So it’s been a while. And, to avoid starting every single blog post with that acknowledgement, I’m going to say you should assume I’ll be posting sporadically from here on out.
This post is about my songwriting hobby. Yep, that’s right, I have hobbies. I know I’ve made it seem like I might not.
But yes: songwriting. This is a hobby I’ve had for years – since I was about fourteen – and while my level of persistence with it has fluctuated wildly over the past eight years, I like to think I’ve improved. (I’ve definitely improved.)
Improved, or at least changed for the better.
In my teens, I had just started learning guitar. In fact, when I very first started writing songs, I couldn’t play any instruments at all (except violin, but I was in no way skilled). My at-the-time boyfriend bought me a guitar for my fifteenth birthday after I said I wanted to learn. It was £10 from eBay but I was so pleased. I had lessons for around six months but eventually couldn’t pay for any more so resorted to teaching myself.
Back then, I knew very few chords: G major, C major, D major and A minor. That was it. every single song I wrote consisted of those four chords. And as for subject matter, I started out writing cheesy love songs and upbeat melodies, lyrics about how ridiculous I thought the idea of perfection was and shaking off the burden of judgement. No strumming pattern whatsoever. It was chaotic, like a toddler with a xylophone.
But, as we know by now, my mid-to-late teens weren’t one hundred percent pleasant, and I started coming up with darker material. The chords E minor and A major were added to my repertoire and let me tell you, it was the foundation of how I write songs now. A major was my favourite chord. I tried to fit it into as many songs as I could. It’s easy to recognise the songs I wrote at that point, because they all have it. With my newfound, slightly less cheerful go-to chord pattern, I started to write lyrics about bittersweet love, sadness, guilt and betrayal. Slow tempos, forced rhymes, and a register lower than I was able to sing (I was a well-established soprano at the time). The kind of things that make your chest ache. Even if I tried to write a happy song, it would come out sounding sad or slow. But I liked it that way. I knew one strumming pattern but I convinced myself I managed to make it sound different enough song-by-song.
My guitar teacher, bless him, tried his hardest to teach me barre chords when I was about fifteen or sixteen but I’ve never been able to pick up the skill properly. He also made a good attempt at teaching me a non-barre version of the B minor chord but I found it much too easy to substitute it with E minor or G major so I never actually learnt it (sorry, George). I did learn F major, however I only ever played it in covers of songs and I never put it in one of my own.
And then I was an adult who did not write songs. Not because I actively decided not to, I just gradually stopped. I couldn’t write lyrics at work because I was too busy serving food and drinks, and I didn’t at home because I was too tired.
But then my job role changed. Boredom is, ironically, an interesting concept. Because, although the acceptance of my new job role incurred the highest level of boredom I’ve ever experienced, it gave me time to think. And I particularly thought about how I was no longer doing any of the things which used to bring me joy, and that I should probably start doing those again. So, between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one, I wrote a few songs. My new subjects were bitterness, longing, depression and regret (fun!). Mostly soft and somewhat monotonous or repetitive melodies, except one which was sarcastically upbeat, and a lot of humming in place of a bridge. But I was eager to utilise my latest self-taught skill: finger-picking! With a little help from my fiance’s dad, I taught myself two very basic finger-picking patterns and it was a nice change from just straight chords.
Not too long before my twenty-first birthday, I moved house. And I feel like I’ve been twenty-one for so long. My fiance’s dad bought me a new guitar for that birthday and so I continued to play my new songs over and over again until I knew every single one off by heart. I figured I should probably learn another strumming pattern, too, so now I’ve got three under my belt.
You might have noticed at this point that new songs come with new development. I began 2019 with a decision to start going to counselling. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
So I might have forgotten that songwriting helped me to express my feelings (I know, I know). But I remembered through counselling. Because obviously I did, I’m talking about my feelings. It’s been a learning experience.
Words and phrases said during sessions get tweaked to fit rhymes and then inserted between casual references to serious subject matters with laid back beats and pleasant sounding tunes. I think I’m doing it smoothly but it would probably be glaringly obvious to my counsellor, as it would be to me if I heard something I’d heard or said sung almost word-for-word with a vocal shrug, an octave jump, and a deliberately placed pause.
Octave jumps are a thing I’m using a lot these days, despite the fact that my vocal range probably falls into the alto category at the moment. My most circulated chords are C major, E minor, G major, D major and A minor. I have a habit of writing at least one line in a verse or chorus with way too many syllables in it, and I often write the lyrics and melody long before I’ve even touched my guitar. Song which sound cheerful enough at first, but have the occasional dark message. Themes heavily focusing on friendship, self-destruction, decision making, and the desire to move on.
Moving forward, I think I may revisit some of my old songs and rewrite them with the experience and knowledge I now have. I’d like to include some belted notes, and my older lyrics and melodies definitely call for it more than my newer ones do. And harmonies, too. I hear the harmonies for my songs in my head but I obviously can’t sing them all at once.
I also want to brush up on the GCSE and A Level music theory that’s been rotting away in my brain, so I’ve started to try and write out the sheet music for a couple of songs. One has gone better than the other, but I’m sure that’ll improve with time.
It’s good to reflect on the progression I’ve made, it helps me to feel like I’m actually doing something. So maybe, at some point, I’ll be able to do a follow-up post with more skills and changes.