiting beliefs around it and how that all started to open up again once I focused on the pure joy of creating. So this blog post is a part 2 in that sense, to talk about how even if we don’t see ourselves as a professional in a particular creative field we can still find a way to pursue and enjoy it. Often our minds remain in a trap of “I can’t possibly do that because I can’t do it the way it is supposed to be done or the way it is usually done.’ Yet when we step out of the boxes we put ourselves in and open up to believing things don’t always have to be done the way they have always been done, somehow a way is shown and avenues you didn’t even know existed become visible on the map.  We live in a Universe of infinite possibilities and there is no reason why something can’t work just as well when approached in a way that’s unconventional. This stands for any creative or business idea. The way you start something, create something, launch something, approach something; whether it be a product, a message or a service; requires the unravelling of the stories around how it should be done, and as to how successful it can be. The bigger picture is stripping down what society has set up to be classed as successful and it’s time we took our power back to defining our own standards of success with whatever we are passionate about.

I myself believed songwriting was reserved for an elite group of music industry professionals. I’ve gone from telling myself it was an impossible and inaccessible dream because I had zero music knowledge to actually being able to do it in a way that fulfils me and brings me so much creative satisfaction. To me the feeling of fulfilment is a form of success, so as long as a song has given me that, whether I be singing it alone at home or sharing some of it on Instagram, to me it’s a sense of achievement. I used to have limiting beliefs such as all the good melodies are already taken and that the whole process of creating melodies was too mysterious for me to do myself, but by just going for it and upping a bit of belief and trust in the process, I’ve picked up a few hacks and tricks along the way that have helped me create song after song without needing an instrument. So if you’re like me and love songwriting but are not sure how to get going with it because you can’t play instruments or even if you are piano and guitar savvy but just want a refreshing way to approach your songwriting, then continue reading for my tips below. Before I dive into the tips, I want to acknowledge how incredible it is that there are infinite original melodies to access and personally I believe they come from the universe’s ‘treasures within us’ which I heard my friend Kate Ferguson from the Messy Musician’s Podcast quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. It couldn’t be truer – the Universe is within us so we are able to receive all those possibilities when we allow them in, meaning there’s no reason you can’t translate them into the songs you dream of creating. At the end of this post you can listen to the audio of an original instrumental I created using music production software, so find out more about that in the tips below.

Tip 1

Experiment with dry vocal melody

The way I’ve written most of my songs is just by singing out a phrase, a few words and riffing with different ad lib sounds such as ‘aaaahhh oooohhh, woooahhhh, Yeaahhh’ and out of that will emerge a melody completely moulded to the lyrics. It’s like sound energy just transforms to encase the words you want to sing, so I would say just start vocalising and see if a melody strikes you from that. With a song I’m working on at the moment, I started with the phrase ‘Sometimes the Universe wanna wake you up’ and sang it out in a few different ways, caught a melody and the rest of the song came to life from that point with new melodies just naturally fitting for the Pre Choruses.

Tip 2

Sing over existing instrumentals or beats

It’s incredible what original ideas and melodies unfold from being fashioned on an existing template. I first caught onto this way of songwriting after watching a Camilla Cabello documentary. She spoke about how she pursued the passion to write her own material in hotel rooms by using existing instrumentals from YouTube such as Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die. This actually works so well, and I tested it out myself by searching some instrumentals on YouTube of songs I love and seeing if I could create something brand new over them. I have written a song called Your Love over the Kojo Funds and Mabel Finders Keeper’s instrumental. Your Love has a completely different melody, structure and essence to Finders Keepers. Another song of mine Lessons in Love, whilst not created on an existing instrumental can be sang over Little Mix’s Touch and surprisingly over French Montana’s Unforgettable. That’s another thing with songwriting; you begin to notice common melody patterns and intonations and the way phrases are sang so that all greatly helps in the creating process. I also recently heard Little Mix talk about how they write songs with collaborators – they get some beats going in the studio and see what comes from that. I hadn’t ever thought about beginning this way but I can see how it’s a good way to get a base and rhythm going in a song. There are plenty of free beats available on music production software such as Garageband and also on YouTube, so I’m planning to experiment a little more with that too.

