What Comes First in Songwriting: The Lyrics or the Melody?

What comes first in songwriting, the lyrics or the melody? I’ve found that anything can happen. Sometimes I start with an idea for lyrics, and other times a song begins with a melody. Sometimes I start with the chorus, other times with the beginning of the song, and still other times with the underlying chord structure. I’ve learned that there are no rules and to be open to any ideas that come my way.

A couple months ago, I was fiddling around with my guitar and was gifted with a melody. It arrived whole, but with absolutely no hint at all about the lyrics. For weeks, I was preoccupied with this melody. What was it about? What did it want to say? I wrote numerous lyrics on various themes for this melody – even going so far as to write a complete song – but none of them felt quite right.

During Passover last month, I found myself wanting to sing only liturgical  music. I felt so nourished celebrating this holiday with my entire family – my husband and children, my parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and my in-laws. Between singing at our Seders and holiday meals, and going to synagogue a number of times, I was very uplifted by the music.

At our Seder, as we recited the 1,000 year-old Hebrew Nishmat prayer, which praises a God of salvation, I remembered that a year or two ago I had begun working on a tune to fit the Hebrew words for my favorite part of the prayer: “If our mouths were as full of songs as the sea, and our tongues replete with melodies like the endless waves. If our lips were filled with praise as expansive as the sky… still we could not thank You enough.”

The next day, I recited those words again in synagogue, and again they struck me. Hmmm. Might these holy words be in some way connected to the new melody I was playing with?

It turns out that they indeed were.

I present to you Still We Could Not Thank You Enough, which I adapted from a portion of the Nishmat prayer. If you belong to a house of worship of any denomination that would be interested in using this in your service, please be in touch. I would absolutely love to hear it sung in a devotional setting, where it belongs.

So, how does songwriting work for you? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments.


Head Shot Lo ResJulie Geller is singer/songwriter and speaker based in Denver, Colorado. She leads a community of creative women and teaches The Magic of You, a women’s creativity course.

A Story About Groceries, Love, and Redemption

I just took a walk around the block, the first in a while. I’m recovering from hip surgery this week, which hopefully fixed a longstanding issue that I’ve had that has prevented me from doing some of the things I love to do, mainly running. Two weeks ago, my husband had back surgery to fix a herniated disk, and two weeks before that I had surgery to remove a benign cyst. We’ve had a bit of, well, something, going on here and thankfully everything has gone well. We are and will be well.

I felt awesomely, ridiculously high after my first surgery, grateful that the medical team had removed something unwanted and unneeded in my body. My husband felt tremendous pain relief after his surgery, and I felt relief for him. And, yesterday it all hit me and I went to a dark place. I woke up this morning still in that place.

One of things I do for my family is that I shop and cook. We are lucky to have friends and family who cooked for us this week, and my husband was going to go shopping last night but, after a full day of doing all of my jobs as well as his, he conked out last night.

So, this morning I do something I never do, which is that I order groceries from Instacart. And then I go for my first walk around the block, trying to rid myself of some of the demons that have made camp in my heart over the last couple of days.

As I’m walking, I get a text from Instacart: Kennedy just started shopping!

And then another: Kennedy replaced Cuties Clementine Bag

And then: Kennedy replaced Pirate’s Booty Aged White Cheddar Baked Rice and Corn Puffs

The texts keep coming.

And, every time I receive one, my spirits are lifted. I stop and smile. I think, I f*&%ing love you, Kennedy. And I do!! My heart fills with overflowing love for Kennedy who is out there shopping for my family and me, making decisions about what substitutions we would like, buying us nourishing food, so that I can be home healing.

IMG_2122And, as I begin to let in that feeling of love, I start to notice little things around me, like these lanterns that one of my neighbors has placed on her beautiful blossoming trees. I smile. I want to add those to my trees, I think. I am breathing again. I am feeling more in my body and less in my head. I’m starting to connect again with beauty, and hope, and goodness, and possibility. I’m back into a space of some flow.

