What I've Learned About Writing Songs - from Berklee College of Music
A lot of my friends who are around my age in the music industry have either graduated from Berklee, or are studying there currently.
The day of my first class I was nervous, and hovered around my computer pretty much the whole day, obsessing over every assignment I had due that week.
With time, I got into the swing of things, and writing on demand wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Berklee opened up my brain to so many possibilities of different ways I could write songs that conveyed emotion.
It forever changed me as a writer, and gave me a fresh and inspiring view on composing. I am still learning, growing, and changing as a writer.. and I will be, for the rest of my life.
Learning to trust my voice to tell my own story, or stories I see around me is a process that will last forever.
One the best pieces of advice and one of the most beautiful things I’ve learned from Berklee is - Don’t be afraid to trust your language. Write what you know. Trust yourself, spill it out, and don’t hold back your truth or criticize yourself.
In the meantime while I'm getting close to finals week, I'd like to share a just a few things that Berklee has taught me. :)
Writing Lyrics -
Something my teacher said to me was, "Show what you are feeling, instead of telling."
Rather than saying how I felt, she encouraged me to dive into my five senses: taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound.
If you are writing a song about heartbreak, you might ask yourself "How did it feel when he broke my heart?" You might write about feeling sad, torn, and dislocated from who you used to be. While emotional lyrics can be beautiful and they certainly have their place, it can be powerful to paint vivid imagery of watercolor emotions in the listener's brain - by using sensories.
Think - "How did the aroma of timber and gasoline smell, when you hugged him for the last time in the driveway?"
"How did it taste when he made you steaming, bitter cups of coffee at 6:30 in the morning?"
"How did it feel when you brushed salty tears off his rough and whiskered cheek?"
SIGHT - "Remember when you watched him stand in the golden lit hallway filled with cardboard boxes... dust floating through lonely sun beams?"
These are just some examples of things to think about, next time you write. Show, don't tell.
Let‘s talk about object writing.
In its principle, object writing is a short exercise that is supposed to help you engage all of your senses. Getting started with object writing is simple:
1. Grab a piece of paper (or create an empty document in the text editor of your choice on your computer)
2. On the top of the page, write out the seven senses so you can reference them easily as you're writing.
3. Choose any object: something on your desk, something outside, a baseball hat, a watch, a paperclip, a light switch, confetti, a balloon...
4. Set a timer for 10 minutes and start writing about the object using the different senses
Write anything that comes to mind. The writing doesn't have to be pretty. In fact, you don't even have to write full sentences. Don't try to give it rhyme, rhythm, structure, or reason. It should just be a constant flow of thoughts that are coming to you. Don't stop to think or try to make things sound nice. Don't go back to correct typos or the grammatical mistakes. Occasionally look back up to the top of the page and reference the different senses to make sure you're using all of them.
As you're writing, you don't have to stick to the object you started from. Let's say your object was "watch." It may remind you of a watch your grandfather used to carry. You may write about the first time you pressed your ear against it to hear it ticking. And that may lead you to the memory of how time would feel like it dragged forever when you were waiting for test results at a hospital. Which may take your mind to the day your nephew was born.
Needless to say, let your mind and pen/fingers wander wherever they want to go. You never know where interesting ideas may be lingering.
When that timer goes off: stop.
If this was your first object-write, you were probably just starting to scratch the surface of some interesting stuff as the timer went off.
When to use object writing
Just like with working out at the gym, a regular routine is the only way you can guarantee solid results. So if you really want to improve the imagery of your lyric writing, you should do an object writing exercise every single day. Do it as the first thing in the morning, before you even shower. There may be some great object inspiration to pull from your dreams (if you remember anything).
Do exactly 10 minutes. No more, no less. If you give yourself permission to write more today what do you think is going to happen tomorrow? You will tell yourself "Well, I really don't feel like getting out of bed. Plus I wrote for 25 minutes yesterday, so I'm really set for the next day and a half."
This is how people stop with their routines. Stick to 10 minutes, and do it every day.
In three weeks, your writing and the way you see the world will slowly blossom into transformation. Give it a try!
About the Author:
Victoria Grace is the lead singer for Paper Dolls, mandolin player, SEO Specialist, writer, and an IBMA Nominee. She has won competitions for singing and mandolin, and is currently attending Berklee College of Music.