We’re not doing in-person workshops right now except by special arrangement; but with help from some terrific educators and the support of our donors we are proud to offer…
The GriffinEd Virtual Songwriting Residency!
The virtual songwriting residency is offered to teachers and students of all subjects and grades; 3rd grade and above recommended. All of GriffinEd’s services (workshops, live shows, our online library of teaching songs, etc.) are offered without charge (yes, it really is free) to schools and other educational organizations; GriffinEd is funded by private donors and foundation grants.
In the virtual residency, students will collaborate in small groups via Zoom (or whichever videoconferencing software you prefer) with award-winning songwriter/performer and retired elementary teacher Tim Griffin to craft fun, instructive songs about academic topics chosen by the students and their teacher. Each group will write its own song; we recommend each group from a class address a different topic on a shared theme.
We will use a writing process very similar to the one most teachers expect for process-based writing assignments, using graphic organizers (sometimes called thinking maps, brain maps, etc.) to organize and develop our ideas. Students will research and draft lyrics about their chosen topic, focusing on key concepts and vocabulary. Tim will then help the students revise, edit, and set their lyrics to an existing tune, so no musical ability is necessary for the students or teacher.
To minimize disruption of your regular classroom schedule, we recommend doing the residency as part of your in-class independent working time. It is usually less disruptive for you if I work with one or two groups per week until all groups from your class have participated; but we can do it on whatever schedule best meets your needs. We are happy to serve your whole school (not all at once!) or grade level, or even a single class.
At the conclusion of the residency (schedule permitting), Tim and the teacher will host an online (or IRL if we can make it work) sing-along so kids can share the songs they and their classmates have written. Tim will also record a live music video of himself performing each song; those videos will be posted on the GriffinEd YouTube channel so other kids can enjoy and learn from them. Note that for legal and safety reasons, students will not appear in Tim’s videos, but kids can always make and share their own video with their parents’ permission. Here’s an example of a workshop song called Baby Bones, written by Ms. Therkildsen’s students in Cupertino, California.
-For the teacher, one meeting with Tim (30-40 minutes) before the residency begins; email correspondence (usually twice a week) during the residency; schedule permitting, co-host an online sing-along (about 30 minutes) for kids at the end of the residency.
-For students, two 60-minute small-group workshops (on Zoom or other videoconferencing tools) and about 60 minutes of independent work. The teacher need not attend these workshops but is welcome to do so.
-The residency will last one week for each small group, plus one week at the end for students to practice for their sing-along if we are doing one. The schedule can be modified to meet the needs of the teacher and students.
-Students will gain and demonstrate mastery of the academic content, vocabulary, and theme of a topic approved by the teacher.
-Students will apply strategies for identifying and developing elements of effective writing such as main idea, supporting ideas, details, and theme.
Why should you do a GriffinEd songwriting residency?
Decades of evidence (Iwai, Gardner, Page, etc.) and a few thousand years of practical experience (Iliad, Gilgamesh, Schoolhouse Rock etc.) show us that growing brains will learn new content faster, retain it longer, and have more fun doing it when information is shared through song. Teachers understand the theory behind this, but in most cases they lack the training or time to bring a guitar into their classroom and write a song for today’s lesson plan. GriffinEd bridges the gap between theory and practice by supporting academic instruction through fun but rigorously educational music. More information about GriffinEd, along with our free musical library, is on our website at GriffinEd.org.
Virtual Songwriting Residency, First Meeting
Small group; 60 minutes via Zoom or other video conference app.
-By video conference, Tim will share with the group a brief overview of how our writing process will work. The writing process we use for drafting song lyrics is modeled on the one most teachers want their kids to be using for all writing assignments, using a graphic organizer to identify the theme, topic, supporting ideas, key details, vocabulary, etc.
-Students identify (or will be given by Tim after consultation with their teacher) a suitable topic from their current academic studies; discuss it to identify three or four supporting ideas necessary for understanding the topic; select and define a dozen or so key vocabulary terms to be used in the song; and consider how their song fits into a larger academic and/or personal context (theme).
