Songcraft: A Guide to Structured Songwriting

In my musical travels, I’ve found there are generally two types of songwriters; those who create solely when inspiration calls and those who write via a structured work schedule. If, like me, you fall into the former, waiting-for-that-lightning-to-strike category of writers, this blog post is for you.

In the spirit of expanding our creative horizons, what if we temporarily set aside our ethereal, inspired ways and wandered over to the dark side? What if we decided, if only for the sake of experimentation, to approach our writing with more of a workman-like ethic, reported for the (gasp) job and gave this structured, disciplined songwriting thing a try?

If you’re up for the gig, here are some ideas to help us slackers get down to business:

Save the date. Even if it goes against every fiber of your creative being, pencil in writing sessions for yourself set for specific days and times. Afterward, adamantly stick to the schedule. Accept that a few of your sessions will most likely begin with a silent instrument and a blank piece of paper.

Assignment desk. Try giving yourself a specific songwriting assignment and see if you can pull it off; compose a tune in 3/4 time or write a Dylan-esque story song that carries a narrative, etc.

Take it to the limit. Set some limitations for yourself/your writing and exercise your creative powers within the confines of that framework. Singer-songwriter and WFMU DJ Michael Shelley once told me he challenged himself to write an entire song utilizing only two chords. The result? His catchy, “Listening to the Band,” a tune that proves that limitations can sometimes, surprisingly, help rather than hinder the creative process.

Even if, ultimately, the exercises above do very little aside from reaffirm your aversion to structured writing methods, maybe one or two will stick with you. Exercises perhaps worth revisiting next time that flighty muse of yours decides to blow off work for a couple of weeks.

Mark Bacino is a singer/songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists or composing for television/advertising via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark also is the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus, a website dedicated to exploring the art of songwriting. Visit Mark on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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