And I think about a project that I am pursuing, a project that is and has been falling apart every step of the way, and I know in my bones I am not giving up on this, which isn’t always the case. Standing there up the block, resting mostly on my good leg, taking in the newness of the tulips and the blooming trees, I recommit yet again, for what feels like the hundredth, or maybe thousandth, time. Maybe this project will look different than I had imagined, maybe I will have to shift it around, but it is happening. And I stop and smile and put one hand over my heart and, with my other hand, I hold my own back. I am flooded with tender love for myself appreciating of my will to live, to contribute, to grow, to take risks, and to use the short time I have on this Earth to do something.

I wonder, is there some, Oh, now I see how that all worked out for the best! moment awaiting me? Or maybe, Had I not gone through that I wouldn’t have learned this type of deal? Or perhaps an I’m glad it worked out that way. It was so much better understanding yet to come?


And I think of my favorite line in the Kris Delmhorst song, BeesAnd I look up at the sky and say, What am I doing with my one little chance to be alive?

What are you doing with your one little chance to be alive?

Head Shot Lo ResJulie Geller is singer/songwriter and speaker based in Denver, Colorado. She leads a community of creative women and teaches The Magic of You, a women’s creativity course.

The Creativity Manifesto


I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. Yesterday I sat down and wrote a manifesto of some of the things that I know to be true about creating. Here’s what I know:

1. Creating is having the courage to bring your insides to the outside. There is no better feeling than honestly expressing and sharing who you are.

2. When you speak the truth through your art, we gravitate toward it because it illuminates something about our experience.

3. If you are alive, you have a story to tell.

4. Lead us, regardless of who you are and what you do.

5. Be generous with your talents. Use them to heal yourself and, through that process, us.

6. Focus on the process, not the outcome. Since the age of 16, all I have wanted is to create a life in which I have time to write music. Process.

7. Fame is fickle, creating art is not. Focus on creating whether or not you are recognized/understood/appreciated for it.

8. You may not be able to make a living from your art. Most artists can’t and it is not correlated in any way with the quality of your work. Don’t ever stop making the time for your art.

9. You start out by being bad at something and you keep improving over time. Most people give up before they get really good because they can’t handle all that time of being less-than-great.

10. How do you get good at what you do? Volume. Volume, volume, volume! Don’t write one song, write 50. Don’t write one poem, write 100. Paint as many paintings as you can and then pick out the best parts. Work, work, work.

11. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Instead, force her to show up through your commitment to create consistently and on a schedule.

12. Let your art stand as a record of who you were and how you’ve grown. You won’t be making the same art at 20 as you will be at 40, 60, 80, or beyond.

13. Art is not a luxury. The act of sharing and listening to each other’s stories is as old as humanity itself and is necessary for our survival.

Want to learn and create more? Women’s spring creativity cohort now forming: https://www.juliegeller.com/webinar

Head Shot Lo ResJulie Geller is singer/songwriter and speaker based in Denver, Colorado. She leads a community of creative women and teaches The Magic of You, a women’s creativity course.

Eight Steps to a More Creative Life

Julie Picture Singer Songwriter Denver Colorado Speaker Hands Out

Each of us has so much to teach. For some, it’s how to be a gourmet chef or how to love your body. Or, even how to live mindfully.

Me? Here’s what I know:

Have the guts to be out there in the world, even imperfectly, so that you can practice and get better at doing your thing. You can go on my YouTube channel and experience lots of imperfect moments. But, here’s the crazy thing: Sometimes the imperfect moments are more touching than the perfect ones because they showcase your willingness to be vulnerable, real, and ultimately human.

You can always get better at doing that thing you do. I study regularly with a vocal coach. Even though I‘ve been playing the guitar for over twenty years, I taught myself last year how to use a guitar pick by watching YouTube videos. I belong to a Toastmasters club. I videotape almost every gig so that I can watch it from the audience’s perspective. I’m getting better all the time. Always have an eye toward improvement.

