Starting your songwriting journey or looking to fine-tune your craft? The key to mastering the art lies in learning from those who’ve navigated the lyrical labyrinth before you.
To fast-track your musical evolution, we’ve curated a definitive list of songwriting books that delve into both the art and the science of songcraft. From constructing emotive lyrics and forming captivating melodies to mastering the nuances of storytelling and creative philosophy, these handpicked titles are your roadmap to becoming a songwriting maestro.
Best Books on Songwriting
Check out our pick of the best books on songwriting below…
Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison
If you’re looking to seriously up your lyric-writing game, “Writing Better Lyrics” is the book you’ll want to dive into. Authored by Pat Pattison, a well-regarded professor at Berklee College of Music, the book is more than a quick read—it’s a deep study into the mechanics of lyric writing. Pattison tackles everything from word choice to rhyme schemes and metaphors, all while offering practical exercises that make these sometimes abstract concepts genuinely usable. What makes this book particularly effective is its balance between theory and hands-on practice, featuring real-world examples that bring the teachings to life. Whether you’re an aspiring songwriter or already have some experience, this book provides the tools you need to enhance both the emotional depth and technical skill of your lyrics.
Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting by Jimmy Webb
When it comes to understanding the craft of songwriting, “Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting” by Jimmy Webb is a standout resource. Webb, the genius behind classics like “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” offers an in-depth look into the songwriting process from concept to completion. The book covers a broad range of topics, from melody composition and chord progressions to the subtle art of storytelling through music. One of the unique features is Webb’s personal anecdotes and experiences, which offer a behind-the-scenes look into the professional songwriting world. For songwriters seeking to grasp the complexities of song structure, melody, and lyrical depth, this book is an invaluable guide.
Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo
“Songwriters on Songwriting” offers a fresh perspective by letting successful songwriters do the talking. Compiled by Paul Zollo, this book is a collection of in-depth interviews with renowned songwriters like Bob Dylan, Carole King, and Paul Simon. Rather than focusing solely on the technical aspects of songwriting, this volume dives into the inspiration, the process, and even the struggles that these artists face. It’s less of a manual and more of a rich tapestry of insights and experiences from those who’ve made a significant mark on the music industry. For songwriters curious about the thought process behind some of the most iconic songs, this book offers a goldmine of wisdom.
The Craft of Lyric Writing by Sheila Davis
If you’ve ever wondered how to craft lyrics that resonate with listeners, “The Craft of Lyric Writing” by Sheila Davis is worth your attention. Davis, who has decades of experience in the field, focuses on the subtleties that can turn a good lyric into a great one. Topics such as emotional impact, language, and phrasing are covered with meticulous detail. The book is rich with exercises and case studies that help demystify the lyric-writing process. It serves as both a theoretical guide and a practical workbook, blending academic rigour with hands-on activities to help you internalise the principles discussed. Ideal for those who are keen to delve into the finer aspects of lyric crafting, this book is a great resource.
How to Write Songs on Guitar by Rikky Rooksby
If you’re a guitarist keen to venture into songwriting, “How to Write Songs on Guitar” by Rikky Rooksby is an essential read. The book offers a well-rounded approach, incorporating both musical theory and practical skills. Topics range from chord progressions and melody lines to lyrics and song structure. With the aid of example songs and exercises, Rooksby manages to cover a lot of ground in a way that’s accessible to both beginners and more experienced musicians. This book is a valuable asset for anyone looking to combine guitar skills with the craft of songwriting.
The Addiction Formula by Friedemann Findeisen
“The Addiction Formula” by Friedemann Findeisen offers a unique angle on songwriting. If you’re curious about why some songs get stuck in your head while others don’t, this is the book for you. Findeisen explores the science of songwriting, breaking down the elements that make a song addictive and memorable. With concepts like tension, surprise, and contrast covered in depth, the book encourages a more analytical approach to song creation. It’s an insightful read for anyone interested in the psychology behind impactful music, providing tools to help you craft songs that not only resonate but also captivate the listener.
The Art of Songwriting by Ed Bell
“The Art of Songwriting” by Ed Bell is a book that invites you to think of songwriting as more than just stringing words and melodies together—it’s an art form. Bell covers a wide spectrum of topics from musical composition to storytelling, aiming to help songwriters create works that are both technically sound and emotionally compelling. Through a mix of theory, examples, and exercises, the book guides the reader in understanding the nuances that elevate a song from good to great. If you’re looking to gain a comprehensive view of songwriting, this book is a solid resource.
Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting by Ralph Murphy
Ever wondered what makes a hit song? “Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting” by Ralph Murphy addresses just that. Murphy, a seasoned songwriter and producer, offers his own set of ‘laws’ based on years of experience in the industry. The book dives into the anatomy of chart-topping songs, dissecting what makes them so effective in captivating audiences. While the focus is on creating hits, the principles can be applied to any genre, offering valuable insights into structure, melody, and lyrical content. If you’re keen to understand the formula behind successful songs, this book is a must-read.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Although not exclusively about songwriting, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King is a seminal work on the creative process. King shares his journey, from struggling writer to best-selling author, offering valuable lessons on discipline, creativity, and storytelling. While the book is tailored more towards novelists and storytellers, its insights into the mechanics of writing can easily be applied to songwriting. If you’re seeking to enhance your storytelling skills in lyricism, this book provides a wealth of inspiration and wisdom.
This Business of Songwriting by Jason Blume
Jason Blume’s “This Business of Songwriting” is ideal for songwriters who are looking to turn their passion into a profession. While it does delve into the artistic aspects of songwriting, the book also shines a light on the business side of things—from contracts and publishing rights to marketing and networking. It’s a comprehensive guide for anyone considering a career in songwriting, equipping you with both the creative and practical skills needed to succeed in the industry.
Composing Music: A New Approach by William Russo, Jeffrey Ainis
Primarily aimed at composers, “Composing Music: A New Approach” by William Russo and Jeffrey Ainis is nevertheless a useful resource for songwriters. The book focuses on musical composition, offering hands-on exercises and activities to improve your understanding of scales, chord progressions, and melodies. It serves as a great supplement to other songwriting books that might focus more on lyrics or the creative process. If you’re looking to strengthen your musical foundation, this book offers plenty of practical tools.
The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook
For those curious about the industry mechanics that churn out hits, “The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory” by John Seabrook is an intriguing read. Seabrook delves into the world of professional songwriting and production, highlighting key figures and groundbreaking techniques that have shaped popular music. While it doesn’t offer a how-to guide on songwriting, it provides a riveting behind-the-scenes look into the hit-making process, which can be invaluable for any aspiring songwriter.
The Secrets of Songwriting: Leading Songwriters Reveal How to Find Inspiration and Success by Susan Tucker
If you’re interested in the personal experiences and tips from successful songwriters, “The Secrets of Songwriting: Leading Songwriters Reveal How to Find Inspiration and Success” is the book for you. Compiled by Susan Tucker, it features interviews and insights from various industry professionals, giving you a diverse perspective on songwriting as a craft and business. Topics range from the importance of authenticity to understanding your audience. The book serves as a window into the lives and creative processes of those who have successfully navigated the industry, making it a motivating and informative read.
The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook by Karl Coryat and Nicholas Dobson
For those who find themselves in a creative rut, “The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook” by Karl Coryat and Nicholas Dobson offers unconventional approaches to shake things up. This book is all about getting past writer’s block and sparking creativity in new ways. It introduces the “Immersive Music Method,” encouraging you to break free from your typical songwriting patterns by immersing yourself in different musical environments or even non-musical activities. The authors provide various exercises and challenges to stir your imagination, making it an excellent resource for those times when you’re stuck and need a push to think outside the box.
Melody in Songwriting by Jack Perricone
Diving into the heart of music itself, “Melody in Songwriting” by Jack Perricone is focused on one of the most crucial aspects of a song—the melody. This book is a comprehensive study of how melodies are constructed, evolve, and elicit emotional responses. Perricone, who has a wealth of experience in the field, employs a balance of theory and practice. He explores melody in various styles, offering insights into how different musical elements interact to create a compelling tune. The book is full of examples and exercises, making it equally beneficial for newcomers and seasoned songwriters who wish to gain a deeper understanding of the art of melody crafting.
Writing Music for Hit Songs by Jai Josefs
For those looking to break into the mainstream, “Writing Music for Hit Songs” by Jai Josefs is a seminal work that decodes what it takes to make it to the charts. This book is not just about creating music; it’s about creating music that sells. Josefs discusses various elements of successful songs, from their structure and melody to lyrics and production. With a focus on modern popular music, the book analyses current trends to reveal the underlying formula behind commercially successful tracks. Detailed analyses of hit songs across genres provide a real-world context, making it easier to understand and apply the principles laid out in the book.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
While not specifically a songwriting book, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield is essential reading for anyone engaged in a creative endeavour, songwriters included. The book tackles the concept of ‘Resistance,’ that nebulous force that keeps us from doing our best work. Pressfield provides insights and strategies for overcoming this resistance and unlocking your creative potential. He talks about the mindset required to commit to your craft, pushing past internal and external barriers to produce art that resonates. Whether you’re grappling with writer’s block or struggling to find the discipline to write regularly, this book offers the psychological tools needed to succeed.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott is another book not strictly about songwriting, but its lessons on writing and creativity are universally applicable. Lamott adopts a nurturing, almost conversational tone as she discusses the emotional ups and downs that come with creating art. The book’s title itself is an allegory for taking things step by step, or “bird by bird,” teaching you not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the project ahead. Filled with humour, wisdom, and empathy, Lamott offers a deeply relatable look into the anxieties and joys of the creative process. From first drafts to final edits, the book serves as a compassionate guide for artists in any medium, including songwriters.
