The 3 Best Songwriting Books I Have Read

Hey! My name's Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

(Last Updated On: August 8, 2022)

Songwriting and sharing your own songs, is what I personally believe to be the most beautiful and personal form of musical expression.

As someone who started out by playing mostly covers for my first few years of playing the guitar, once I got into songwriting – it seemed to me that my creativity is opening up, and that I finally have a way to express myself through music.

(As opposed to simply “rehashing” other people's songs and feelings when I was playing covers)

And the best thing that I have learned about it – is that even if you think that you are “not creative” and just “don't have it” – songwriting is a skill, just like any other skill.

Just as when you started playing the guitar and you could not play a lot of songs, songwriting is very similar – in the beginning it's hard and it seems like not much (or nothing at all) is coming out of you.

But if you stick to it, and if you are willing to go through the not-so-great songs that all of us inevitably write in the beginning – the rewards you will get are the biggest that I have seen.

Remember – also Bob Dylan and John Mayer didn't start out as Bob Dylan and John Mayer. They simply wrote hundreds of songs until the good ones also started coming along. 

My Story – Shortly

I have been playing guitar for 15 years, and over the last 10 years, I started slowly exploring the world of songwriting. I knew that wanted to write my own songs because it seemed to me like a fun creative output to have.

It took me a very long time to get to a place where I have songs that I am actually proud to play to people, and now I have more than 10 singles out on Spotify.

I have two very special books that I can credit for this as they were a big part of my journey, and another bonus one. 

I am sure that if you have an open mind and you are willing to put in the time – you can also have your own songs that you are happy to share.

The Beauty of Sharing Your Original Music

The biggest thing that I have discovered on my journeys is that nothing in music seems more authentic than those moments when you are sitting with one friend or a couple of friends in a living room, and you share a song of yours with them.

A piece of your heart, that can reach their hearts too. And especially when you start it out with a short introduction about where did the inspiration for this song came from – this is where I believe the magic can even be multiplied.

Sharing songs of mine with friends gave me some of the richest musical moments so far, often even more than sharing them on stage.

1 – The Artist's Way – A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (By Julia Cameron)

This is a huge one and has been among Amazon's best-selling creativity books of all times with 4+ million copies sold, and it is also the one that needs the most open mind (and time) for taking the journey it offers. (Which might seem “hippy-ish” to some) So if it is the right time for you – I think that it can be a trajectory changer in your life – just as it has been to me.

I gave it a chance and read it several years ago after my voice teacher, who is a renowned songwriter and artist in Israel – warmly recommended it to me. Since then – I have done it 3 more times, and many times I have nibbled on the gems of wisdom inside it when I felt the need.

I find it interesting that the book that is #1 on the list of books that helped turn me into a very active songwriter is not even directly about songwriting.

The Artist's Way is a book about creativity (or as the author puts it: about “unblocking your creativity”) – and it is meant for people who do all possible kinds of art – you name it – painting, writing, acting, sculpting, musicians, etc.

It is not a typical book that you read and finish, but it is actually a book that takes you on a 12 weeks (3 months) journey into discovering your creativity. 

Every week is themed over a different side of being creative. In each week there are a few short text pieces by the author (usually IMHO wonderfully written, inspiring, and would seem like “exactly what I needed to hear today”).

These text pieces are followed by a few “tasks” that you can do through the week, usually ones that involve some sort of a fun creative activity, or an introspective look into your past and future.

Then there are also the two main tools that accompany the whole process which are the daily “morning pages” and the weekly “artist dates”. I would not want to ruin the surprise for you, but I can tell you that both of these habits which I started doing while I was going through the book the first time, are habits that I stuck with since then for several years now, simply because I see the huge benefits that they both bring.

In short – morning pages are daily “streams of thoughts” – where you dedicate ~10-20 minutes in the morning (or later in the day) to journal or simply write your thoughts. I have found this extremely helpful, and reached some of my best decisions in the last years during these writings. It also made my whole thinking clearer.

The Artist Dates refer to a weekly ~2-3 hours that you take by yourself – to go and do something fun. Whether this would be taking a long walk in the park or the beach, going to see a movie, going to visit a bunch of guitar stores just for fun, etc.

I feel it is often indeed as she describes it – in the morning pages you “ask the questions”, and in the artist dates you often “get the answers”, and many beautiful ideas came to me when I finally allowed myself to take the time off every week to just do something fun by myself, without any specific goal.

The biggest breakthrough I've had with the Artist's Way happened to me at about week 4 of the process. One morning, after not writing a song for a few months, I finally wrote the first song that seemed to me like a “real”, proper, great song that can go on Spotify. And several months later it was indeed the first single that I released.