Don’t lose sight of your mission. My mission as a performer is to create a space in which you can access parts of yourself that you might not always access and to connect you with other people. I understand that my music is in the service of something greater, which puts the focus on my audience and takes the pressure off of me being perfect as a performer (whatever that even means). Have a greater vision so that you’re not stuck thinking only about yourself.

Never stop doing your thing, especially when you do not receive any recognition in the form of money, appreciation, or otherwise. I wrote songs when I was in high school, when I was in college, when my writing space was a walk-in closet, when I had a full time job, when I had four part-time jobs, when I had babies, when I lived in a different country. I write when I’m driving, when I’m swimming, when I feel like hell, when I’m supposed to be cooking dinner. You get the picture: Don’t stop. Especially when nobody cares about it but you.

Do your best to learn from every situation. The list of my professional failures and rejections is too long to enumerate and I suspect that there are lots more of each to come in my future. When you experience failure and/or rejection, feel the yucky-ness of the situation, learn what you can, and move on. If you’re so afraid to fail that you never put yourself out there, you forfeit your opportunity to lead, and we miss out on our opportunity to learn from you.

Speak the truth. People say to me, “Thank you for sharing yourself. I recognize my experience in yours and that makes me feel less alone.” In order for that to happen, you have to be real. Don’t say what you think people want to hear, or what looks good, or what sounds right. Although it can be terrifying to speak the truth of your experience, it can heal both you and the one who hears it.

Be grateful for the people who make your dreams possible. I love, respect, and appreciate my audience and am grateful for their interest and support. I am genuinely interested in the people who love my music. While I am partly on stage for me (there is nothing I love more that the opportunity to share my music with a live audience), I am mainly there to deliver something meaningful to the people who have chosen to spend their valuable time with me. Appreciate the opportunities to do what you love doing.

Creativity is having the guts to bring what is inside of you to the outside.  That is why every person is creative in one way or another and why creating is our birthright. I never have writer’s block and I never stop creating. I can teach you how to tap into that never-ending fount of creative expression.

So, I’m curious: What do you have to teach? What can we learn from you? What do you know that we don’t yet know? Please let us know in a comment below.

Head Shot Lo ResJulie Geller is singer/songwriter and speaker based in Denver, Colorado. She leads a community of creative women and will be teaching The Magic of You, a women’s creativity webinar, in January of 2018.

The Sheer Joy of Creating

(This is the video that led to this blog post.)

What can I say? I’m a creativity junkie. There are fewer things that are more fun for me than creating something that didn’t exist before. When I think back to times in my life when I had minimal responsibility in terms of how I could spend my time (I’m thinking back to my teens and college-age years, long before I was married with three kids), guess how I spent lots of it? Writing music. I pulled many, many all-nighters (and many, many all-dayers, too!) working on songs and learning how to play instruments. Was I trying to impress anyone? No. Was I being graded? No. Was I making money off of it? No. Fame? None of that stuff. But, I was developing a set of skills and enjoying the hell out of it.

Here I am about twenty years later and I have many more responsibilities. And, I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have any responsibilities that I would probably regress to the days of spending virtually all of my time creating music. Still, over the years and through various jobs and careers, I’ve generally always found a way to spend time writing music. Often it’s very late at night or very early in the morning. Or when the kids are playing nicely and I can steal away for a few minutes into my home office. Or, for those 30 seconds where nobody is noticing where I am. (Or, like now, when I’m holding one daughter in my arm and typing frantically with the other before her sister finds her and tries to hurt her). Does this passion of mine make me a better or worse parent? Better or worse spouse? Probably both.

But, here’s the thing: I still get that crazy rush of excitement when I create things , just like I remember from my teens and 20s when I was just starting to understand how music worked. I certainly don’t feel that rush every time I pick up my guitar, but I often feel it when I find myself up during those special nighttime hours when I’m working on something and the hours are flying by. And, just like when I was younger, the motivation is the same: creating for the sake of creating, that basic foundation of what it means to be alive in the image of the Infinite Creator.

