The best songwriting books are the ones you actually read and apply what you learn.
It takes a curious mind to be a songwriter. Songwriters dig deep because it’s rewarding work.
That’s why it’s common for songwriters to be avid readers and always be educating themselves.
Some cranky people will tell you, “you’ve either got it, or you don’t,” or you have to be “born with it,” but that’s a limited mindset and completely untrue. The great Ernest Hemingway said it best…
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
Let people think you were born writing great songs. Just keep growing and improving your craft with this list of the best songwriting books…
The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook: A Radical Guide to Cutting Loose, Overcoming Blocks, & Writing the Best Songs of Your Life by Karl Coryat and Nicholas Dobson
I don’t care if you have writer’s block or not, get The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook. Your creative juices will be buzzing within 3 minutes of turning the first page.
Read The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook and you’ll be buzzing with inspiration!
Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling by Andrea Stolpe
Of all the books in this list, Popular Lyric Writing is the only book that clearly gives you a path from song idea to song completion. It’s not just for pop songwriting either. This book is for songwriters who want to be productive.
Popular Lyric Writing is methodical, actionable, and results in deeply emotional songs.
Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison
Writing Better Lyrics is a must-read songwriting book. It’s less of a technical manual than some of Pat’s other books. It’s filled with big ideas that will improve your lyric writing.
Pat’s “Object writing” technique will turn your brain into a perpetual idea generator. You’ll have to read Writing Better Lyrics to discover how.
Songwriting Without Boundaries: Lyric Writing Exercises for Finding Your Voice by Pat Pattison
Songwriting Without Boundaries helps you get in the habit of writing lyrics with fun writing exercises. It includes more than 150 songwriting prompts and four different fourteen-day challenges with timed writing exercises.
Basically, read anything and everything by Pat Pattison, including Songwriting Without Boundaries.
Songwriting: Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure: Tools and Techniques for Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison
You could call this book a technical manual. But Songwriting: Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure is easy to digest. You’ll become a better songwriter by reading it alone.
Warning: You may become a lyric snob after reading Songwriting: Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure. Use your superior understanding of lyrics wisely!
Songwriting: Essential Guide to Rhyming: A Step-by-Step Guide to Better Rhyming and Lyrics by Pat Pattison
Another brilliant technical songwriting manual by Pat Pattison. Songwriting: Essential Guide to Rhyming will show you how to improve your rhyme and word choice.
You might not feel the desperate need to study lyric structure, except when your song is crumbling to the ground. Read Songwriting: Essential Guide to Rhyming to build a solid song foundation.
Melody in Songwriting: Tools and Techniques for Writing Hit Songs by Jack Perricone
Melodic training is a neglected topic. But Melody in Songwriting will show you how to craft memorable melodies whenever you need them.
Melody in Songwriting simplifies melodic theory so anyone can get it.
The Songwriter’s Workshop: Melody by Jimmy Kachulis
Writing melodies deserve careful focus. The workshop format of The Songwriter’s Workshop: Melody is a smart solution. You’ll be taken through a clear progression of melodic ideas and techniques.
If you want a system for writing melodies, read The Songwriter’s Workshop: Melody.
The Songwriter’s Workshop: Harmony by Jimmy Kachulis
Take a trip through The Songwriter’s Workshop: Harmony and bring home a firm understanding of music theory. Just like Jimmy’s book on melody, the workshop format gives you experience, not only knowledge.
The Songwriter’s Workshop: Harmony delivers a solid framework for songwriting.
How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back by Jeff Tweedy
There is no better vindication of Speed Songwriting than a reading of Jeff Tweedy’s How to Write One Song. You’ll learn both the psychology and mechanics of songwriting, and you’ll even learn some Speed Songwriting techniques.
Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting by Jimmy Webb
Tunesmith is a combination of anecdotes, songwriting tips. and professional advice.
You may not agree with everything he says (perfect rhymes are best), but if you can move past the “back in my day” musings, you’ll get a fantastic songwriting education from reading Tunesmith.
Songwriters On Songwriting by Paul Zollo
Songwriters on Songwriting includes interviews with 62 of our time’s most remarkable songwriters. It’s a massive book that you can dip into over and over again.
Catch a glimpse of songwriting magic with the interviews in Songwriters on Songwriting.
The Craft of Lyric Writing by Sheila Davis
Sheila Davis wrote a songwriting classic. You’ll learn the tools of the trade. The Craft of Lyric Writing may appear dated at times. But it’s filled with songwriting case studies that will inspire you to write better.
The Craft of Lyric Writing takes wordplay seriously.
Successful Lyric Writing: A Step-By-Step Course & Workbook by Sheila Davis
Davis follows up The Craft of Lyric Writing with this companion course, Successful Lyric Writing.
The Songwriters Idea Book: 40 Strategies to Excite Your Imagination, Help You Design Distinctive Songs, and Keep Your Creative Flow by Sheila Davis
The Songwriters Idea Book includes 40 songwriting prompts to spark your imagination. It also delves into the relationship between personality type, brain function, and writing style.
Lyrics: Writing Better Words for Your Songs by Rikky Rooksby
If you find lyric writing difficult or don’t like your own lyrics, Lyrics should help you gain a creative edge. There’s outstanding advice inside Lyrics: Writing Better Words for Your Songs, including how to channel personal experiences into lyrics, overcome writer’s block, imagery and metaphor, avoiding cliches, and much more.
