Editorial: What is a Song?

In this week’s edition of our “Editiorials” column, multi-platinum songwriter Andrea Stolpe tackles the question of what is a song. As a lifelong lover of songwriting and an educator on the subject, she offers up her own perspective on this fundamental topic.

Songs have many facets, and are defined as combinations of words and music that use rhythm, harmony and a beat to communicate emotion and meaning. They can be a vehicle for religious expression, social protest or personal confession and are often used as literary works that examine the human condition and offer a critical and creative voice within religious canons. They may also serve as cultural touchstones, celebrating events, providing a sense of history, and providing a vehicle for cross-cultural learning.

The first step in writing a song is usually to find an idea for a lyric. This could come from your own experiences, or it might be a phrase or line of lyrics that captures the heart of a particular time or place. Then, once you’ve found a lyric, work on crafting a melody to go with it. For example, if the lyric asks a question, try incorporating a rising motion into the melody as a way to evoke an answer.

Finally, once you’ve got a melody and lyric down, it’s time to add the other elements of song: the chord structure, the arrangement, and the overall flow of the piece. It’s a good idea to play around with different arrangements of your song and see what feels right, as there is no one set way that a song should be written or structured.