How to Write a Christmas Song…
in 15 Minutes!
‘Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way to spread holiday cheer than by writing your very own Christmas song.
I recently did a ‘I wrote a Christmas song in 15 minutes’ challenge for YouTube (see vid below) and the song came out a treat. So I thought I’d summarise the steps I used to create this song so fast, so you can have a go at making your own Christmas song too.
The trick is not to think about things too much when you’re speed songwriting. Just get it down on paper and tidy it up later. Once you’ve read through the 5 songwriting strategies in this blog post and watched the vids for inspiration on how I did it, my challenge to you is to set your own timer to 15 minutes and see what you can come up with.
It’s fun and the very worst that can happen is you end up with a really cliché, crap song… but that’s ok! It’s all practice at the end of the day…. And you never know.. you might come up with an absolute cracker!!
I recorded this Christmas song with Mike Nelson playing piano because he plays so beautifully. Now in this second video, you’ll get to see exactly how I created this song!
How to Write a Christmas Song in 15 Minutes (step by step)
Ok friends… here are all my speed songwriting secrets revealed! Enjoy.
1. Pick an easy chord progression
The #1 trick is to pick a super easy chord progression that sounds good and is easy to add a vocal melody to. In my song I used I, iv, ii, V. That’s songwriter speak for 1, 6, 2, 5… or in the key of C Major, 1 = Cmajor, 6 = A minor, 2 = D minor, 5 = G Major.
Then if you want to get jazzy, add chord extensions like dis: IM7, iv7, ii7, V7.
Again in C Major = 1 = C Major 7, 6 = A minor 7 , 2 = D minor 7 , 5 = G Dominant 7.
The reason picking a common chord progression is a good idea is because it’s easy for you to remember and because it instantly suits a huge variety of melodies. In pop music the chord progression: 1, 5, 6, 2 is used for THOUSANDS of songs and they all sound different… namely because of the next steps in this process.
2. Choose a groove
Groove ie: Swing, four to the floor, reggae, samba, bossanova etc… is the overall rhythm you’ll be using for your song and it massively changes the feel of things. This is one of the reasons you can have the same chord progression as another song but have it sound quite different. (TIP: if you’re into doing covers of songs, it’s also the easiest way to take a pop cover and make it sound different)
If you’re a newbie songwriter, the easiest way to get this groove happening if your playing skills on piano or guitar aren’t that great, is to use a drum beat. So stick on a bossa drum brush track (for example) and make the tempo slow enough that you can still fiddle around with your songwriting over the top.
So now you’ve got chords, and you’re laying them down in a rhythmic way using a groove let’s move onto the next step in the process…
3. Start noodling vocals over the top
Huzzah! The super fun bit (for us singers anyway). If I’m writing at speed, there’s no time to write a melody then try to figure out lyrics afterwards. You need to write the melody and lyrics as you go. I’ll just start humming along until I find a melody that I like.
I then usually record it on my phone so I don’t forget and then I move onto the next section. In the case of the songwriting challenge video above, I was using my phone for my 15 countdown timer so I couldn’t record into it… which is why I ended up repeating the main melody over and over to get it stuck in my head.
4. Use the most cliche lyrics ever to start with
The big trick here is to NOT THINK TOO MUCH ABOUT LYRICS. Especially with a Christmas song, just go for the biggest cliche ever and worry about fixing it up later. So yeah… whatever rhymes with snow gets a tick. Just off the top of my head…
‘Let’s sit together and watch it snow’
‘near the candles lights a-glow’ or ‘and dance under the mistletoe’
Then what else is Christmassy… let’s go with Christmas tree.
‘Leave a gift for Santa by the Christmas tree’
‘and snuggle up together just you and me’… blah blah blah. haha!!!
Don’t think… just write and make it fit into the melody you’ve chosen and the rhythm you’re using.
5. See if you can fit it into an easy song structure
This brings us to super tip number 5 which is to dump your songwriting lines into a set song structure. The easier the better.
For my Christmas song I used a typical jazz structure of AABA which means I only needed to write 8 bars of song TOTAL.
Another easy song structure is: A,A,A,A… think ‘Scarborough Fair’.
Or A,A,A,B,A = think Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’.
Writing like this also makes your song flow nicely.
So there you have it folks. My five super speed songwriting tips for writing your very own Christmas song in 15 minutes. Now it’s your turn. Stick on a timer and just go for it. It doesn’t have to be a Christmas song either. Just pick a topic and go.