As a newcomer to songwriting I’m still at that stage where I just can’t gather information quickly enough. I’m eager to find out as much about the craft of songwriting as possible.
Although the internet is a fantastic resource, it still feels great to sit down and absorb things a little more slowly with a good old fashioned book. And I’ve been reading as many songwriting, lyric writing books or books about songwriters as I can lay my hands on.
So here are some reviews of books I’ve read recently. Just my opinion, you may well disagree.


31 Songs by Nick Hornby

Price: £8.95 Lets get things straight from the start with this one, it is not a book about songwriting. But its attraction for me as an apprentice songwriter was that it offered the potential of an insight into why people like songs. What makes a song connect deeply enough for it to reach someone's all-time top 31 songs list. Having read the book, and enjoyed doing so, I can honestly say I am no more enlightened. Perhaps like all of us, Hornby has no distinct pattern to the music he likes. He exposes no particular love for a genre or specific words or sounds that trigger the deep connection he has with certain songs. What unfolds in Hornby's Desert-Island-Disc-like manuscript is more a diary of events and life stages for which each chosen song was (and is) a title track. We could all do the same.  And there lies the connection as a reader. Even in vague terms, we all go through the same stages in life. Being a boy, struggling to find an identity as a teenager, the first fumblings of lust, love won and lost, marriage, parenthood, etc etc. Throughout the book you can't help but draw parallels and ask your self what your song of the moment was that stage. And as you do, you find yourself smiling, frowning and sometimes even wiping away a tear or two. I'm not suggesting for a second that this is a deep and meaningful book. But it is written by an author with a tremendous track record of emotional honesty and if you have read his other works (as I have) you will enjoy the occasional connections with, and references to, those milestones in Nick's actual and fictional life. An interesting twist I didn't expect was that after a few chapters I back-tracked and started reading again, this time making a point of listening to each track the chapter was a dedicated to carefully before reading it. Each one was a no-brain find on Youtube and as I listened I enjoyed sinking into Hornby's soul a little more. I relaxed and relished each chapter along with its musical accompaniment and discovered some interesting new music in the process. 31-songsAll that said, if this book were a movie it would not be an action thriller, a weepy romance or a rib tickling comedy. It would be a 'human interest' movie. The kind of film in which the joy is simply to be found in the everyday interactions and emotions of normal people living normal lives. I have to confess to enjoying that kind of film and being captivated by this book in a very similar way. As I closed the last page of the 208 pages I certainly felt as if I knew Hornby more intimately - and liked him more than I expected to. On reflection that's simply down to the style of the book which felt like an informal, often rambling conversation with a mate down at the local pub. But I can't help wondering if there had been another side to the conversation, what alternatives would I have offered as my 31 songs? And what would my new-found imaginary drinking buddy Nick have thought of my 31-song choices and the reasons behind them? In Summary Don't expect to learn anything or to ever be on the edge of your seat by this easy and pleasing read which is made much more enjoyable if you check the tracks out first.

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The Songwriting Secrets Of The Beatles - Dominic Pedler

Cost: £27.99 My lasting impression of this one is that it is a 'heavy book' - in both senses. At 800 pages in hardback, it's a big one and it weighs a ton but more importantly, it is an intense read. To really appreciate the book you need three things:

  1. In-depth technical music knowledge.
  2. Familiarity with the Beatle's entire back catalogue.
  3. An unwavering passion for, or a least an appreciation of, the Beatles music.
As a novice songwriter who can't read a note of music and grew up long after the Beatles tumbled from fame, I'm ashamed to say I fell short of all three criteria. I bought the book thinking my knowledge of The Beatles' mainstream hits would be enough to get me through. Within a few tracks I discovered I was frighteningly out of my depth in all three areas.
The Songwriting Secrets-Of The Beatles - Dominic Pedler

The Songwriting Secrets-Of The Beatles - Dominic Pedler

I soldiered on, listening to racks wherever I could find them to help bring the chapters to life and I'm actually quite pleased that I did. I learned a few small gems which I sometimes feel creep into my songwriting but sadly when I look back a great deal of time was spent 'trophy reading' - turning pages which had little relevance or resonance so I could reach the end and hold this sacred tome aloft and claim to be amongst the few to have ever gone the distance. I'm not taking anything back from Dominic Pedler. This book is clearly a lifetimes work form a true enthusiast and an expert musical musical analyst. It was just too specific and too technical for me. The book still has a place on my shelf and for very good reason. I know that if I ever hear a Beatles track that I like I have no doubt I will be able to find it within those pages where its musical ebbs, flows and undercurrents will be expertly dissected and explained. In summary: A book that will be treasured by any committed Beatles fan with a very high level of technical musical knowledge. The average self-taught guitarist will probably end up using it to prop up the broken leg of that old sofa.

