View Full Version : Can a person write a song without being able to write the music?

06-17-2005, 06:50 AM
I occasionally write lyrics but I have one small problem. I can't write down the notes to go along with my lyrics. I can sing how I want the song to sound but I can't get down the notation.

Does anybody else have these problems? How do you deal with it?


John Kilduff

06-17-2005, 06:09 PM
If you were the technological sort, you could go get one of those MIDI interfaces that creates sheet music as you play. You could also try recording it with a 4-track or something like that.

Failing that, you could always learn how to write music. It's not nearly as difficult as it might seem at first. And at some point, it's the only way you'll be able to share your music with other musicians. It's worth the pain.

06-17-2005, 06:20 PM
I think it helps to have the written music, but it's not absolutely necessary. I had an interesting experience at a writers conference a few weeks ago. I met with the pianist who gave a concert there and asked him about songwriting (I know virtually nothing about it, though I do write poetry). He took one of my poems and set it to music; then showed me how it also needed a chorus, and words to go with it. He also made a tape of my poem set to piano music, and the next week, as I listened to the tape, the words to the chorus came very quickly. I didn't have the music written out, but I do think it's easier to come up with words as long as you have the tune/meter in your head. And for some of us the only way to remember the music is to write it down.

06-26-2005, 10:38 PM
I actually had somewhat of the same problem. When I was young I used to write songs all the time but then I'd forget what the music sounded like for it. Now I have a microphone on my computer though so I record it for keeping. In my vocal music class we're learning how to write music but I'm still a beginner so I can't get out what it is in my head that I want to write due to difficult rhythms and melodies. I can only write out those simple and bland melodies but as long as I have the computer recordings everything is fine. And besides that, I can actually remember them now. ^o^ Of course according to a friend this is because I write catchy tunes. o.O

So that was my solution: record and write when I have the skills down.

06-27-2005, 07:38 AM
I've done it all my life. I play guitar (all styles of music, from hard-rock to blues and bluegrass), but cannot read or write music. That being said, I do, however, know all the chords; majors, minors, sevenths, diminished, etc, and have a good understanding of music theory and composition.

07-10-2005, 10:11 PM
A hook is toooooo important. Like in the song "How do I live without you".

When the part comes about how " baby, you would take away everything good in my life" if you left me. That part about takin away everything good in my life without you is a powerful hook. If the hook is good, the singer willl know how to sing it without music.

If you write a song around a great hook, the song doesn't have to be great as long as the hook is memorable. Like a great hook would be a line like:

"if I live a thousand lifetimes, I'd want to be with you in every one of them"

Who couldn't relate to that? Thats a great hook. Great songs have great hooks.

Every singer can sing a great hook greatly.

07-10-2005, 10:12 PM
I forgot to mention that i play sax. That has no value when it comes to song writing. Sometimes less is more. Let the singer feel it.

07-16-2005, 03:52 AM
At least you have an idea of how you want your song to sound-- I don't have the slightest idea! I construct the lyrics, but know nothing about the music itself. Is there a way to market lyrics, or do you have to market the song as a whole?

08-09-2005, 06:17 PM
Bernie taupin makes a living from being a lyricist, and I'm pretty sure he dosen't know how to write music.

08-25-2005, 06:18 PM
I don't think you need to write the music to along with it. All my lyrics are just words, because I can't write music, but at least I do have some idea of what I want it to sound like.
The MIDI thing is a good idea, and I use GarageBand, which is great for that kind of stuff. (Plus it's easy!) But I don't do that too often.

I think it's good that you at least have lyrics. Maybe, if you have friends who are musically oriented, you can get them to help you write the backing music for your songs. It never hurts to have a partner!

Best of luck!


10-11-2005, 08:35 AM
I occasionally write lyrics but I have one small problem. I can't write down the notes to go along with my lyrics. I can sing how I want the song to sound but I can't get down the notation.

Does anybody else have these problems? How do you deal with it?


John Kilduff
Hi John/popculturewriterhope!

Believe it or not, I write advertising jingle lyrics for a living, but I have no musical talent. That's where my husband comes in. He's a brilliant musician/composer. (Can you tell that I adore him?) We work as a team. I write words, he writes music.

Personally, I find it makes it much easier to write the lyrics if I have a melody in mind...ANY melody. I know, however, that when I give the lyrics to my husband, he is going to put it to music that is entirely different from what I'm thinking. That's great! I do my thing, he does his, and together we bang out a couple hundred of these a year. I'm still amazed that we can both work at home and make a living at this. You just have to decide WHAT you want to do...DO it... and then figure out how to do it BETTER than everyone else is doing it.

If you are not musically inclined, find a music partner. And who knows...maybe it'll turn out to be a match made in heaven! Ummmm...unless of course, you already have a life partner....then...um... nevermind. :)

Way too public
10-13-2005, 12:16 AM
I write and sing new songs in the shower all the time. And I never heave any music accompanyment.

10-14-2005, 04:38 PM
I occasionally write lyrics but I have one small problem. I can't write down the notes to go along with my lyrics. I can sing how I want the song to sound but I can't get down the notation.

Does anybody else have these problems? How do you deal with it?


John Kilduff

I have no idea how to arrange those little black marks on music paper. That has not stopped me from being in several bands and writing lots of my own songs. Unless you are writing for the London Philharmonic, I would not worry about it.

02-22-2006, 02:48 AM
Yeh, I do that too. I can shut three doors between me and the rest of the house when I want to sing in the shower ....

I sometimes want to put songs in my books, which means I've got to have them scored. Learning to write music would be a months-long effort for me, and I never seem to have time for it. Picking out the notes on a keyboard would be fine, but I don't know how to determine or indicate half or quarter notes.

