I write songs. I write for love, for dreams, for therapy, for self-expression, for YouTube, for performance, for recording, and I write to write. I am also a blues harmonica and guitar player, singer, performer, teacher, author, seminar leader in Ventura California. I have released two albums of original songs, and I keep a journal. I am in the blues genre because of the harmonica, but I was originally in folk. I like interesting chord progressions, bridges etc. but I put it all in a bluesy/jazzy groove.
Daily, in my journal, I jot down observations, rhymes, ideas. I play my guitar and harp daily. Songwriting is a way of life for me. I have had many influences: Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Ricki Lee Jones. Sonny Boy Williamson, Mose Allison. I have also been in many round- robin songwriters groups. I think they are terrific.
Keep a Journal
Here’s my first suggestion to folks invoking their muse. Keep a written notebook/diary/journal and write daily. Make that book your best friend. Write everything in it: your to-do list, your emotions, your affirmations, your dreams, and your songwriting research. Write the mundane: If you want to write lyrics that people feel, use images, pictures, memories, objects, the natural world. Jot down observations, interesting phrases that you hear, anything that seems lively and interesting. Think of this process as “research.” Your journal is where your raw creativity goes. It’s your “soul book.”
Even when you are on the computer, or watching the tube, keep that journal at hand. Jot, jot, jot. Do NOT let anyone else read your journal. Make them promise. That will ruin the magic, diffuse the vibe and get you in trouble. This is your personal freedom-of-speech, freedom-of-thought escape hatch. It is where ideas germinate. Handwritten slows you down, and speeds you up. Make your scribbling neat. Free associate in an orderly way.
Do not judge what you write. You are NOT your own best editor, especially in the red-hot moment of writing. You don’t know. Instead, let one idea lead to the next and create content. Then, when you sit down at the piano, or pick up your guitar you have the raw material to continue the process and evaluate what the muse gave you.
When you write poetic lyrics, write in short rhythmic phrases. Don’t force rhymes. If you can’t find a rhyme, be patient. There is always a solution. You just need to invoke the muse. Trying too hard just chases her away.
Writing a song and lyrics has two or three phases. You prioritize different parts of your brain for each phase. Phase 1 is Research–and that’s the stuff you scribble on the pages while observing, reflecting, reacting to the world around you, writing nonsense, rejecting common sense, and trying to rhyme. I usually write my poems in question and answer cadence. I want my lyrics to feel musical when you read them. Certain cadences just are musical. Limericks are musical. Question and answer is musical. Nursery rhymes are musical. Great lyrics almost sing themselves.
How a person writes is how they think, and vice versa so if you can think in a cadence as you write, you’ll be that much closer to having the right size raw material when you pass from research phase to the jamming phase to the assembly page.
Many of the best songs are built around metaphors. This is why I suggest using the common things you see and know in your world. Everything paints a picture. When invoking your muse, make lists of what you see: “my old guitar,” “Some torn lyric sheets, “a hundred old harps” are things I see right now in my studio. Each one of these images paints a picture, creates a mood, and could be a chorus, the hook, or lines in a verse that lead to the hook.
I often write my lyrics through devices. Weather is a great device. Storm clouds mean trouble, rain means sad, puddles mean happy mess, rainbow means harmony. Weather creates mood, and tells a story. “The rain is falling on me and you — we’re walking in puddles, rainbows too.” Images speak louder than words, so when you write songs, make like a photographer, and you’ll make people feel.
Along with writing with images, sensations, objects, I advocate for rhyming and interior rhyming. I have used dictionaries and apps that help you rhyme, but I prefer invoking the muse. You’ve got to give her time to come up with the perfect rhyme, or else lead you to change the scheme, or somehow solve the problem.
Remember: your mind loves a problem. The old proverb goes, “Affection creates perfection.”
Love your song, and your song will love you.
Listen to the Greats
Lastly, you might notice that many of the great songwriters — Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Steve Forbert, Billy Joel — play harmonica at the same time as they play guitar. The style they play emphasizes the do re mi scale, and I am pretty sure having that scale as a separate voice helped them create melodies and moods. It sure helps me.
That’s all for this column. I do hope you will check out my music at www.Gindickmusic.com, my harmonica books, seminars at http://Gindick.com
Contact me with suggestions and questions:Contact Jon Gindick