-We will discuss how and why “real” writers use an organized writing process rather than relying solely on talent or inspiration. Using a graphic organizer (usually a circle map, but some topics may suggest other methods for organizing information) students will gather and organize the information necessary to the task while culling extraneous details.
-Discuss some tunes we would like to try using for our song.
Before our second meeting, students will do the following:
-Find some rhyming words for the key vocabulary of their song. A great place to find rhyming words is Rhymezone. Look up definitions of key vocabulary as necessary.
-Watch the following videos:
Pokémon Theme by John Siegler and John Loeffler; performed by Jason Paige
Roar written and performed by Katy Perry
Jumpin’ Jive by Calloway, Froeba, and Palmer; performed by Cab Calloway
-Older students who are solid readers are encouraged to read Tim’s essay (see below) on songwriting, including comments on the songs above. Teachers, please have a look and decide if the reading is suitable for your students. Whether or not students read the essay, ask them to consider what makes each of the three songs effective? There is no one “correct” answer, but we want students to practice thinking like writers.
Virtual Songwriting Residency, Second Meeting
Small group; 60 minutes via Zoom or other video conference app.
Today is all about drafting lyrics based on our pre-writing activities from the first meeting and any additional information students have found in the meantime. Tim will lead a brief examination of the structure of a song, referring to the examples students viewed independently after our first day together. We will then review our pre-write and ask students to answer the following questions:
-What is the MOST IMPORTANT THING you want to get stuck in people’s heads about your topic? Make sure we are clear on this; it’s going to be our “hook” and we’re going to repeat it every chance we get.
-Do your supporting ideas each help to explain or support that one big thing?
-Is our vocabulary for the topic sufficient, and are we comfortable with how to use those words in context?
-We may need to tweak our pre-writes a bit until everyone is satisfied; then it’s time to draft!
-For ten minutes (with frequent pauses to check-in and share), students will independently write couplets (a couplet is just a fancy word for two lines that go together) about one of the supporting ideas for their topic. Rhyming is good but not required; meter is good but not required. What is required is that we use the vocabulary from our pre-write correctly and in context to discuss, explain, or tell a story about our topic.
-All students are expected to write continuously during this time without evaluating their work. At each pause we will invite students to share anything they have written, but we never require sharing: nothing raises the affective filter faster than the fear of being judged by peers!
-After checking in with each other and inviting (but again, not requiring) students to read aloud what they have written, we will move on to the next supporting idea and write some couplets for that verse. Write, discuss, share, repeat.
-By the time we have covered all the verses, we usually have a good sense of what the song is really about (theme) even if we did not have a clear theme before. Whatever the theme is, it will form the backbone of our chorus.
-Students will type, scan, or just take a digital photo (however they do this normally is fine) of their draft lyrics and email to their teacher. The teacher will collect their work and forward it to Tim.
…after the second meeting:
-Students will send to their teacher everything they have written; the teacher will collect the group’s work and forward it to Tim. Typed lyrics are fine, but so is a photograph of a journal so long as it’s clear enough to read.
-Any students who did not complete an acceptable amount of writing during our drafting session (the teacher will help establish benchmarks for output) will need to finish writing on their own before sending to the teacher.
Now it’s Tim’s turn to do his music thing.
Using sentence lifting techniques and revising as needed, Tim will stitch together from the students’ work a set of coherent lyrics which can be sung to an existing tune, preferably one of the tunes the students requested. Tim will submit his lyrics to the teacher for feedback to ensure the content and vocabulary are correct and relevant to the academic standards being taught; Tim will further revise to incorporate the teacher’s feedback. Then we share our songs!
Some frequently asked questions about the residency…
Is all this really free?
Yes. GriffinEd is supported by some very generous donors and foundations including the Interfilk Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, and the Louis and Harold Price Foundation. If your school is one of the rare ones with a budget for visiting artists, we are happy to accept whatever works for you; but payment is neither necessary nor expected.
