Twelve Tools to Make Your Job as a Songwriter Easier

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 20, 2010

Here are some tools that can help every songwriter. You can write without any of them, of couse, but they make your task easier: 

1. Rhyming Dictionary. Rest assured that it is not cheating to use a rhyming dictionary to help you find words that rhyme. It will save you a great deal of time and trouble, and there is no virtue in sitting there running over “dog, fog, log, nog, sog, yog and zog” in your head. 

2. Dictionary. To check your spelling as well as the exact meaning of words. 

3. Thesaurus. To help you find just the right words. Roget’s International Thesaurus says, “In a dictionary, you start with a word and look for its meaning. In a thesaurus, you start with your idea and find words to express it.” For instance, Roget’s contains more than one hundred words or phrases used to describe or express worship. Most good word processing programs have spellcheckers and thesauruses (thesauri?) built in, but in our experience, they aren’t nearly as extensive as Roget’s. 

4. Basic grammar book. Check it when in doubt. Incorrect grammar is okay if it fits the character you’re writing about, as in the gospel favorite, “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus.” Otherwise, be careful to avoid basic errors. 

5. Bible Concordance. To find scripture verses. All you need is a key word to help you find what you need. 

6. Several Bible translations. Often the wording in one version will fit a melody better than any of the others. 

7. Topical Bible. A great help is Nave’s Topical Bible, where you can look up a subject like “God, love of ” and find all the scriptures on that theme already listed and written out for you. This is also available as a software program. 

8. Recorder. To help catch transient ideas before you lose them. One friend woke in the middle of the night, sang into his recorder, then went back to sleep. The next morning he played it back and heard, in his words, “a sepulchral voice singing absolute nonsense.” Glenn Hegel tells us, “I used to wake up in the night with a melody or lyric and think, ‘I’ll remember it.’ Wrong. Now I sleep with a recorder next to my bed, so I can record it before I fall back to sleep. It makes for very entertaining listening in the morning. The sound quality is even better when you’re trying to sing into a recorder at 3:30am and not wake up your spouse.” Paul simply calls his own cell phone and leaves himself a melodic message. After using and losing various portable recording devices over the years, he finds that a phone never fails to capture a moment of inspiration. 

9. Music paper. To write down ideas as they occur. 

10. Pocket notebook and pencil. Jimmy calls his “the visible half of my brain.” Have you ever had the experience of getting a song idea and having no place to write it down? Did you keep singing it over and over, afraid if you stopped singing you’d lose it? Of course; it happens to all of us. Most of us don’t carry score paper around in our pockets, but a simple 3X5 inch lined pocket pad will serve to catch fleeting tunes before they get away. Here’s how. Draw a treble clef over three lines, then quickly draw two lines between them and what have you got? Ta—da! A music staff that’s good enough for scribbling until you can copy it on real music manuscript paper. Caution: Do not attempt to write down a song while driving. Pull over. 

11. Song collections. Play them over, listening for fresh chord changes. Read the lyrics and look for rhymes, alliteration, matching vowel sounds, etc. Look especially for good imperfect rhymes. 

12. Idea files. Journals and folders to keep thoughts you’ve jotted down on scraps of paper, envelopes, napkins, post-it notes, etc., things you feel the Lord saying to you. Don’t throw anything away. Go through it occasionally and see if song ideas arise. 

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