Tip 3

Manifest the songs

I’m a big believer in the power of Law of Attraction and trusting the Universe. This has played a huge part in me being able to create songs without music knowledge as I’m accessing from the unseen, but powerful creative source where all possibilities and realities are available in abundance. One of the basics of Law of Attraction is to cultivate a mindset of gratitude and appreciation. I was previously in a mindset of lack which blocked the flow of ideas in the physical sense. I would hear songs I love and feel as though I would never be able to create something as good, and question how did they do that?  I was envious of where that creative talent sprang from. However the magic happened when I changed these feelings into appreciation – So instead of feeling like these songs were making it impossible for me, I focused on how much I loved them and appreciated certain lyric lines or melody forms. I would speak into existence my dream songs by saying something like “I love this song, I would love to write a song like…” This was surely the case with Lessons in Love. Obsessed with what a great pop song Touch is (written by Hanni Ibrahim; Patrick Patrikios; A.S. Govere; Phil Plested, Produced by MNEK) I felt genuine appreciation every time I listened to it or heard it on the radio, and that appreciation truly returns when you let go and remain trusting rather than desperately forcing the creativity. A few months later I came up with Lessons in Love, and it all just came together. I didn’t create that song over the Touch instrumental, it was created in its own right (hear the instrumental below), but once I sang it a few times I intuitively thought hang on, this song sounds like it could work over the Touch Instrumental and it fit like a glove, so it was like the Universe had responded to my request of being able to write a song like Touch. So do ask the Universe to assist you in your songwriting, put it out there and believe in what’s possible. I am quite the hippy too, so I love to use an Orange Calcite Crystal to help when I need to figure out a part of a song. If I was ever stuck on how to form a particular part of a song I would simply hold the calcite crystal, rub it between my thumb and finger whilst affirming, thank you for helping me create the perfect chorus or thank you for an amazing and moving pre-chorus melody. Hours later something would fall into place, greater than I could imagine, so I feel this little hack is very effective.

Tip 4

Melody Variation 

Take a particular line in a song, change the way it is sang and you have a new melody that you can then fit to new lyrics. Many lines in songs can easily be sung with a different variation or an ad lib, so that’s something fun to experiment and play around with to discover what original material appears that you can run with. Going back to Lessons in Love, the bridge melodies are actually formed on a line in Dua Lipa’s Hotter than Hell. I made a melody variation on the “I’m not here to make a meal” top line, and found it to sound completely new and unrelated so I was able to apply it fully to a four line bridge for Lessons in Love. Remember that whatever you use as a basis for inspiration will always carry your unique imprint, so don’t be afraid to experiment with the already existing music that you love, because something new can always be formed out of the something old. You can listen to that bridge melody, view the lyric visuals and other behind the scenes details including song clips in my mini songwriting series’ over on my @ditsy_halo Instagram story highlights.

Tip 5

Use Software

Confession – I haven’t quite mastered this yet but it’s a very practical option available to us songwriters who need assistance with putting the musical elements together. Garageband in particular has been my friend in this respect. It was readily available for me to use on my MAC laptop. Pro-tools is another I have heard of but haven’t personally used, though music professionals really seem to rate it. There are some very affordable courses for all levels available on Udemy so they will be worth looking into to help master your craft or knowing how to navigate the software. I was able to create a full instrumental for my song ‘Lessons in Love’ (linked below to listen) with the help of the library of beats, Apple Loops and Synths on Garageband by learning from some free YouTube video tutorials. Of course it would take time to get a perfectly produced song but once you have a base instrumental you have a good foundation to build on and can certainly use it for a demo version.

