YEARS ago, I wrote reviews for a few songwriting books that truly raised the bar, compared to ALL songwriting books before them…. they’re all by Rikky Rooksby (British guitar instructor at Oxford University, and a well-known author of music books and guitar magazine articles).
The first is How To Write Songs On Guitar (Rikky Rooksby). This book truly covers it ALL, seriously. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing songs on guitar (and not just using open chords and/or open chords plus a capo)… he covers triads, extended chords (7ths, added 9ths, suspended chords, etc. etc)… he talks about chords that fit together, how to write melodies (instrumental and vocal melodies)… and, he gives countless chord progressions, and talks about the songs that use those chord sequences. He teaches how to do fingerstyle/folk stuff… he even goes over arranging songs and how to record guitars and use different voicings so the recordings don’t become too monotonous or boring…. AND… he has a chapter on writing better lyrics. If you’re going to buy ONE book on songwriting… buy this one.
Amazon always has it for around $14, and it’s a friggin’ steal. I’m not kidding. The Updated/Expanded 2nd edition has a better layout, and mentions EVERY band when a song that uses a certain chord progression is given as example… so you can quickly look it up and hear how it goes, or how that progression goes. Truly a book worthy of your time. My songwriting improved tenfold after buying that book, no joke. I can’t believe it’s been ten years since I first discovered it.
Rooksby has an entire series of songwriting books…. here are their names, in order of release date:
1 How To Write Songs On Guitar
2 Inside Classic Rock Tracks (dissects 100 songs from the 50s to now… arrangement-wise, and also gives 100 really solid writing tips). Don’t be confused by the term “classic rock” – he means “rock songs that are classic”.
3 Riffs (this isn’t that great, but worth a read)
4 The Songwriting Sourcebook (I’ll talk about this more after I list all the books)
5 Chord Master (basically a very elaborate guitar chord dictionary)
6 Melody (mmm… this isn’t that great, either… but it has some good stuff)
7 How To Write Songs On Keyboards (very, very good.)
8 Lyrics (the best book EVER for lyric ideas)
9 Arranging Songs (another very good book)
10 How To Write Songs In Altered Guitar Tunings (confusing, but very good)
This covers chord progressions and arrangements, for each part of a song… intro, verse, chorus, bridge (aka “middle-eight”, outro, etc)… it talks about the science of how the chords create expectation or surprise.. and how everything goes together in a cohesive manner. FANTASTIC BOOK. There are 20 instrumental songs on the accompanying CD, and they cover various styles… really interesting arrangements, but the strength of the book comes from everything on every page. This book is a little more expensive ($16 on amazon) than How To Write Songs On Guitar, but again… a great companion book.
Lastly, is Rooksby’s book “How To Write Songs On Keyboards.” This isn’t as comprehensive as How To Write Songs On Guitar, but it still covers a LOT of ground, and the best part is, you don’t really need to know music theory to write songs on piano or keyboard, if you have this book. Nearly every example is on CD… and he really covers EVERYTHING… no joke. The only thing that will make your piano/keyboard songs better is actual piano technique that comes from private lessons, usually (doing the fancy finger things that great piano songwriters do). But you will learn a TON from this book.
Three books that will totally kill your writer’s block, forever. Seriously. It helps to know at least a little music theory, but even if you don’t, you’ll be able to get a lot from all three of these books, especially the first.