10 Great Books for Songwriters (2022)

Songwriting is a tricky process and is different from one individual to another. Using the tricks of the trade by so many great writers/songwriters might just get you on your way to becoming one.

Nowadays, the internet is full of educational material. It’s just hard sometimes to distinguish between good and bad advice, risking throwing away money and implementing strategies that, in reality, are not as effective as they seemed to be on screen.

To help with your search, here is a list of 10 great books for songwriters to help you in perfecting your skills and craft!

Inspiration is perhaps one of the most important aspects of songwriting. This book is a collection of interviews of some of the greatest American songwriters and these were originally published in the journal of the National Academy of Songwriters called ‘SongTalk’.

From Lou Reed to Lenny Kravitz, you can read about what inspired them to write some of their songs and what their creative process is.

This book is for those who want to know the stories behind their favorite songs and understand the different ways in which legendary songwriters approach their craft.

2. Writing Better Lyrics (Pat Pattison)

Pattison’s book has been around since 1995 and, since its release, it has gained huge authority on the topic of songwriting.

Both practical and rich in the theoretic aspects of song-making, Writing Better Lyrics contains all the technical knowledge you need to write strong, original verses.

Learn how to build vivid metaphors and leave behind cliches, get inspired by images you hadn’t thought of, and dive into the exercises and examples outlined to get a whole new perspective on the art of lyrics-writing.

3. Melody in Songwriting (Jack Perricone)

If you are looking for an academic yet practical guide to songwriting, then this book will help you understand the importance and significance of melody in music.

Apart from examples of prolific songwriters such as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Robert Palmer, Dianne Warren, etc. It also offers exercises that one can practice to improve their craft. 

Music theory has a huge role to play in songwriting and it is easy to be overwhelmed by all the terms that musicians often throw around. This book breaks down the concepts of pitch, rhythm, tone, and balance which become important tools to rely on when you write a song.

The book has been used to teach Songwriting at the Berklee School of Music.

4. Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting (Jimmy Webb)

For those who do not know, Jimmy Webb is a multi-platinum songwriter who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1986. Here, he lets us into the workings of his brilliant mind and shares his approach to writing his hit songs with us.

But this book is not just advice on songwriting. He shares personal anecdotes about his experience as a performer and a musician, offering an insider’s view into how the music industry operates. 

You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of his work to appreciate or learn from this book. It is an excellent choice for beginners who are looking to start their journey.

5. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression (Angela Ackman and Becca Puglisi)

Lyrics are an integral part of a song. As a songwriter, it is not only important to be eloquent but you also need to use the right words to express how you feel.

Although this book is not exclusively for songwriters, you can benefit greatly from it by understanding the power of emotions and how to articulate them better in your lyrics.

Whether you want to express negative emotions such as jealousy and sadness or more positive ones such as love and elation, there are different chapters on such individual emotions to help you navigate them.

This can be a good handbook to refer to from time to time when you feel like your songwriting is becoming monotonous and you want to change which emotion you want to portray.

6. The Songwriter's Workshop: Melody (Jimmy Kachulis)

Based on some of the popular songwriting courses taught at the Berklee School of Music, this book is for beginners as much as it is for professional musicians looking for a fresh perspective.

If you get stuck when trying to create complete song sections or want to learn some new ways in which to approach melody or lyric composition, this then will help you with exercises, ideas, and techniques to do so. 

You will learn how to write better and more unique melodies over different rhythms and chords. This book will also teach you how to utilize modes better to craft your next tune.

7. The Songwriter's Workshop: Harmony (Jimmy Kachulis)

While the previous book by the same author explains the importance of melody and how to utilize chords, rhythm, and scales to do so, this one talks about the different ways in which chords can be used to add color or flavor to a song.

It offers an in-depth look into using the correct rhythm and chord progressions for songwriting and gives us a perspective on building sections for harmonic complexity in music.

The book may not be light reading but it can help you understand the relationship between different notes (harmony) in a song and why it is important to know about them.

8. Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing (Marty Dodson and Bill O’ Hanlon)

Songwriters are generally forced to rely on inspiration to strike before they can write a song. But this can be an unsustainable process in the long run. For those looking for ways in which they can beat writer’s block, this book discusses building a blueprint for songwriting so they can write more efficiently.

They explain the process of ‘blueprinting’ a method in which you preplan what the song is going to be about so you can finish it quicker.

This book is for songwriters who have trouble moving on to different sections in a song or for those under pressure to create a large and consistent number of songs.

9. The Songwriter's Guide to Mastering Co-Writing (Marty Dodson, Clay Mills, and Bill O’ Hanlon)

It is no secret that many musicians co-write their music with others. When you collaborate with others to write a song, it is known as ‘co-writing’.

For those who are interested in learning how to be good at co-writing music in a team, this book discusses the benefits and challenges of co-writing and how to best utilize the potential of the team to create a masterpiece.

Even if you enjoy writing your songs, this book will give you a fresh perspective on collaborating with the instrument players in your band to write more effectively.

With chapters ranging from maximizing a co-writing session to ‘record-keeping’, read this book to understand how to operate more efficiently in a professional setting.

10. The Craft of Lyric Writing (Sheila Davis)

The author, Sheila Davis, explains that songwriting isn’t an intangible process that requires constant inspiration. It is a “craft” that supports talent.

From analyses of songs across various genres, this book digs deep into song structure, musical terms, and how to develop a better sense of rhythm.

As songwriters, it is always great to learn from the greats. You can learn about the creative processes of songwriters such as Diana Ross and analyze the works of musicians such as Sting to prevent “false starts” and write more efficiently.

Summary

Many musicians believe that songwriting is a gift that one has and is not for everyone. But that notion is simply not true. Just like playing an instrument, songwriting takes dedicated practice. If you want to write better songs, you need to learn certain techniques and implement them in your process.

Whether you are an aspiring songwriter or an established one, the books on this list will help you gain a new and fresh perspective on your craft and provide you with a set of essential tools.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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