What I do is record the songs and then ask friends who can to listen to the tape and score them. Because I don't have an especially reliable singing voice, I always make sure to give them time ahead of deadline, and permission, to giggle. I also warn them that sometimes my voice varies the key and the tune when I don't mean it to -- and I can just let them know right on the tape, at the end of the song, if that happens.

Even with all those 'goobers,' it doesn't take a real musician more than a hour or so to do each song , as long asthey giggle on their own time. I negotiate payment on a song-by-song basis. And one thing I have learned the hard way is to keep a copy of the tape and lyrics page I give to the transcriber.

-- Ashleen

02-26-2006, 06:43 PM
One suggestion: to find a music partner who does read/write music. In my group, one woman is an excellent songwriter but doesn't read music at all. When she's written a melody, she takes it to one of us, and then we work on finding the underlying harmonic structure.

If you're interested, this music partner also runs a music site specifically for songwriters called The Muse's Muse (http://www.musesmuse.com/).

02-28-2006, 07:51 PM
I write a few songs but I don't read or write music. I do, however, play a few chords on the guitar. My husband plays very well although he does not read/write music either. When I submit my songs, I note the chords. This works for country songs - I imagine it may depend on the type of songs being written or submitted.

03-17-2006, 01:02 AM
i may be ages late on this,

but thats exactly what james brown did,

he was completely ignorant of music theory,
he told his band members, i want the piano to go like this, the saxophone to go like this and blah blah

03-24-2006, 05:53 AM
A song consists of the lyrics, the melody line and the chording.

If you CAN"T sing or play an instrument, then you've got to either learn those skills or try to hook up with someone who can do those things for you, preferably by collaborating with someone who shares your concept of what you want the song to be, rather than paying someone to simply put it to music without having empathy with your goals. (There are lots of organizations out there called "Song Mills" who are more than happy to do that for you for a fee, but whose only interest lies in taking your money, not producing a song that can become successful).

Writing the song out in a music notation, however, is basically unnecessary and probably won't help you much, even if you learn to do it, because the vast majority of musicians, (with the exception those in school bands or orchestras) CAN"T read music.

If it's true that Bernie Taupin couldn't play or write music, then, he was extremely fortunate in his companions because they did play, liked the lyrics what he had written, and became his collaborators, (an option that is open to any pure lyric writer, but works out and brings success only rarely).
They put it all together, and played and recorded the whole, with any written score being an afterthought put together by a specialist employed by the publisher.

If you still want to print out the notation for your song, yourself, there are composition programs for those who know the basics on one or more instruments (but are not practicing musicians) to fill out the whole from the 3 basic units, of Lyric, Melody Line (one-noted on a keyboard) and Chording (worked out on the guitar with the help of some knowledge of music theory and that is, in fact, how I have fleshed out 17 of the 55 songs I have
written, (which mostly consist of only lyric and chording with the melody line in my head), winning 7 Honorable Mentions in various Song Contests in the last 5 years and a 2d place finish in the Country category in the 2003 Billboard Song contest.

Despite that, I have yet to get any Publishing Contract or have any of my songs recorded (except as demos done by me or paid for by myself)


P.S.for those interested, my songs can be heard at www.acidplanet.com by searching for J.R. Hoye as the artist

08-11-2006, 10:00 PM

I don't know the policy on lateness of replies but I hope it is okay for me to share in this thread.

Words and melodies come easy to me, in a matter of speaking, but I do not write music. I would love to learn. In fact, very recently I committed to myself that I would have to make sure that I learned.

The dilemna that such a gift/talent minus the writing poses has gained a whole new meaning for me. I am a member of a gospel group. We are currently in the studio. I have a number of songs on the project and have even helped on a few.

This experience has been most rewarding, but at the same time the relevance and importance of being able to write my own music . . . it has really hit home.

Despite my limitation I still consider myself to be a songwriter.

Until I learn to write I'll keep humming melodies, crafting lyrics and singing.

I've gotten a lot of helpful information through this thread. Thanks everybody.

Best wishes popculturewriterhope.

Mayor of Moronia
08-11-2006, 11:34 PM
Ira Gershwin wrote all the lyrics to brother George's music. Scott Joplin transcribed plenty of music for plenty of piano composers who couldnt read a note of music.

08-16-2006, 03:23 PM
I don't feel so alone now I've read this thread. I write blues lyrics but they have all been published as poems since I can't write music. Atleast they're out there and have been well received so far.

Aaron Poehler
08-17-2006, 12:58 AM
Those of you saying you "can't" write music should really give it a shot, as it's really not that hard. Just get a cheap guitar and learn a few bar chords and take it from there!

08-19-2006, 03:51 PM
Just a note Aaron,

Saying that anyone can write music with a few bar chords and a guitar depends on how you define "writing" music.

Yes, you can define how you envision a song is supposed to sound in that manner, and if you have the physical skills and inherant talent to hold a tune and play that guitar well enough, in conjunction with your singing, to create a reasonable representation of what you're trying to achieve, you can honestly say that you have "written" that song, but, if you are talking about writing the melody line and accompaniment out note by note on music paper, (or computerized music sheet) so that anyone who can read such can play back what you have envisioned accurately,
you are talking about a whole different ballgame and one that is considerably more difficult to achieve

It CAN be done either way, but the former method depends on performing skills, which, depending on the individual, may or may not be difficult to learn, and the latter will probably require much study without any guarantee that one can find any musicians who can actually "read" what you have written down.

Moreover, writing the lyrics to any song is a totally separate skill and craft and takes an equal amount of training and/or experimentation to learn to do well.

None of these elements can, in my estimation, be deemed to be "easy", and it's not fair to anyone to imply that they are.

Think about it.

Jim Hoye (JRH)