Tip 6

Collaborate

What a time to be living and creating music guys! Technology and social media make connecting with other likeminded individuals, or people in an industry you are passionate about so much easier. Working on our dreams in this day and age can be such a beautiful exchange of energy. For example even if you don’t play an instrument you can offer lyrics, concepts or a melody to someone who is a skilled musician or producer so they can help bring your ideas to life. Just get involved and see what comes of it. By participating in the UK songwriting contest group on Facebook I discovered that you can send over lyrics without music to a production company and they will work their magic on it to turn it into a full song. Custom Anthems is an example of a production company and team who are so reasonably priced, so it’s worth looking into a collaboration as if you have a full song, you can set up a portfolio of finished songs on a platform such as SoundCloud. Take tips from the people who have the music part of songwriting locked down. Look up workshops or meet ups you can attend in your local area or interact in online forums and groups. I met my friend, Folk singer songwriter Kate Ferguson on a Facebook group. She reached out to connect with other singer songwriters so we could exchange ideas and support. I didn’t really class myself as a songwriter in that league but something in me thought just act as if and I made myself known to her and even though I didn’t feel professional at all I found I had advice and inspiration to offer her too just from following my passion. She in turn has been so invaluable for bouncing ideas off and sharing my work with. She’s heard a lot of my stuff as I often send her voice notes of songs I’m working on or lyrics and her feedback gives me encouragement that I’ve got what it takes to do this. When she put some chords to one of my recent songs it was so amazing for me to hear my creation in a form I’ve only dreamt of. If you have friends in real life who have the skills you need, get together with them and create something. Get a guitar playing friend to write you an instrumental or get a friend with an amazing singing voice to record one of your songs. Share on social media as collaborative efforts create such a special energy. The vocal talents of the Sam Smiths, Beyonce’s and Ariana’s are nothing without the songs. The have a team of people, producers, writers and more nurturing their talents and bringing songs to life that give them their industry status. Human support and encouragement for whatever passion you are pursuing is one of the biggest lifelines in my opinion.

Wildcard Tip

I thought it would be fun to end this blog post with a little extra tip that I accidentally discovered but has helped with my songwriting. It’s a little unusual but like I said the possibilities can come from literally anywhere! So this tip is to listen to children’s cartoons and kids jingles. I have two kids under the age of five and the songs and intro’s in the cartoons they watch are surprisingly poppy and super catchy so they have provided much inspiration. For example I was singing the Fireman Sam theme song with my son and he was emphasising a particular section which sounds like a woah woah woah fire alarm. Around that time I was creating the Your Love song mentioned in Tip 2 above, so I was able to formulate that woah woah woah sound into a transition between the chorus and next verse. I love it! Who knew! It’s actually a thing.

I truly hope this blog post has helped if you are an aspiring songwriter or creative who feels your skills set, knowledge or possibilities are limited, and stopping you from going for what you deeply love to do. If you can’t think of a way, you can always ask for a way and once you slow down and cultivate patience you will be shown. Working on your belief in what you love to create is what truly sets you up for fulfilment and success.

Lessons in Love Instrumental created on Garageband. By no means a perfect production but an example of what’s possible to create without music knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Tips for songwriting without music knowledge

  1. I totally feel you on this, dude. I’ve always been a singer and I’ve always loved music like a second skin, but I’ve realized I didn’t truly appreciate the beauty of music until I started messing with beats and writing my own songs. It’s opens a whole other world of awesomeness! Now, when I hear a song, there’s another dimension to my listening; I hear the intro and how the bridge is different by just those few notes and a bass line switch; how the chorus swells and floods you with the appropriate emotion. I’ve always loved music, but now I can truly say that it is a passion. Have you tried MusicMaker? You gotta pay for some of the beats, but it’s worth it to me, to have been able to start with that. Another great alt for GB is BandLab – and BandLab comes with FREE beats and a community to share it with! Also, if you sing, I’m on Smule Sing – my tag’s assirek2l2q – check it out! Let me know if you want to sing a certain song and I’ll open it up for you so you don’t have to pay the VIP – but if you do wanna do VIP, go with the one on your iphone – it’s only $39.99/yr.

    Hit me up if you ever wanna dish about tunes and beats 🙂

    My best & warmest blessings,
    K

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really feel your appreciation and passion for music in your comment! Thank you for all the recommendations and resources – I will explore them! Thanks for taking the time to comment, wish you all the best with your music passion 🙂

      Like

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