Is this a Common Core or Next Generation Science Standards thing?
GriffinEd’s mission is to support academic excellence for whatever content your students need to master. We have worked a lot with Common Core and other multi-state standards, and we have data to show that GriffinEd raises student achievement on standardized tests of those standards; but we have also done successful residencies in places that use their own plan, including topics unique to a particular state, district, or even to a single school or home-school group. Whatever you are teaching, we are here to help support it.
Is this like that STEAM stuff I keep hearing about?
Yes. The STEAM movement is about bringing the arts into the STEM curriculum, not as an additional subject to be taught (that’s what music and art teachers are for!) but as a fun and effective tool for helping kids master the science, technology, engineering, and math standards. We also do residencies for history, health, or any other relevant topic being taught.
What if my school is in Texas/Ireland/Hong Kong/wherever?
GriffinEd is based in Los Angeles, but now that we are doing our residencies online we are happy to serve you wherever you are so long as you have a decent internet connection.
How about a high school songwriting workshop? Or college?
Yes, we’ve done those. Here’s one called Permission From The Pope, written for a college class on renaissance studies.
Yes, that too. If you can gather (online or IRL) five or six kids who are working on the same academic content, we can write something together.
I can’t sing; my voice is awful.
FWIW I think you sound just fine, but please understand this only matters if you expect to get paid to sing and sometimes not even then (see Bob Dylan). This not a music class; and as far as we can tell, you do not need to be a good singer for music to be an effective tool for memory.
Some suggestions for teachers…
We usually have one or two groups from your class do the residency each week to minimize disruption of your schedule, but if you are in a hurry we can do groups concurrently and get the residency done more quickly. Non-consecutive days would be best for our workshop meetings, as this gives your students more time for doing any writing or research they may need to do between our meetings. Here is a sample schedule, to be changed in any way that suits you and your students:
Monday: This week’s group meets online with Tim for one hour. Note that any time I meet with students, I will send you my notes afterward so you’ll know where we are in the process and can offer input if you wish.
Tuesday: Students do a little independent research to be sure they can use the key vocabulary correctly. They can also use the Rhymezone website to find some rhyming words for vocabulary etc. and watch the recommended music videos if they have not yet done so.
Wednesday: Students meet again with Tim for an hour; this will be mostly about drafting lyrics.
Thursday (if they did not finish on Wednesday): Students send their draft lyrics etc. to their teacher, who will forward to Tim. Students may type their lyrics, or just email photos of hand-written pages, or whatever works for you and your students.
I will have a draft of a song in the teacher’s email by the following Monday. Please let me know if there are any significant errors or omissions with content or vocabulary; once everyone is satisfied I will record it!
Most groups prefer to do their own topic for a song rather than having multiple groups write about the exact same thing; but if you like, the groups can do songs on a common theme. For example, if you wanted to do songs about vertebrates each group could do a different class of them (bird, fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal); or for a math operation such as long division, each group could set a different story problem to music; or for civil rights, each group could do a song about a different civil rights hero, etc.
Above all, I want this to work for you and your kids; so any feedback you can share is welcome. If you find the GriffinEd virtual songwriting residency to be a good use of your students’ time, please let your colleagues know and convey to them our invitation to participate.
Tim Griffin is a retired elementary teacher (18 years LAUSD); an award-winning writer and performer of (mostly) educational songs for young people; and the founding director of GriffinEd, a nonprofit team of educators and musicians helping teachers to use music to enhance learning in all subjects. More info (and tons of free music!) are online at GriffinEd.org
What follows is intended as OPTIONAL background reading; it may add some depth and context to the workshops. Teachers, use your judgment about whether or not to assign it.
Here are a few examples of effective songwriting along with some comments on how and why they work.
I want to be the very best
Like no one ever was
To catch them is my real test
To train them is my cause
I will travel across the land
Searching far and wide
Each Pokémon to understand
The power that’s inside…
Pokémon! Gotta catch ‘em all!
