More Songwriting Tools

Now that we’ve covered a songwriter’s most important tool - the notebook - let’s talk about some other tools no songwriter should be without.

The Rhyming Dictionary
Writing lyrics is hard work. Why waste time looking for rhymes when someone else has already done it for you? Remember, however, that rhyming dictionaries are not fool-proof. Sometimes no perfect rhymes exist. Use your own smarts and look up near-rhymes or false-rhymes. Other times you’ll find words that rhyme but have no relationship to your lyrics. Solve this by making them part of a metaphor. Rhyming dictionaries won’t help you come up with conglomerate rhymes either. (Rhyming “benefit” with “then if it”, for example).

Despite its shortcomings a good rhyming dictionary is an absolute essential to any songwriter. I recommend The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary by Sue Young. There are also some great rhyming resources online, my favorite being

The Dictionary and Thesaurus
Words are power. As a songwriter, you owe it to yourself to have a wide, working vocabulary. You can’t use words you don’t know. Even worse, you can misuse a word you only think you know. For a songwriter there is no greater humiliation. When you come across a word you don’t know, use your dictionary.

Have you ever been stuck trying to cram a word with too many syllables into a line, like somebody over-packing a suitcase? Enter the thesaurus – an instant list of new words and phrases with similar meanings.. Call me weird, but I just love to peruse mine from time to time, trolling for new phrases. I particularly like editions that randomly highlight a group of words and detail the subtle differences in their meanings. Ever wonder what the differences are between stories, tales, fables, anecdotes, and allegories? I have… and now I know.

Musical Instruments
The guitar is the most popular instrument of our time, followed by the piano. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Experienced songwriters will tell you that the instrument you choose to write on will have a profound effect on your songs. Writers often switch between them to break up their songwriting routines and spark fresh ideas. Become a student of your instrument. Just as a large vocabulary will help you write better lyrics, a knowledge of theory (the vocabulary of music) will help you write better music.

Hand-held Recording Devices
Once, long ago in the 1980’s, people used mini-tape decks to record quick bits of audio. Nowadays everything is digital. Almost every phone or personal electronic gadget has a recording function, and they trump notebooks in one aspect: they can capture sound. Carry one. An emergency alternative: phone home. I’ve sung my share of song ideas into my answering machine. My wife always gets a chuckle out of replaying my quirky, off-key, and sometimes rambling “notes-to-self”.

When I first started making music way back in the olden days, the thought of having a recording studio in your home was unheard of except for the super-rich. Now, thanks to the computer, everybody has one! We live in an amazing time, when musicians can write, record, design, duplicate, and market their music to the world, all via one little gray box.

Writing lyrics on a computer has distinct advantages: your writing is always neat, blocks of text are easy to manipulate and rearrange, and when you’re finished you can easily make multiple copies or email them to someone. My songs may begin life in a notebook, but they all end up in a computer sooner or later.

A word of warning: writing music on the computer should be approached with caution. It’s fine to sing a melody or strum a guitar part into a computer for memory’s sake, but resist the temptation to fully record a song until it is written. The allure of the studio, with all its tempting bells and whistles, can be a real song killer! Make sure you stay focused on songwriting and not recording.

After some trial and error you will find the tools and methods that work best for you. Whatever your approach, the goal is to capture your ideas the instant they occur to you. I would love to hear your tips and advice - what have you found that works for you?

*Photo by gadgetgirl.


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