Write Your Own Music

A down home musician lays out some fundamentals of songwriting to help you write your own music.

| May/June 1981

  • Marc Bristol - write your own music
    Marc Bristol—seen here performing at a local festival—has some ideas to help you write your own music.

  • Marc Bristol - write your own music

Even homesteaders need to relax and enjoy themselves from time to time, right? And almost everybody these days wants to cut his or her cost of living. So how about a little do-it-yourself entertainment?

That's what this column is about. Homegrown music... and sometimes homemade musical instruments to play it on.

Have you ever wished someone would write a song that's more in tune with your personal feelings, beliefs, and interests than are the mass-produced ditties often heard on the radio? Do you think that your earth-conscious, back-to-the-land lifestyle could use a special "hymn" to inspire its continued existence? Well then, grab your guitar or take a seat at the piano and work up a song of your own! The fact is that you ought to consider composing a tune even if you've never tried it, because songwriting isn't really as difficult as it might seem. After all, anything that's part of your life—how you feel, what you see, or someone you care for—is worth singing about!

All you need to write your own music (besides the urge to express a particular feeling or idea) is some notion of how a song is structured. If you already play other people's tunes, you probably have a feel for the way music is put together. Novice musicians can obtain such understanding by simply learning a few songs all the way through.

Musical ABC's

As an aid to aspiring tunesmiths, I've prepared a list of some of the building blocks from which a song is constructed. Once you're familiar with the fundamentals, you can experiment with them—in countless ways—to create your own one-of-a-kind piece of music.

Lyrics, the words of a song, are usually divided into verses, a chorus (or refrain), and (sometimes) the bridge, which is a transitional section. If you have a specific thought or message to express, you'll probably need to write lyrics for your composition ... but music can also communicate emotions quite effectively by its melody—the tune or series of notes that make up a song—alone.

The chord progression, on the other hand, is the underlying harmonic structure of the piece of music. It's the series of chords played by the accompanying instruments (such as guitar, piano, fiddle, or voices) which follows and supports the melody. Two other "essentials" of music are rhythm and tempo. The former term refers to the alternating pattern of strong and weak accents in a melodic line. In fact, harmony (which occurs when two or more notes are played together) is actually a rhythmic function, since two harmonious notes complement each other as a result of their similar rhythmic vibrations. Tempo is simply the rate of speed at which a song is performed.


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