-written by John Siegler and John Loeffler, performed by Jason Paige
-This is a good example of expository writing: it explains a topic or answers a question.
-Like the show, the song features several important themes. A theme is what makes a song, story, etc. connect to us in a personal and meaningful way beyond the surface action. Kids collecting weird little creatures in the forest is fine, but why is the story important? To put it another way, why should we care if Ash catches them all or just gives up and goes home? Exploration, persistence, teamwork, loyalty, and courage are themes that come up in the show, so it’s good that some of them come up in the song as well.
-Snap, clap, or step to the rhythm of the song while you hear it. Note there are four beats per line, or eight if you clap the half-beats. A song may use pretty much any pattern of beats (the pattern of beats is what we call the meter in music lingo), but a song will usually be easier to sing and remember if the meter is mostly consistent for the whole song.
-Instead of writing all the way across the page, lyrics usually break up lines to call attention to the rhyme and meter. This is why the first line of the song ends on the word best, so we will see how it matches up later with test.
-The rhyme scheme here is ABAB, which just means that line 1 rhymes with line 3, while line 2 rhymes with line 4 and so on; but many songs go AABB or ABCB or whatever. For that matter, was and cause do not rhyme quite perfectly, but that’s okay because the /uh/ sound is nearly the same as /aw/ when you sing them out loud.
-While a catchy meter and rhyme are great, we do NOT expect to see them in the first draft of a song! Most of the songs you have heard were revised and polished a lot before publishing.
-For our first draft, please do not worry about rhyme or meter; but focus rather on the need to clearly explain our topic and help people understand it better, just as the Pokémon song explains why a bunch of kids would leave their homes to wander in the forest for months at a time… which is not something we normally encourage children to do during the school year.
-This song was written by two people working together; teamwork can be a good thing.
-The writer of a song may not be the one who winds up performing it; but when that happens the writer still gets 10% of any money earned by the song. This is how songwriters can earn a living! Gene Autry, for example, made enough money from other people performing his song “Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer” to buy the California Angels baseball team and to build the Autry Museum.
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
Let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing
And fell for everything.
-written and performed by Katy Perry
-The rhyme scheme is AABB.
-Many of the rhymes are not perfect (breath/mess, choice/point) and that’s okay.
-Note that Perry writes two long lines and then two short ones, but the meter is still four beats for each line; she just sings the shorter lines more slowly so they take as much time as the longer lines.
-This is a good song to look at when we write about history, biography, chemical reactions, physics, or any other subject that involves things changing over time. In this case the narrator in the song was weak and frightened at first; then she recognized her own power and took control of her situation. These themes of personal growth and transformation are what make the song so much more meaningful than if it were only about a girl leaving a mean boyfriend.
-Like most songs, this one has several verses where Perry develops her supporting ideas; each verse is a new “step” in her transformation from a weak and submissive girl to a strong, self-driven woman.
-The most important message, “You’re gonna hear me ROAR,” goes in the chorus (also called a refrain) so she can say it again later. There is great power in repetition.
Hep hep, de-boodle-de-ack, de-boodle-de-ackasaki
Hep hep, oh rang-tang, te-dah-dah
Hep hep, gonna tell you about the jumpin’ jive.
– by Calloway, Froeba, and Palmer; performed by Cab Calloway
-No idea what he’s talking about here, but it is clearly something awesome. If you can be super! excited! about your song, so will your audience; so whatever your song is about, try to perform it like it’s the greatest! thing! ever!
-But seriously, context is important here because it lets the audience make some good guesses about what you mean even if you do not explain it clearly. Whatever “jumpin’ jive” is, we can guess it’s something that happens at a fancy club where everyone is wearing fancy clothes, dancing to an amazing band, and having loads of fun. Is the “jumpin’ jive” a dance? A necktie? A special dessert on the dinner menu? Take my money, I want some of that Jumpin’ Jive and I don’t even know what it is.
