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Songwriting: Therapy Through Lyrics and Tunes

April 8, 2020

Unlike books, a song is forced to condense a tale into only the essential pieces, all set to a tune – the art of songwriting is just as nuanced in rap as it is in rock, with each word being carefully chosen to convey a message or describe a situation. Garth Brooks echoed this when he once said, “in advertising, you have a small window to say the most you can. That’s what songwriting is. The difference is, you get to put the leaves on the trees and colour ’em in.”

Songwriting has acted as a therapeutic hobby for me for many years. My earliest memories of penning verses and a basic melody were during sermons as my likely ADHD brain ignored what the preacher said from the pulpit and instead locked in on trying to convey what I knew about how God thought about me into song. In high school, I somehow convinced my history teacher to allow me to write a musical based on material learned in the class and classroom inside jokes and perform it for extra credit. After remembering the lullaby my mother would sing to me occasionally as I fell asleep, I attempted to write a ditty I would sing to my future kids as they fell asleep. The purposes behind songwriting for me range from entertainment purposes to the need to articulate a situation creatively, so that I can process as I write and help someone else understand where I’m coming from through song.

Researchers have concluded that there often is a therapeutic effect in songwriting. Professor Felicity Baker sees an immense benefit to songwriting in a confessional sense: “it is more socially acceptable to share your story of abuse in a song than in a conversation, and [therefore] maybe easier for the person to share the story in that form, and for the audience to receive it. Importantly, the music creation process helps people to express the intensity of the emotions experienced in their stories, to express ambivalent feelings, and to create climax and resolutions.”

In full confession, this hobby has mainly seen two types of songs: sad songs and love songs (and occasionally a sad love song). I have written songs that I would hope to one day be able to perform for the woman I wrote them about – something she did, the way she made me feel –  all wrapped up in a four minute orchestration just to be able to convey to her that I thought long and hard about her. Who wouldn’t adore having a good love song written about them? N.H. Kleinbaum writes in his book turned movie, Dead Poets Society, “language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”

But on the other side of the equation is the therapeutic need to creatively and dramatically voice the deep sorrows I have felt. Loneliness, fear, anxiousness – all these uneasy topics have been covered as I have pieced together songs. A good artist covers the full technicolor spectrum of emotions in their work because much like life, it’s typically not all one thing – not all love, not all sadness, not all happiness – but instead is a flurry of a bunch of different experiences and emotions.

The process typically starts with an overall concept or a specific lyric to work off. In my song “Scooby,” I was coming off of a Toy Story mindset and imagined that the life-size Scooby-Doo stuffed animal that my grandmother gave to me when I was two was alive, and I wondered what I would say to him. I’d want him to know that I appreciated how he had been there consistently and unchanging, so I wrote, “You’ve been on my bed since I was a kid. I may have grown up, but you never did,” and I would want to reassure him that I have plans for him for the long haul by saying, “There’ll come a day when my wife takes the bed, hate to admit but you’ll be in the shed, but someday I’ll have a kid of my own, and I’ll give you to them you’ll have a new home”. Oddly enough, articulating that in song provided a weird sense of closure for me and allows those who hear it to get a view into my extensive imagination.

I often will try to mentally describe situations and feelings in a single clever sentence and when I manufacture a line that raises a creative eyebrow, I stop all other functions to narrow in on piecing together other lyrics to compliment it. After reviewing a summer crush I had in my mind, I realized that a common occurrence within my life was developing crushes on people of similar looks to that person unintentionally. As a result, the lyric “I didn’t know I had a type until I met you” helped me to develop my song “Your Biggest Fan.”  Although not completely relevant to the situation, I was specifically writing about with the original line, the rhyme, “Searching for you all over campus, can’t get you out of my hippocampus” couldn’t be passed up so that was thrown in as well and from there an entire love song developed.

Regardless of whether a single lyric or melody or even chord progression starts the process of songwriting for me, it’s just nice to be able to take what is cluttering up the inside of my brain and creatively pen it so that others could read and gain understanding of my life and feelings. My writings could one day be released for the public to hear, but that would be a big step for me purely because I would be inviting people into a very vulnerable outlet. Regardless of whether an album or EP comes from this hobby of songwriting or not, I will continue to pour out my mind into this therapeutic practice because stories are worth sharing, tunes are worth humming, and lyrics are worth writing.






Written by: Landen Swain

Landen believes the human experience longs to be expressed; through our art, our labor, our songs, our storytelling. As a published playwright, author, and poet, he enjoys expressing his little chapter of the human experience through his writings and is thankful that the SA blog allows him to do that. He is published in numerous magazines, literary journals, and has several plays published by Off the Wall Plays, an online play publishing house.