Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Writing my first song, part 1

Songwriting is an organic process to me. I take in experiences and observe the world around me, and then I express myself and act in the world. Some experiences are a lot easier to express in music than any other way for me, especially highly emotional experiences. Click here for chords and lyrics to On my own, I'm always here.

From December 2006My first song, called "On my own", I started writing in the fall of 2007, at the age of 20. I was in Denmark doing a volunteer work/study in preparation of going to Malawi, Africa. Before this, I had lived my whole life in Sweden with my parents and spent a few weeks here and there on vacation, so this was the first time I really took off on my own. After I had been in Denmark for a few months, going home every now and then, I started to realize how much having my family around meant to me and how much I was missing their every day support.

There was no one there who I felt that I could talk to. Sure, I told people that I missed my family, but everyone was busy with their own lives so no one gave that deeper care and support to me. I had gotten my acoustic guitar two years earlier and learned all basic chords along with a number of songs, but none of the songs that I knew could express the feeling I had inside me. It wasn't a choice on my side, it was just a matter of putting to paper the difficulties I was going through, as a way of being heard and seen.

With my songs, it always starts the same way. I have a feeling inside that I need to express but telling someone just isn't enough. So I connect with my heart and listen to what's inside, with the guitar in my arms. I start playing around with different chords until I find a progression that resonates with the feeling inside me. In this case those chords were Am, G, Dm, Am. That simple.

I started playing those chords to myself a couple of times, listening again to my heart and finding a tune that fits the chords. I start singing and put words to the tune that are the concrete expression of that feeling inside my heart, just one line at first and then a verse. I always keep the flow going and never judge what comes out. Sometimes I don't think the rhyme is the best, sometimes I wish the words could be more profound, but the song is already inside me and I am simply writing it down. If I start judging the the whole process just stops and I get stuck.

Describes my inner state of consciousness at the time

So once I finished writing the first verse with four lines and repeating those four chords, I felt that it was time for a chorus. Now I try to find a new set of chords that can take my emotional expression to the next level where a climax is reached. I play around a little bit again and decide to extend the last part of the verse with an extra measure of the chord G to then move into the chorus with the chords C, G, Dm, Am (notice that I never used C in the song before this).

Music theory states that G is the dominant to C, and thus a good chord to lead into the C. That's one reason it felt good to end the verse on a G rather than Am. I studied music theory in Uppsala, Sweden, the year before I went to Denmark and it was very useful to my songwriting. The most crucial theory in knowing how to put chords together is called "the Circle of Fifths". If you learn this, then you have a good foundation.

So, once again I started looking for a tune once I had the chords for the chorus, and then started singing the lyrics to myself and writing them down as they were vocalized. After two lines of C, G, Dm, Am I felt that the chorus needed something more, something with suspension, in order to represent what I was feeling. I felt stuck inside, with so many worries circling my mind so I decided to just play the G chord for a whole line and the lyrics that go with list all the things I was wishing I had in my life. This repetition of one chord was followed by an F and then ended on a C, which gives a certain suspension since F is the sub-dominant to C (notice that I never used F in the song before this). Once again, I refer to "the Circle of Fifths" for greater understanding about this.

So now I had my first verse and my first chorus and it felt natural to write a second verse and a second chorus, which ended on F, G, C rather than just F, C. In music theory it's called an "authentic cadence" to end of G, C (which is the fifth followed by the tonic). This was the complete song for two years until I came to study in the US at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. Since I've already written a hefty portion, I will continue the story of this song in my next entry where you can read about the later additions that came around. I heard someone say that you never finish a song, you just put it on the shelf.

Read "Writing my first song, part 2"!

On my own 
By Patrik Siljestam

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  1. it inspires me to write a song as well. thank you for sharing... and anyways, I love your picture with long hair :D

    1. I'm glad you're inspired! It was kinda the reason I wrote the whole process down, to inspire others :)

    2. shweezth.... <3
      anyways, getting more ideas for the fundraiser! I am excited!!!!

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