-Mr. Calloway goes on to warn us:
Now don’t you be that ickeroo
Get hep, come on and follow through.
-Again, context. We can tell that being “ickeroo” is bad; maybe something like being icky?
-Rather, we should be “hep,” which is not clearly defined but we can be pretty sure it is something good. So, get hep.
-Whatever topic we write about in our own songs, we will use context (especially for the harder vocabulary words) to help our audience understand what we are singing about.
-This is not a dance workshop, but if you want to try creating some choreography for your song I want to see it! Please warm up first and don’t hurt yourself.
Some More Thoughts On Songwriting
Here is an outline of how I write songs and lyric poetry, along with suggestions for putting the process into practice. Bear in mind these are guidelines, not rules, so do whatever works for you. Having said that, give these ideas a try:
Step 1: Choosing a Topic
What will you write about? You want to choose a subject you understand well enough that you could write a few good paragraphs about it. If you know enough to write a whole book about your topic, you should probably narrow your focus. In fifth grade, for example, writing a song about “Science” is almost certainly too broad. “Biology” is better; “Cells” is probably about right.
Now ask yourself what the MOST IMPORTANT THING about the song is: if the listener remembers just one thing, what should it be? Everything else in the song ought to be directed toward that one idea. In a regular essay we call this the topic or thesis and you usually state it in your first paragraph; in musical lyrics it is often called the hook and it usually happens in the chorus, the part of the song that repeats several times, which is also called the refrain if you want to get technical. When you get to the revision step of your process (NOT during drafting!), you’ll want to identify and then revise or remove anything that’s off topic. By the way, this is true for any type of communication; if you want to be clear and convincing, stay on your topic so your audience can stay with you!
Step 2: Supporting Ideas
Each verse (there are usually 3 or 4 of these in a song) should develop one important aspect of your topic, just as each paragraph in the “body” of a multi-paragraph essay would. During your pre-writing time, note all of the important things you want people to learn about your topic. It’s fine to write down more than 3 or 4 for now, but before drafting you should go back and identify the 3 or 4 you think are most important; save the rest for another day.
If you can’t think of enough important things to say about your topic, consider making your topic broader. If you have too many important things to say about your topic, consider narrowing your topic down.
If you are writing a song that tells a story, your main ideas will probably need to include the beginning, middle, and end of the story. If a story has too many “key” events to cram into one song (this is true for most big novels, for example), you may want to narrow your focus down to one character, location, or event. Writing a song about The Lord Of The Rings would be a mammoth task, but you could probably write a good song about one character (i.e. Frodo or Gandalf) or an interesting location (Mordor or the Shire).
Step 3: Key Words and Rhymes
For each of your 3 or 4 supporting ideas, write down several key “detail” words or phrases you would use to discuss that idea. Write down a few rhyming words for each of them, preferably words that relate to your topic somehow; for example, “Galileo” rhymes with “mayo” but I’m not sure how they relate. Rhymezone is a great resource for finding rhyming words. Even if you already have some good rhymes, you may find better ones there.
Don’t worry if you can’t find rhymes for all of your words, you just won’t use those words on the end of a line.
Step 4: Draft
Now the scary part: just start writing. For each key word you identified to go with a big idea, try to make a rhymed couplet. Here’s an example from a song by a fourth-grade class studying inventors in one of my residencies:
Robert Baker took a chicken
Made a nugget finger lickin’!
James Gamble was no dope
He invented floating soap
Marconi, you should know,
Gave us all the radio
Volta lived in Italy
That’s where he built a battery
Note that the rhyme pattern here is AABBCC etc. because the rhymes are arranged in simple pairs. If you want to do something more elaborate (and maybe more interesting), try for a more complicated rhyme scheme. For beginners, though, I recommend simple rhymed couplets as above.
