School of The Rock


Develop Your Songwriting               

Written by Paul D. Race for SchoolOfTheRock.comô


You may like singing songs that other people write.  And there’s nothing wrong with that. But certain venues like to know that you have original material as well.  In fact, a few require it.  In some cases, they use your songwriting ability as a “litmus test” to judge your overall musicianship.  In a very few cases, your assurance that you’re only going to perform originals keeps them from having to worry about getting in trouble with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC performance rights organizations when you perform in their venue.

Beyond the “to write or not to write” decision, is the “why you write” question.  Often Rockers have written to get people dancing, Folk-Singers have written to get people thinking, and Singer-Songwriters have written to get people relating.  But commercial songwriters of every ilk write to get their songs “cut” by well-known singers and played on the radio, and that takes a specific kind of writing.

If you’re a singer-songwriter type who would be happy with a “cult following” and isn’t lying awake nights trying to figure out how to get some star to put your song on his or her record album, you still need to have songs that make your fans want to hear more. Learning a chord-capable musical instrument (like piano or guitar) and learning some music theory will help with the music side.  But learning to write better lyrics also takes work.  There are a few good books, and many communities have “songwriter circles” and the like in which folks share their works in progress.  In some areas you can also take face-to-face songwriting classes, which I think are especially helpful. There are probably some legitimate online songwriting classes as well, though I haven’t seen any I would necessarily recommend at the moment.

On the other hand, if your goal is to make your living writing and selling songs, you will need to focus, not just on writing songs that your audience can connect to, but on writing songs that catch the listener’s attention on the first hearing and keep it, with catchy tunes, brutally clever lyrics, and/or other factors that make your song hard to ignore, and harder still to forget, even after the last note has been played or sung.

I confess, I’m in the former category - writing songs that express my emotions and concerns, which nearly always elicit something like “sympathetic vibrations” in any audience member who has gone through similar things and who isn’t put off by my less than wonderful performance skills.  So my method of songwriting is basically:  Wait until life smacks me up alongside the head, and pour out whatever I’m feeling in rhyming couplets that suit whatever tune is coming into my head at the same time.  I don’t recommend that as a good way to reach any goals of getting airplay or “cuts” by famous people.  If that’s how you write songs, too, you have my sympathy.

My professional songwriter friends, of course, have no patience for the way I do things.  Some of them write several songs a day, keeping and refining only the songs that have special promise, and taking an entirely new arsenal of professionally-written potentially “killer” songs to meetings with publishers and A&R people every few weeks.  Those are the people you need to learn from, and I have several links below. 

Even if you aren’t worried about getting your songs on the radio, the hitmakers have a lot to tell you about every aspect of songwriting.  Hitwriting is largely knowing what to leave out as much as knowing what to put in, and that is excellent training for any kind of songwriting.

We hope to provide more content in this section eventually, but for now, some of the best songwriting advice I’ve come across online is contained in the following links.

Helpful Links:

We have been building a library of helpful songwriting tips from professionals at our Songwrangling forum on  The following links take you back to our forum page, where you will see many more links that take you back to the original blog page.  . 

  • Clay Mills and Marty Dodson share countless little tips and tricks blogs.  The quality of those tips, their professional attitude, and their consistent courtesy and helpfulness toward wannabees convinces me that paid membership in their Songtown forum  is a good investment for anyone who is focusing on improving their songwriting, especially with a view to getting professional “cuts” of their songs. Click here, to see our links to blogs we have found especially helpful.
  • Shantell Ogden, Nashville-area singer/songwriter has many song placements and a few good “cuts” by pros to her credit.  She also seems to be a genuinely nice person, based on the interactions we’ve had.  Her blog isn’t specifically about songwriting, but includes some related topics any songwriting wannabe will find equally important.  Click here, to see our links to blogs we have found especially helpful.
  • Brent Baxter, another Nashville-based songwriter has a blog series called Man VS Row, plus he offers a certain amount of paid services. click here to see links to blogs we have found helpful. 
  • Kevin Thomas, of Songwriting Planet, also coaches individual songwriters and publishes helpful blogs from time to time. Click here to see a sample.
  • For “onsies and twosies” by other contributors, simply go to our main “Songwangling forum page here:

As always, please contact me with corrections, complaints, clarifications, etc.  If your response is responsible, I'll try to include it in the "reader response" section below.

God bless,



Paul Race playing a banjo. Click to go to Paul's music home page.A Note from Paul: Whatever else you get out of our pages, I hope you enjoy your music and figure out how to make enjoyable music for those around you as well.

And please stay in touch!

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