Are you about to set out to write your very own Christmas song? Perfect time of year to come up with something peppy, jolly, hummable, and yet simple. But aren’t there already thousands of Christmas songs out there? In the midst of so many popular carols, how do you write a ‘good’ Christmas song? One that is special without trying to be special? Distinct and yet relatable? Here are some tips for writing that hit Christmas song that you would like others to sing with you.
1. Use your personal traditions to write that ‘perfect’ Christmas song
You don’t have to travel far but you might have to dig deep – within yourself to find something that resonates with you. Write from your traditions. Think of what you do that is unique and special this time of year. What are your Christmas practices? When you write from your personal experiences, there will be a ring of honesty that will set your song apart. You could also try a situational theme. That will ensure that it doesn’t echo someone else’s music. For instance, an incident that occured when you went Christmas shopping or your mysterious Secret Santa.
Note: Presenting age-old traditions in a modern setting presents an opportunity to bring in an element of humor. Like you may choose to write about Santa Claus delivering presents but getting stuck in air traffic or having to park his vehicle as there are too many gifts in it!
2. Choose a unique Christmas theme
Bells, candles, trees, lights, Santa shimmying down the chimney, presents, angels, and wreaths are wonderful themes and make for great Christmas song lyrics. Unfortunately, this has been discovered by millions already! So, do try to avoid having these as a central theme.
If you are looking for some unique ideas for your Christmas song, think about what you or your friends and family do that touches you. It could be about your son’s card to you or a tradition like baking a Christmas cookie.
You could write about a kind act you rendered to someone in need, or something you are grateful for. Or about the trees changing colours – how nature is signalling – out with the old, in with the new. Just make sure it is something that you and hence everyone else can relate to. Get an idea with five of the most loved, soulful carols.
Note: According to a study by Professor Joe Bennett, Boston Conservatory of Berklee USA, some of the most commonly used words in holiday songs were snow, party, tree, Santa, love, cold, and home.
3. Experiment to write a melody for your Christmas song
A. With instruments
- Listen to different Christmas songs and see which chords or notes attracted you that you must have in your song.
- Play different chords to see which one evokes some emotion in you. And see if your riff reveals itself to you.
- Try to focus on making your riff something simple that your verses naturally gravitate towards. The refrain normally hooks listeners the most.
- You could try playing different musical instruments to get different sounds in your song.
B. With software
Even if you are not a musician (or even if you are), you can produce music using production software like GarageBand. Learn music production using different instruments with popular music fusion artist, Mahesh Raghvan. Young children produce music using these apps, so you don’t have to feel intimidated by technology!
4. Look around you for inspiration
- Listen to conversations at home and in gatherings (be safe when you mix around in the holiday season); online parties can help too.
- Spend time in other people’s homes and experience their traditions.(Again, take all safety precautions.)
- Think of any moving experience you have had – for instance, a visit to an old age home or orphanage can provide some inspiration.
- Listen to nature – the pristine sounds of your surroundings can help inspire some feeling during this glorious holiday season.
- To keep your song contemporary, you could include real world current events. That way it can shed light on an issue as well as be inspirational.
Note: Don’t wait for inspiration. Activity rather than inactivity will spur your creativity. So, the more you write, the more you are likely to be able to write.
5. Use rhymes
While it doesn’t have to rhyme, it is a great way to start writing your song. It also helps with the melody. And makes it that much more interesting to sing and listen to. So, once you know your theme, come up with some rhyming words and see where it goes from there.
Note: Remember that most writers don’t know what the final piece will sound like. So, let yourself think without inhibition. Let out all your ‘bad’ and ‘random’ ideas so you can spot the pearls from among them – the world is, after all, your oyster!
6. Use major keys to play holiday songs
Christmas songs are generally peppy, happy songs. And so, to begin with, you could use major keys to make your song sound brighter and chirpier. Here are some jolly Christmas carols for beginners and children to set you off on the right ‘track’.
Note: An analysis of the Top 78 Christmas songs, streamed by people on Spotify in the UK from December 2016 by Professor Joe Bennett, revealed that 90 percent of songs were in the major key.
7. Ensure your song has the Christmas spirit rather than words
Feel totally free while writing. The idea and spirit with which you write, rather than the words and diction can communicate volumes. Don’t feel compelled to use Christmassy words in the lyrics.
Note: So, don’t try to shoehorn ‘mistletoe’ and ‘Christmas lights’ into your song if it doesn’t really fit to let your listener know it is a Christmas or holiday song!
8. Keep it simple
Remember the audience for your Christmas songs – it could be children as well as adults. So, don’t make your song complicated. Think of what your audience wants to feel and experience in the holiday season when you write. And express it in simple language. The simpler the song, the more universal its appeal.
Note: Simple songs also enable listeners to go on an emotional journey. If the lyrics of your song need a lot of thinking and understanding, or the song has complicated chords, it will take longer to touch your audience.
9. Write your way out of writer’s block
It happens to the best of writers – that most crippling ailment. So, if it happens when you are writing your Christmas song, don’t fret. While there is no one solution for writers’ block, you could try to read something that cheers you up or listen to songs that inspire you.
The best thing about songwriting is that you can always compose when you are not able to write. Also, the more you listen, the more ideas will flow. The answer may lie in simply going about your writing despite feeling ‘blocked’. Don’t judge or analyse yourself too much. You may not always realise just when that small click within you will open the floodgates of words waiting to burst out of you!
Note: The click within is spurred by practice.
A great Christmas song makes people feel good and hopeful. If you have written a song that does that, consider yourself successful! Learn what to do once you have written your song.
You can also learn more secrets of writing a great song from Bindu Subramaniam, singer-songwriter, SaPa. You could also join a songwriting course that you can learn at your own pace and benefit from some great tips to help you write that hit song!