Another thing about rhymes: a key word (the detail word you thought of before you found a rhyme for it) will usually be more effective if you can make it fit at the end of the second line of a couplet instead of the first. See the lines about inventions above? Note that the invention comes in the second line of each couplet.
As you write, consider how many “beats” you have per line and what kind of rhythm you’ve got. Does it go DA-da-da-DA-da-da or maybe DA-da-DA-da-DA-da or what? Don’t worry about this too much for now, but later (during revision) you may want to fiddle with the words to make the song “flow” more smoothly. There’s a lot of technical language for meter, but really it’s all about choosing words that carry a steady, natural-sounding beat when read aloud.
If your first few lines look really awkward (mine usually do), try to leave them alone for now and just keep writing. Very often, the next few lines will spark new ideas that will show you how to go back later and make the whole thing work better. Seriously, don’t get caught up in fixing everything just yet!
You don’t always have to start with the beginning of the song. Maybe you’ve got an idea you like for the chorus or even the ending? Fine, you can write that first if you want.
While you are drafting, there are no bad ideas. In reality, of course, there are plenty of bad ideas but it’s hard to know the good from the bad before they are written, so for now you should presume that every idea might be a good one. Write them all down no matter how dumb they may seem; you can sort out the junk later and use the good parts!
If a song just isn’t coming together, don’t beat your head against your desk; take a break and do something else for a while. A lot of creative work goes on at the subconscious level, so a part of your brain will keep mulling on your musical ideas while you are doing your math homework, brushing your dog, baking cookies, or whatever else you do to relax. I think I baked about 30 apple pies while writing songs for my last album! My wife thought I had gone crazy, but she appreciated the pie.
Step 5: Revise
If possible, take a break after drafting for at least a day before doing this so you can look at your work with fresh eyes. Then go back and start changing things. Words, lines, and even whole verses can and should be examined, dissected, rearranged, or eliminated. If drafting is the time to let ideas flow freely, revision is the time to be merciless with your work.
Anything that doesn’t clearly address the topic should be changed or removed, no matter how awesome it sounds. If you have a really awesome verse or chorus that just doesn’t fit this topic, save it for another song.
Read your lyrics out loud while keeping rhythm with your body; do any of the words “break” your rhythm or just sound strange? Try finding another way to say the same thing. If you just can’t make a word “fit” properly in a line, maybe a synonym will work. Note, however, that sometimes you may want a word or phrase to break the rhythm for emphasis; and a to0-perfect rhythm and meter may start to sound boring after a while.
Try singing your song in a completely different way than you first imagined it. If you conceived it as a rap song, try singing it as a country song or a slow romantic ballad. Try singing it like Ray Charles or Justin Bieber. (Maybe do this when other people are NOT nearby…) As weird as it sounds, I find that new and better lyrics often come when I try singing in a different style or voice.
I am a bit hesitant about this next idea. If (and only if) your ego can take it, consider whom you can ask for honest, thoughtful feedback about your work. Most people are reluctant to criticize (these are the ones who say “Oh, it’s very nice,” to everything) but a few friends will tell you what they really think if you ask seriously. Listen to what they say and consider it. Note that you do not have to agree with what they say, nor do you have to take their advice: after all, they may be wrong. But you should listen.
If you can, come back multiple times for another look at your work. The more time you allow for revision, the better your work will probably be. In my own songs, I usually spend more time on revision than on all the rest combined.
Step 6: Publish
There are plenty of ways to share your work: school magazines, live shows, YouTube, CD’s (surprisingly cheap to make nowadays), etc. Be creative.
If you’re too intimidated to perform your own music, maybe someone else will do it for you. There’s probably a garage band somewhere near you that would be happy to have some original music to play. The way they play it may be very different from the way you heard it in your head. That’s okay; it’s called collaboration.
I suggest you share a song “live” a bunch of times before you commit to a published recording. This allows you to go back and revise the song some more if you want. Once it’s on the web or a CD, it’s harder to change things.