Last night I was working until 5:30AM producing the song and music video featured above. Left to my own devices, I would have pulled an all-nighter and slept all day. But my kids are off from school and I knew that I was going to have to sleep for at least a few hours so that I could be functional enough to spend the day with them (Yes, we went swimming. Yes, I was planning on being asleep an hour ago, but then I somehow started writing this blog post and now I’m all jazzed up again…). And, here’s the thing: I loved working through last night. I love it when I’m up in the middle of the night writing a song, editing a music video, building a website. It doesn’t matter so much what the project is. It’s that deep joy of creating something new that wasn’t there before. It has absolutely nothing to do with what anybody else thinks about what I’m producing. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether it bring me money or recognition, or anything. It is the sheer joy of bringing something new into the world that never existed before. For me, that never, ever gets old.

And I hope it doesn’t for you, either.

The Story Behing the Song In Your Hands

” In Your Hands, in Your hands, we are resting in Your hands. In Your Hands, in Your hands, please have mercy on us.”

This past Sunday, a few hours before Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) began, I received some surprising news about my health. While I won’t go into the details, it appears that I have a congenital bone issue that I will have to tend to this year.

My prayers over Rosh Hashanah were different over the holiday. Usually I have a sense of not knowing what the year ahead will bring. This year, thought I still don’t know much, there’s a high likelihood that I will require a couple of surgeries to correct the problem.  It felt strange going into the new year knowing that there will be difficult challenges ahead, but not knowing exactly what that will look like.

We are so quick to name experiences like these as “bad.” I don’t view them that way. Naming something “good” or “bad” doesn’t feel relevant to me. What feels more relevant to me are the following questions: What can I learn from this experience? How can this help me grow into the person I hope to become?

Over Rosh Hashanah, a thought popped into my head: “Your move, God.” There’s a constant dance between what is in our control and what is out of our control, and each one affects the other. The Universe makes her move, I make mine. Back and forth, back and forth. I don’t expend much effort on those things that are out of my control (read: the election, other than my ability to vote and canvas), and I expend lots of effort over those I do have control (i.e.: my reactions, how I speak and act).

Just because I don’t consider something to be “bad” doesn’t mean it isn’t emotionally painful and that I’m not grieving. It looks like I will have to give up running, one of my favorite activities. While I am lucky (I hope) to still be able to bike, swim, hike and do other activities, it does not take away the sadness and heartbreak of no longer being able to run.

” In Your Hands, in Your hands, we are resting in Your hands. In Your Hands, in Your hands, please have mercy on us.”

Lo Res Head ShotJulie Geller is a Denver-based singer/songwriter who writes and performs original music in English and Hebrew that inspires people to become their best versions of themselves. Hear more at www.juliegeller.com.


The Story Behind the Song This Heart: Judaism and Buddhism

When I was 25, my husband booked tickets for us to fly to Paris for a winter vacation. As the day of the flight approached, I began to get nervous. Something was off. I felt like I couldn’t get on the plane. Even thinking about getting on that plane gave me a panic attack, a feeling of being crushed and unable to breathe, a sensation that I had never before experienced. My boarding that plane – and this was coming from someone who had reached premier airline status before the end of high school – was simply not possible. We ended up missing our flight because I couldn’t bring myself to get on the plane, let alone pack up, get on the subway, and get to the gate. I didn’t need a vacation; I needed help.

My mental health situation deteriorated rapidly. Within days, the panic attacks were happening with greater frequency and I was literally having trouble leaving my house. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t go anywhere. I felt like every building, every subway, was about to crush me.

