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The Three Notebooks You Need as a Songwriter

Yes, three.

By Robin OwensPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

When I started songwriting when I was nine, and for the first little while of the last 11 years, I only used on book as a songwriter. And yes, that worked fine for a while, but I'm at the point now where there are three different notebooks I use in my songwriting practice that I think are absolutely necessary.

The Lyric Book

This is your obvious, I'm-songwriting-and-need-to-write-down-lyrics book. It took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted from a lyric writing book, and it's ever changing, but really any notebook will do.

Things to consider:

Color: This may seem insignificant, but it's something to think about. All of the books I write lyrics in are green—I started with a green notebook, the next book I used was green, and then that was pretty much that as far as color went for me.

Lined or Unlined: If you write neatly, lined would probably be best for you. If you're not a very linear thinker (like me), you might want blank pages so you can brainstorm, write as big or as small as you want, and scribble in things you want to add.

Binding: Depending on the binding of the book, it may be harder to get the pages to stay open. I prefer spiral-bound notebooks, generally, because no matter where I'm writing, they stay open. However, as long as the spine of a book-bound journal is flexible, I've found a weight like my phone can hold the pages open, and it's not as much of a problem.

Digital Alternative: You can write your lyrics in the notes app on your phone or your word processor, but personally I'd recommend the app Hum because it'll let you note the key the song's in and record right in the app.

Personally, I like Ex Libris upcycled books because they're spiral bound so I can fold them over, hard cover so I know they'll last, and have blank pages that are of high quality. They are, however, more expensive, but they're also really pretty and I generally use songwriting books for a long time before they're full. Another good option is a regular sketchbook, if you're hoping to go the blank-page route.

The Finished Book

I've found it's really nice to have a place to keep the lyrics (and chords, if you're forgetful like I am) to the songs you have finished in a convenient place. This notebook can live at home, because you're only writing finished lyrics in it. If you date the songs as you add them, this can also be valuable in case of copyright disputes.


Table of Contents: It's hard to keep a running table of contents in a lyric journal when you're using it to write every idea down. If you set aside the time to quickly make a table of contents, then number the pages, you can keep a running list of the songs in your notebook for quick reference later.

You Won't Forget a Song: Every once in a while, I flip through a lyric book or go back through my recordings and discover a song I love that I forgot I'd written. This is a large part of why I started doing this. You might not love a song right after you write it, but a few weeks down the line, when you see the title on your table of contents, it might sound better after some time away.

It's Nice and Neat: Because the song is already finished (mostly), when you write it into this notebook, it'll be much neater than your initial write. You won't have the scratched-out lines or arrows rearranging parts of the song cluttering up the page.

Digital Alternative: Type up all of your lyrics and keep them in a folder on your computer so they're all in one place—better yet, use an app like Evernote that syncs across devices and a website so you can access your lyrics everywhere.

Personally, I like to use a nice notebook for this, because it'll become a keepsake and a reference for years to come. Luckily, my friend gave me a lyric-writing notebook for Christmas that I can use for 2018. :)

The Hook Book

If you're anything like me, you get ideas for songs all the time. Typically, I write them on whatever's in front of me or type them into the notes section of my phone, but this way, a lot of ideas end up getting lost. This is where a hook book comes in.

In a hook book, you write all your ideas for songs or titles or what have you. This doesn't mean I stop typing them into my phone or writing them on the back of my homework, I just make sure to transfer those ideas into this book.

I learned this idea from Sarah over at Song Fancy and it's changed the game for me!


All Your Ideas in One Place: This way you're not drowning in scraps of paper or bogged down by dozens of notes vying for your attention.

Instant Inspiration: When you're stuck for ideas, just flip through your book and pick out whatever draws your attention. Because everything's in one place, you don't have to worry about checking all the different places you have ideas.

Digital Alternative: If you use your notes app, you can make a separate folder just for your ideas. You can also use Evernote, which syncs across devices and the internet so you can access your ideas anywhere.

Personally, I have a thin, blank Moleskine notebook that I use as my hook book. I like this one because it's small and thin enough to carry with me.

So are all three REALLY necessary?

I mean, no. Of course not. Arguably none of them are. I'm not that organized of a person, so having this kind of structure works really well for me because it forces me to keep things in their right place.

Use the system that works for you—maybe try my system and make adjustments as necessary to suit your writing style. And who knows, maybe in the future, I'll come up with a fourth journal I absolutely cannot live without!

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About the Creator

Robin Owens

Hey there!

I'm a singer/songwriter from Illinois currently studying songwriting at Berklee College of Music. I'm a cat-lover, tv-binger, and avid reader.

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  • @KELECHUKWU.2 years ago

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