I give the book a lot of credit not only for this song, but also for all of those that came after, and especially for the fact that I simply realized – yes, I am an artist. This is what I want to do, and this is what I am, despite the slight shame that many of us (including me) grew up with regarding doing something that “you cannot make money with”.

And when you allow yourself to become more of who you want to be – that's when the “unblocking” happens, the ideas and life events start flowing in that direction, and your journey starts moving to a new gear.

I highly recommend getting the physical version and not a Kindle / PDF one, since there is a lot of parts where you would want to write down / scribble inside the book itself.

2 – Songwriters on Songwriting (By Paul Zollo)

This one is an insanely rich treasure box.

700+ pages of gold. Songwriters on Songwriting.

It is an enormous 700+ pages book, and it is filled with dozens of interviews (mostly made in the 1990's) with some of the best songwriters of modern music.

Names such as:

  • Bob Dylan
  • Tom Petty
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Paul Simon
  • Neil Young
  • Randy Newman
  • Mark Knopfler
  • Carlos Santana
  • Carole King
  • Brian Wilson
  • James Taylor
  • Joan Baez

The beauty of this book is that unlike many interviews that you would find with these people, where usually it focuses a lot on shallow / yellow topics – the interviews in this book are deep and wide (some of them are 20-30 pages long) and hone in on just one topic – creativity, and the songwriting process.

The interviewer (Paul Zollo) is a songwriter himself and the questions he asks are often spot on. Some of them are more general about the creative process of the interviewee, and in some of them he dives deeply into specific songs of that interviewee, which, if you like the work of this person, can give you joy with many “behind the scenes” stories on some of your own favorite songs.

I literally feel that every time I pick up this book and even randomly open a part of an interview – I get inspired to grab the guitar and start writing a song myself – with all of the new insights that I get with every little read. 

I also find this book as a very deep and spiritual dive into the art, and possibly the best resource on the topic – you literally dive into the thinking of some of the greatest minds in history, as they generously share their process. There is so much to be learned here.

Bonus: Bob Dylan: The Lyrics 1961-2012 (OR any other lyric book of a songwriter that you love)

This one – or any other one with lyrics by a favorite songwriter of yours.

For a few years now, I've been a big fan of getting lyric books, physical books, where you can read dozens / hundreds of songs of your favorite songwriter.

There is something about seeing the lyrics black on white in front of you, that really helps the songs often “register” deeper in the mind. 

But the nicest things I believe that you can get out of having a lyric book of a favorite writer and occasionally opening it up on a song that you like, are:

  • Seeing the songs on a printed book page helps you see the story line and the structure better, it helps you identify different rhyming schemes that this writer likes to use, and their different techniques of captivating the listener.
  • Your vocabulary grows. And it is the same vocabulary that you can use for writing your own songs, since you are absorbed in so many great songs that can teach you so much about language and different ways to express the same feelings and stories.
  • You find yourself also reading songs by your favorite songwriter that you've never heard of before, some of them might become new favorites. Either if you go and listen to them, or even if you simply leave them in your mind as “poems”, and without knowing how the actual song sounds like.

You can find such books on Amazon for most of the prominent songwriters that you can think of.

So – why not take action now and go and grab one of those?

(By the way, these books can also be excellent gifts to friends whom you know love specific songwriters)

My favorite song by this man…


If you want to kickstart your journeys, check out the Songwriting Inspirations Course

If you want to dive deep into the art of songwriting – with practical knowledge that can help you start writing already today – I have recently released a course called The Songwriting Inspirations course, in which I condensed the best knowledge that I have learned about songwriting into several concise lessons that you can take over 1-2 weeks.

  • Become prolific, and write the beautiful songs that you love listening to.
  • Write from the heart, create songs that touch people and let them feel something deep inside.
  • The only course that doesn't focus just on the technicalities & craft, but also largely on the inspirational-spiritual side of songwriting – the “engine” of everything.

The Songwriting Inspirations course – kickstart your songwriting journeys

This course will give you a reliable workflow that you can flow, and demystify the fleeting topic of inspiration and how you can get it whenever you wish.

It focuses both on the technical side (with a very deep dive into writing evocative lyrics, catchy melodies, great chord progressions and hooks… But also into the inspiration side – which is how you make it all happen.

It was literally my full time life project for a whole year, where my mission was to create the best songwriting for beginners resource that has existed, so I invited you to join and enjoy it too.

A visual dive into creating catchy melodies as well.

We are diving deep into the lyrics of classics in many genres, from pop, to classic rock, to jazz, etc.

How to write your best chord progressions, while getting inspirations from hits we all know.

There are many video interviews with some amazing songwriters that are weaved in between – to make the experience as rich and fun as possible.

 


I hope the article has been helpful to you!

Please let us know in the comments what are your thoughts about these books, and what are the songwriting books that have helped you the most, so far on your journeys.

Cheers

Alon Cooper

Hey! My name's Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

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