During those difficult months, I met a friend of a friend whom I knew had suffered from depression, and had found much relief in both Jewish prayer and Buddhist teachings and meditation. He described discovering Jewish prayer akin to finding a piece of driftwood, and discovering meditation akin to finding a life raft. He recommended that I read Pema Chodron’s book Start Where You Are, as well as Mindfulness in Plain English, a primer for mindfulness meditation.

That winter, in addition to seeing a therapist, doing behavioral therapy, and going on medication for a short while – all of which contributed to my healing – I began a practice of sitting for 20 minutes a day. For the first time in my life,  I wasn’t filling up those 20 minutes with talking, or moving around, or distractions, or doing anything. I was sitting with myself and my crazy brain. (That’s basically what mindfulness meditation, also known as Vipassana mediation, is: sitting quietly. I don’t use mantras or anything fancy. I just sit.)

What did Buddhism offer me that, up to that point, my own rich tradition of Judaism hadn’t? For starters, silence and non-action were valued. In my family and community, many important things were valued, but I must say that silence and non-action were not two of them.

I had also never heard such gentle, loving explanations for how to behave. A few years later, I attended a silent retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, where he told us that when we get angry to drop everything and cradle our anger like a crying baby. This made me cry then and makes my cry now thinking about it. There was an exercise in which we all lay on our backs and focused attention on each part of our body, thanking it for its service to us. “Thank you liver for processing our blood. Even though I sometimes abuse you by drinking too much, I want to thank you for keeping me healthy and strong… Thank you lungs for enabling me to breathe…” I had never been exposed to radical gratitude like that before.

And presence. My life had been about success, achievement, the next thing. Many years later, I walked into a therapist’s office. Her practice was full, but I wasn’t about to let her send me away. She kept sending me to different people, but I kept coming back to her. There was something that drew me so deeply to her. Here’s what it was: When I was with her, she was completely present. I had never experienced that level of presence, and it made me feel seen and understood and appreciated.

And, finally, the Buddhist teachers that I admire speak in simple terms about core themes of being alive, such as ego, suffering, oneness with all beings, and impermanence. These ideas opened my eyes and changed the course of my life.  I think about them daily, but I don’t remember hearing much about them in my own tradition. Are they there? Absolutely. The teachings of the mystics and the Hasidic masters overlap on many of these themes. I haven’t yet put in the consistent effort to familiarize myself with their works, but I have some knowledge of them

So, my song This Heart is rooted in teachings I have learned over the years. Teachings that exist in my own Jewish tradition, but would take some excavating for me to find. This Heart is about impermanence, and about being in the moment, and about how heartbreaking life is if we allow ourselves to feel it. In the words of Pema Chodron, “Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it…To stay with that shakiness, to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge, that is the path of true awakening.”


Lo Res Head Shot


Julie Geller is a Denver-based singer/songwriter who writes and performs original music in English and Hebrew that inspires people to become their best versions of themselves. Hear more at www.juliegeller.com.

When Things Fall Apart: The Story Behind the Song Don’t Put it Back Together

When I was 18, during a year I spent in a year in yeshiva in Israel, I wrote my first twoScreen Shot 2016-06-23 at 4.34.28 PM complete songs with lyrics. I was so excited that I decided to book a recording studio in which to record them. As you might imagine, it was a challenge for someone with imperfect Hebrew to locate a recording studio in Jerusalem. I did finally find one that had a special, affordable hourly rate after midnight. Perfect! So, I booked a couple hours, and proceeded to practice my songs tirelessly so that I would be prepared. After all, time is money in a recording studio (and, by the way, I still always go into the studio crazy prepared). My set-up that year was a Roland Keyboard and this eight-track that had I bought from a friend the summer before I left.

As the recording day (night) got closer, something started to happen: my eight-track began to crash on me. Repeatedly. And every time it did that, I had to reprogram all of the tracks (drums, piano, horns, etc.) for the song. I was starting to freak out because I didn’t know if the tracks would even be on the machine when I arrived at the studio.