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
“The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is a classic manual on the principles of English language and writing. While not a songwriting book per se, its core lessons on clarity, simplicity, and precision in language can be incredibly useful for lyricists. This concise guide offers valuable tips on effective writing, such as omitting needless words and preferring the active voice, which are directly translatable to crafting impactful lyrics. It also includes elements of style that can help sharpen your lyric-writing skills, elevating them from good to great. In short, it’s a foundational text that anyone involved in the craft of writing—including songwriters—will find invaluable.
Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
“Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” is a book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath that delves into the mechanics of why some ideas ‘stick’ and others don’t. While the book is generally aimed at marketers, educators, and anyone involved in the dissemination of ideas, its principles can be remarkably useful for songwriters. The Heaths discuss six key principles—Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories—that make an idea or message memorable. For songwriters, understanding these principles can be instrumental in creating lyrics and music that resonate with the audience and stand the test of time. It offers a unique approach to capturing and maintaining the listener’s attention through storytelling and emotional engagement.
Great Songwriting Techniques by Jack Perricone
As the second book in the list by Jack Perricone, “Great Songwriting Techniques” is a treasure trove for anyone looking to refine their songwriting skills. Perricone, a seasoned songwriter and educator, focuses on techniques that make songs truly impactful. This book covers a range of elements—from structuring verses and choruses to crafting memorable hooks and bridges. What sets it apart is its focus on various genres, allowing you to adapt techniques accordingly. Packed with exercises, examples, and insights from the author’s extensive experience, this book is a comprehensive guide for songwriters looking to master the techniques that bring songs to life.
The Songwriter’s Workshop: Melody by Jimmy Kachulis
If you want to dive deep into the world of melody creation, “The Songwriter’s Workshop: Melody” by Jimmy Kachulis is a must-read. Kachulis, a seasoned educator and composer, takes you through the intricacies of constructing melodies that truly captivate your audience. The book delves into the science and art of melody, discussing everything from scales and modes to rhythm and phrasing. It also features hands-on exercises and real-world examples to solidify your understanding. Particularly helpful for both budding and experienced songwriters, this book helps you uncover the techniques and nuances that make a melody unforgettable.
Songwriting for Dummies by Jim Peterik, Dave Austin, and Cathy Lynn
“Songwriting for Dummies” is a comprehensive guide designed to make the sometimes overwhelming task of songwriting more approachable. Authored by accomplished songwriters Jim Peterik, Dave Austin, and Cathy Lynn, this book covers a plethora of topics to help you grasp the fundamentals. From understanding song structure and chord progressions to tips on lyrics and melodies, the book offers a step-by-step approach that’s particularly helpful for beginners. What sets this book apart is its accessibility; it manages to simplify complex musical and lyrical concepts without watering them down. If you’re looking to get started in songwriting or need a quick but thorough refresher, this book is an excellent starting point.
The Complete Singer-Songwriter by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
For the multi-talented individuals who not only pen their lyrics but also perform them, “The Complete Singer-Songwriter” by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers is a comprehensive guide worth exploring. Rodgers, an accomplished musician and writer, offers a holistic look at the craft, covering both the songwriting process and the aspects related to performance. The book touches on various topics, such as chord progressions, storytelling through lyrics, stage presence, and even the business side of being a singer-songwriter. With interviews from well-known singer-songwriters and practical exercises, this book serves as a complete package for anyone aiming to excel in both writing and performing.
Final Thoughts: Essential Books on Songwriting
The journey to mastering songwriting is a blend of consistent practice and a deep understanding of the craft’s intricacies. While there’s no substitute for putting pen to paper, it’s equally crucial to study the underlying techniques that separate the good songs from the unforgettable ones. Whether you’re a beginner strumming out your first chords or an established artist aiming for the charts, remember that each verse you write not only hones your skill but adds another layer to your unique voice in the world of music. Keep writing, keep learning, and who knows—your next song might just be the hit you’ve been waiting for.