Rikki Rooksby has written quite a few songwriting books that you may want to check out on his author page.
Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting: 126 Proven Techniques for Writing Songs That Sell by Robin Frederick
Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV: 114 Tips for Writing, Recording, & Pitching in Today’s Hottest Market by Robin Frederick
Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV is a similar listicle format but geared more towards the needs of film and television.
The Craft & Business of Songwriting by John Braheny
The Craft & Business of Songwriting goes behind the scenes of the music business to unearth insider secrets that will make your songs stand out. You’ll find exercises and anecdotes to help you become a professional songwriter.
Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting by Ralph J. Murph
Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting shows you how to catch the ear of the distracted listener and get their attention. This book discusses professional songwriting and hopes to put luck on your side.
101 Songwriting Wrongs and How to Right Them: How to Craft and Sell Your Songs by Pete Luboff and Pat Luboff
101 Songwriting Wrongs and How to Right Them is a collection of songwriting stumbling blocks you’ll encounter along the way with advice on turning them into stepping stones to songwriting success.
Writing Music For Hit Songs by Jai Josefs
If Diane Warren says, Writing Music For Hit Songs is “a wonderful and educational book that every serious songwriter should pick up and read,” then you should probably pick it up and read it. 🙂
How Music Really Works: The Essential Handbook for Songwriters, Performers, and Music Students by Wayne Chase
How Music REALLY Works! is a visually-oriented and easy-to-understand book that covers all the important aspects of making music and writing lyrics.
Six Steps to Songwriting Success: The Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Marketing Hit Songs by Jason Blume
Forgive me if I remain skeptical about books and courses with “hit song” in the title. But Jason Blume gives practical and inspiring advice in Six Steps to Songwriting Success. This book contains lyric writing techniques, checklists, and tools for self-evaluation.
Songwriters Playground: Innovative Exercises in Creative Songwriting by Barbara L. Jordan
Songwriters Playground is a collection of illustrated exercises designed to tickle and challenge you. It’s based on the highly successful workshops of Barbara L. Jordan, the television and film songwriter.
Written in My Soul: Conversations With Rock’s Great Songwriters by Bill Flanagan
Written in My Soul is a look at music history from inside the heads of the people who made it. Bill Flanagan, who would go on to create VH1 Storytellers and CMT Crossroads, spoke about songwriting and creativity with Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Joni Mitchell, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Bono, and nineteen more music legends.
The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists by Phillip Furia
Tin Pan Alley dominated American music from the turn of the century to the 1960s and The Poets of Tin Pan Alley offers a unique new perspective on these great songwriters. Take a deep dive into these golden era songwriters’ music and lyrics, like Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein II, Howard Dietz, E.Y. Harburg, Dorothy Fields, Leo Robin, and Johnny Mercer.
The Blues Line: Blues Lyrics from Leadbelly to Muddy Waters by Eric Sackheim
The Blues Line is a collection of nearly three hundred songs from more than one hundred singers that define the blues. Ma Rainey, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters are represented with lesser-known artists like Barefoot Bill, Barbecue Bob, Bumble Bee Slim, Black Ivory King, and many more. No study of songwriting is complete without an understanding of the blues.
The Complete Singer-Songwriter: A Troubadour’s Guide to Writing, Performing, Recording and Business by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
The Complete Singer-Songwriter is filled with real-world advice and encouragement for both aspiring and accomplished songwriters. It also includes interviews with Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, Arlo Guthrie, Chrissie Hynde, Paul Simon, and many more.
How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC by Paul Edwards
How to Rap includes tips and advice from Clipse, Cypress Hill, Nelly, Public Enemy, Remy Ma, Schoolly D, A Tribe Called Quest, will.i.am, to name a few. It covers everything from content and flow to rhythm and delivery. A first-of-its-kind guide, How to Rap provides a wealth of insight and rapping lore that will benefit beginners and pros alike.
How to Rap 2: Advanced Flow and Delivery Techniques by Paul Edwards
How to Rap 2 is the sequel to How to Rap and breaks down advanced techniques, like triplets, flams, lazy tails, and breaking rhyme patterns.
The Complete Rhyming Dictionary: Including The Poet’s Craft by Clement Wood
The Complete Rhyming Dictionary is the best tool for finding rhyme pairs. More rhyme choices can help you find the right word instead of settling for what comes to mind.
The Complete Rhyming Dictionary will help you write songs and exercise your rhyme muscles.
Inside Greatness: Ordinary People Break Down How They Do Extraordinary Things by Graham English
Inside Greatness isn’t a book about songwriting. But it has an entire chapter devoted to the Speed Songwriting Method. This innovative and bold songwriting method makes it easy to start and finish songs.
The Speed Songwriting System will give you song ideas whenever you need them. You can read all about it in Inside Greatness. It’s a great value for beginners and experienced songwriters.
There’s one thing I know about dedicated songwriters…
They never stop learning.
The best way to use these books is to read as you write. Open a chapter or a page during your songwriting sessions.
You’ll improve even faster when you immediately apply what you learn.
Anyone dedicated to a craft knows we all start pretty crappy and get better as we practice our craft.
Read a book and practice what you learn. You won’t regret it.