Are your songs built from the top down, or the bottom up? If you start with a melody or lyrics, this is writing from the top down. If, on the other hand, you begin with the drums or bass, this would be considered writing from the bottom up. Beginning with the chords would place your starting point somewhere in the middle.
So, which is the best way to begin?
Well, the quick answer is — Any, or All of the Above. When writing songs, the final fully arranged band version will usually include a drum groove, bass line, chords, melody, lyrics, and song structure (although you can only copyright the melody and lyrics), but where you begin is a mater of choice.
The interesting thing, however, is that the musical component from which you begin writing will often directly influence the final product. If you started with a melody the song will probably come out a lot different than if you started with the drums.
You can use this phenomenon to your advantage. Beginning your songs a different way than you normally do can add a lot of variety to your songwriting style, and it can also increase your number of completed songs. Additionally, if you ever suffer from writer’s block, beginning songs in a new way is a great technique to snap you out of it quickly.
There are several easy ways to begin writing from the bottom up. If you play the drums you could simply bang out different beats until you find a groove you like, and then record it. Not all songwriters play the drums though — but technology is here to the rescue! You can either buy a drum machine, a keyboard with a-built-in drum sequencer, computer drum sequencing software, audio drum loops that were recorded by a real drummer, or even a smart phone app for drum loops.
You can change tempos at will, and even string together whole songs, complete with drum fill transitions between sections. These options are fairly inexpensive these days and usually come with every musical style imaginable. A representative in the Pro Audio section of any major music store in town can be a great source of advice and education on what will work best for you.
TIP 1: If you plan on doing this type of writing a lot, being able to edit your work on a big computer screen, rather than a tiny screen on a drum machine or keyboard is one of the many advantages of using computer sequencing software.
TIP 2: The quickest way to find out if you like writing this way would NOT be computer software though, as there is often a learning curve with manual reading and/or tutorials involved. A quicker way would be to search, purchase, and download some drum loops online and start experimenting with them. But make sure you get mp3 versions and not versions that only work with certain software.
Once you dial up a drum groove that gets your inspiration flowing, start layering the next component of music on top of it. This could be the lyrics, a melody, a bassline, a chord progression from a guitar or keyboard part, or even interesting sound effects. Layer by layer you can begin filling out your new song, feeling the creativity rise like bubbles from a secret well within.
Beginning with drum loops is commonly the starting point for Hip-Hop songs, but it is just as common when writing with a rock band, in addition to many other styles. If you don’t normally write this way, give it a try, you might be very surprised at the amazing and innovative new songs you create.
How Do You Usually Write
Top Down, Bottom Up, Or Somewhere In Between?
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