You may be amazed at how much your audience might love a song you think is totally dumb, so get a second opinion before tossing a song in the “fail” pile. I once wrote a really awful song about boogers and people still ask for it all the time… Of course, the opposite may also be true: you pour your heart and soul into a song and it flops with the audience. Don’t take it personally, just keep writing.
Remember, you don’t have to publish everything. Write a lot and then share only your best stuff! However, you really should keep your “failures” (I have piles of these) someplace where you can come back to them later; you may find that in a week or a year, you will look at that “failed” song and see a way to make it work, or maybe just take the best piece of it for a new project.
A few suggestions for writing about…
One cool thing when we write about science is that the topic and vocabulary are usually pretty well defined for us. If you don’t already have a list of the key vocabulary terms for the topic, check your science textbook or ask your teacher. The hardest part about science songs is that you can’t just make stuff up; it’s got to be correct! Do some research before you write, and then show your work to someone who knows the subject well enough to catch your mistakes.
The biggest trick here is to choose (and stay on) a suitable topic without going too broad or too narrow. If you want to write about the American Revolution, for example, maybe you should choose one specific aspect of it. One of my workshop groups wrote a pretty good song that was just about taxation without representation. Another approach is to tell about a big event, but from the perspective of one individual.
For a complex math procedure, first write in words the steps of the operation without worrying about rhyme or meter. Then go back and see if you can paraphrase the steps in a way that fits a rhythm. Story problems are good for writing about math, especially if it’s a compelling story!
Two problems here: first, it has been done and done. Second, it’s such a broad topic. If you must write a song for your beloved, try comparing them to something novel (You’re the ketchup on my fries/The whipped cream on my pumpkin pies) or, as would a good novelist, find a “telling detail” that shows, rather than tells, something important about the beloved or the relationship. When Ingrid Michaelson sings, “I’ll buy you Rogaine when you start losing all your hair,” she shows us that not only is she willing to run mundane errands for her beloved, but also that she’s in it for the long haul even though she knows her beloved will not always be young and beautiful. That’s a lot to say in one line! Plus it does not sound all sappy and embarrassing the way so many love songs do.
If this description makes writing lyrics look like a clean, linear process, you should know that in practice most writers jump back and forth between the steps (or skip them entirely) quite a lot. As you draft, you may find you need to go back and fiddle with your topic; you may perform a song and then realize you need to go back and revise or even replace a whole verse. As with all creative endeavors, songwriting is a messy, imprecise craft; so please consider my (or any other) writing process as a starting point but do not feel beholden to it.
I cannot say this enough: make sure you separate your drafting from revision! If you get caught up in “fixing” everything before you write it down, you are likely to psych yourself out and not finish anything.
It is fine to write lyrics to the tune of an existing song if you like; this is what we usually do in my songwriting workshops. If you do not play an instrument, you can sing your own lyrics to a karaoke version of the song. Be aware that there are rules about publishing songs with other people’s music, so do some research on that before sharing your work widely. If the original song is old enough (pre-1925 as of this writing), you can do whatever you want with it.
Keep some writing tools (a journal, laptop or tablet computer, etc.) nearby at all times, including when you sleep in case you wake up with an idea. Ideas should be written down now and evaluated later.
Good writers also read a lot. If you want to write lyrics or poetry, find some poets whose work you enjoy (they need not be “important” poets) and immerse yourself in their work. Read it out loud! Some of my favorites are Rudyard Kipling, Robert Service, Wallace McRae, Ogden Nash, Baxter Black, and Les Barker. Your taste will differ, of course.
Here’s the most important thing: don’t take songwriting (or any creative task) too seriously. It’s okay to create junk! I spend most of my writing time doing exactly that. You are probably your own most severe critic, so see if you can get the negative voices in your head (“you can’t do this, you’re not good enough,” etc.) to shut up while you write. Try to make a deal with those voices by promising you’ll let them have a turn later when you are revising your work.
I hope this helps… if you have any favorite writing tricks I’ve left out, please let me know!