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Songwriters Playground - Barbara L. Jordan

daveoffofsongsdavewroteCost: £6.99 As soon as I  opened this book I realised it was not aimed at me. There is so little content, you could read the entire book in less than half an hour. It could just be my personal learning pattern but for me this is not a book that provided any information or even inspiration for songwriting. All that said, it was my mistake to buy the book in the first place. It doesn't claim to be a technical manual, this book offers itself as a catalogue of 'innovative exercises in creative songwriting' and that's exactly what it delivers. Each page reveals a new exercise, which is partly why it would take such a short tie to read. Example? Page nineteen has no words on it other than: " You are the alien who just landed this spaceship. Talk in your native language and say anything you like for fifteen minutes".

Songwriters Playground Innovative Exercises in Creative Songwriting

Songwriters Playground Innovative Exercises in Creative Songwriting

And so the book goes on.  I can however see a market where this book would be a useful resource. Anyone who is involved with teaching  music and /or songwriting in any form would do well to spend a few quid on this book. Let's face it, at seven pounds (or possibly less) buying this book isn't going to break the bank and if you are part of a songwriting group or circle or you run workshops in songwriting and you'd like a bunch of exercises to have a giggle with which could help you unlock your students creativity, this would do the trick. But for your average songwriter, it's not an ideal purchase. In summary: A wise investment for anyone involved in teaching music or working with groups in music who's looking for a reference manual full of workshop ideas. For your average songwriter - a waste if cash and time.

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Writing Better Lyrics - Pat Pattison

Cost: £12.99 daveoffofsongsdavewroteThis was a 'sit down and devour it'  kind of book for me. Long stints spent eagerly gobbling up page after page meant I finished the entire book in a couple of days. And when I was finished, I turned to the first page and started all over again. The truth is, this book was so incredibly revealing and enlightening that I wasn't sure it had all soaked in the first time and I wanted to make that I absorbed sure as much of this wise lady's wisdom as possible. I know, I know... Pat is actually A bloke. But at the time I read the book I assumed he was a girl. A few weeks later I saw a video online somewhere of him talking about songwriting and was surprised to see a man talking. Pat's  advice on rhyming and song structure is clear and easy to understand and he describes how to go about creating an appropriate relationship between the feelings of stability and instability to enrich your lyrics

Writing Better Lyrics - The Essential Guide to Powerful Songwriting

Writing Better Lyrics - The Essential Guide to Powerful Songwriting

I found it hugely rewarding experience putting music and melody aside for a while and focusing entirely on lyrics. When you dig deep, as Pattison does marvellously, you start to realise what an immensely complex and important area lyrics are. The whole book is peppered with short pertinent examples of writing by Pat's students and you join them in the classroom as Pattison dissects their word's to help you understand what really works and what doesn't After reading this book I certainly started to think about lyrics in a different way. I began creating and relieving tension, I started looking for ways to disguise and reveal and often find myself zooming in and out. In summary: If you are studying songwriting and you haven't read this book. Buy it and read it. Today. Your lyric writing and ultimately your songwriting will benefit. But before you start reading remember this Pat is a man. And in the world of lyric writing - Pat is the man.    

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Isle Of Noises - Conversations With Great British Songwriters - Daniel Rachel

Cost: £25.00   daveoffofsongsdavewroteThis book's certainly not a technical manual for songwriters. It offer no insights into technique, structure or approach. But I wasn't expecting that. What I was expecting was a little inspiration. And when I read this book I found just that - in buckets! It's not the kind of book you read cover to cover, day after day, this is a book that you can leave by your favourite chair (or guitar) and just dip into very time you have a moment.

Isle Of Noises – Conversations With Great British Songwriters – Daniel Rachel

Isle Of Noises – Conversations With Great British Songwriters – Daniel Rachel

Rachel does a super job of making these iconic songwriting gods seem human. The book has a chapter dedicated to each of these songwriting legends and every one is personal, enlightening, insightful and inspirational. Whether you are a songwriter or just an avid listener of music, you'll love this book. From its chunky feel and heavy hard back cover to its inspiring interviews and interesting photographs it is a book you will reach for time and time again and enjoy replacing on the self for future visits. In Summary - A fabulous book to be enjoyed in snippets over an occasional quiet glass of wine. And then enjoyed again over a few more.

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Lyrics - Writing Better Words For Your Songs by Rikky Rooksby

Cost £16.95   songwriting book review from songsdavewroteI’ve read piles of books on songwriting over the last year or so and this is truly one of my favourites.
It is very easy to digest and packed with little gems but offers so much more than a lesson in songwriting word-smithery.

Lyrics - Writing Better Words For Your Songs by Rikky Rooksby

Lyrics - Writing Better Words For Your Songs by Rikky Rooksby

At A4 (ish), It’s size alone makes it feel more like a reference manual and that is exactly how it now feels to me.
Long after enjoying reading it for the first time I often find myself pulling this book off the shelf and flicking through the pages trying to find guidance or inspiration for a particular sticking point in a song. The last third of the book offers a sourcebook of ideas which is helpful focus for a drifting mind. Throughout the book there are nice quotes and examples which help to put things in perspective nicely.
Most of all, as a novice songwriter, when you read this book, you feel empowered and energised, mainly because Rooksby talks as an equal, as a old friend who’s happy to help but never in the slightest bit judgemental.   In summary, this is a book every songwriter should have on their shelf and one that's particularly useful to the novice writer.

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