I was a mess emotionally and existentially. I wasn’t sure whether I should abandon the whole project. Were all of the hardships associated with this project meant to make me work harder to realize my goal, or were the hardships a sign that I should abandon it altogether? 

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 4.50.20 PMI asked one of the rabbis that question and he must have told me to stick to it because that is what I did. I remember having to rebuild the songs the day before the recording and, when I arrived at the studio, they were miraculously still on the eight-track. Here’s the tape of that recording (oh, how I love that I wrote “1st recording” on it!).

I tell this story because I think that this is a crucial skill for being alive: knowing when to fight for something even through it’s very hard versus knowing when to give up on something even though you really want it. Back then, I didn’t know how to handle that dilemma so I sought counsel from a rabbi. Now, I know: it’s a gut thing.

This new song is about that moment when, even if you don’t know what the next thing is and even if you are scared out of your wits, there is something inside of you that says that it’s time to move on. And you do.

I originally wrote this tune as an upbeat song. You can watch a video of that version here. The more I sat with it, though, I decided that I wanted to hear it as a hymn. So, now I’ve got two versions and I must say that I like them both. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll see if I can combine them in some way?

Lo Res Head ShotJulie Geller is a Denver-based singer/songwriter who writes and performs original music in English and Hebrew that inspires people to become their best versions of themselves. Hear more at www.juliegeller.com.


Reflections on Three Years of Creating Monthly Music Videos

Last week I reached the three-year milestone of releasing monthly music videos. What began as a one-year challenge to myself is still going strong. The video that I released last week was “This is Your Life,” which is a setting I wrote for the Holstee Manifesto. We crowdsourced the entire video, which I think worked really well. Here it is:

And this is the Holstee Manifesto:

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These words were written by three twenty-somethings after they left their jobs to go out on their own and start a printing company. I read about them in a magazine, and then cut out the tiny picture of the Holstee Manifesto from that magazine and pinned it up on my bulletin board. One day, I was walking around my studio with my guitar and trying to come up with lyrics to a tune I was writing. The tiny picture of the Holstee Manifesto caught my eye and I started singing those words as placeholder lyrics. Before I knew it, I had set the whole thing to music. It stuck.

So, what have I learned from releasing over 40 music videos (so far)? Here are my favorite gems:

  1. It’s made me unafraid to fail. It’s just art, after all.
  2. Music is moving. Words are moving. Images are moving. Music+words+images = the possibility of creating something enormously powerful.
  3. I never know how a video is going to be received. Here’s what’s cool: The more videos I make, the less I care.
  4. Why do I do this? It’s fun and challenging and I learn new things every month.
  5. Making music videos requires an investment of either time or money. These days you don’t need both. I spend a small amount of money and a large amount of time.
  6. And finally, here are some (until now) closely-guarded secrets:
    1. I shot seven videos on an iPhone 5
    2. A lot of those videos were shot by son, who was 10 at the time.
    3. I learned how to make music videos because I couldn’t afford to hire anyone else to do it.

Have you ever sustained a long-term project of any sort? What did you learn from it? I’d love to hear about it.

Thoughts Before Thanksgiving

If I Die Tomorrow

I am not planning on dying anytime soon but, if I die tomorrow, please know that I was happy.

I got to spend my days alone, creating.
I got to spend the rest of the time with the people I love the most, my family.
I failed a lot. I became fearless and stopped caring if I failed. Creating things was too much fun to care what people thought of what I made.
I never made it big as an artist. I created on my own terms without having to deal with the pressures of success, money, and fame.
I got to be a link in a rich, enduring tradition dating back thousands of years.
I observed Shabbat. Every week I got to unplug for a full night and day and our children got to play hide and seek instead of on iPads.
I stopped being afraid of and limited by other people’s fears.
I had enough of everything I needed.
I had a partner who made me laugh.
I had a relationship with God.
I got paid to sing with kids.
I forgave my family.
I forgave myself.

Happy Thanksgiving 🙂


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