Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a musical prodigy to start songwriting. While the task seems daunting, anyone (with or without any experience) CAN write a song.
Most of your favorite artists and writers began right where you are. Scared, a little nervous, and totally lost on where to start!
There are many approaches to crafting the perfect song. However, it’s a lot easier than you think.
Whether you’re a rapper or an up-and-coming rockstar, here is a beginner’s guide that you can use to craft your magnum opus!
- Step 1: Building Your Foundation
- Step 2: Create Your Song Structure
- Step 3: Experiment with Melodies
- Step 4: Build Chord Progressions
- Step 5: Write Your Lyrics
- Step 6: Expand the Arrangement
- Step 7: Record Your Demo
- Step 8: Finish and Record Your Song
Step 1: Building Your Foundation
Like all things in life, a good song starts with a solid foundation!
Before you dive head-first into your writing endeavors, there are a few things you need to figure out. Composing a song is an organic process. The methodologies you use on one title might be entirely different for the next.
However, there are a few constants that remain the same. These include the theme and the genre. Establishing these elements early on will help you stay on track. Plus, knowing where you’re headed will make the trek there much more manageable.
Figuring Out What You Want to Say
When we talk about a “theme” in music, we’re referring to the overall character of the song. It’s the feeling you’re trying to convey and the message you’re trying to send. There are tons of themes you can lean on. Some of the most common include heartbreak, pain, and love.
Themes are important because it helps dictate the direction of the song moving forwards.
Say, for example, that you want to write about unrequited love and the pain that comes with it. Knowing the theme, you can focus on emotional chord progressions and connected lyrics that speak to the heart.
The theme of your song is something that has to be evident to your listener the moment it comes on. It’s not just about the lyrics but also the melodies, chords, song structure, and arrangement, too.
Do a little soul-searching and find inspiration. Figure out your message and work from there.
Establish a Genre
Your next layer of foundation is the genre. The possibilities are endless here! Stick with that indie-rock style or experiment with something new-wave. The sky’s the limit!
Like the theme, your genre will impact every part of your song. From the lyrics to the style of the song bridge, genre matters! Every style has its own unique characteristics.
Rock music is renowned for its use of power chords. Meanwhile, crafting a country song is all about providing three chords and the truth. Establishing your genre early on can make all the difference.
Step 2: Create Your Song Structure
After you have your foundation set up, you can start thinking about the structure.
The song structure is the overall arrangement. It’s how the elements of your tune fit together to create a cohesive song.
Common structural patterns are pretty similar. Some of the most widely used in popular music today are AB and ABC. However, you can fine-tune the structure of your piece as you see fit. As long as it fits your theme and genre, you can arrange elements however you want.
Take a moment to jot down the general structure you want. You don’t have to go so far as write lyrics just yet. That’ll come later! But understanding the overall pattern is a must. Figure out where the elements go, how many bars per component, and so on.
Understanding Song Elements
When you think about it, songs are nothing more than a handful of repeating elements! Of course, things can get more complicated than that. But you get the gist!
Most songs have three main components. These include the verse, the chorus, and the song bridge.
You can also have smaller parts like the intro, the refrain, the breakdown, and more. However, those three elements are the most important.
The verse is the central storytelling portion of the song. It moves the themes forward and helps to support the main idea. Think of it as a more detailed section. Usually, modern pop songs have two verses that are eight to 16 bars long. Lyrically, the verses tend to be different each time they appear.
Now, the chorus is the repeated section. It’s the part that contains the primary musical and lyrical motifs. The best way to look at the chorus is to think of it as the thing that hooks listeners.
Ideally, your chorus should be super catchy and easy to hum along to. That’s what your audience wants to hear most. It’s the heart of the song that they’ll sing back to you in a concert!
Finally, there’s the song bridge. The bridge is a little trickier to explain because it’s the one “unorthodox” part of the song. It moves away from the prominent motifs and provides a little contrast in the latter half of the song. You can get really creative with the bridge and use it to lead back up to your killer chorus!
Step 3: Experiment with Melodies
Now it’s time to start letting those creative juices flow.
The melody is the tune of your song. It’s the memorable sequence of notes that defines your piece and helps it stand out. There’s no tried and true way to find a great melody. The key is to experiment and play around with your instrument.
Grab a guitar, keyboard, or even a wind instrument and mess around!. Many songwriters begin their entire songwriting process with a simple melodic idea. If that’s the case, run with it! Expand on the idea and keep going to formulate the song.
If you don’t have any ideas to start with, play around with keys and scales.
Music is a lot more technical and methodical than most think. If you understand some basic theory, you can quickly jump around scales to create a melodic tune. Try moving through the different harmonic scales and modes to see what you can produce.
Find a Killer Hook
The hook is the most crucial part of the song. A good hook can make or break a tune! Just ask any of the songwriters that worked on any charting song!
Hooks are appropriately named for their ability to get stuck in a person’s head!
A hook can be musical or lyrical. But either way, it’s a defined element that will drive the rest of your song.
Like standard melodies, experiment to find your hook. You’ll know once you hear it. When you do, you can start crafting your song with the hook at the forefront!
Step 4: Build Chord Progressions
Chord progressions are the backbone of your song. If the melody is the sentence, the chords are the piece of paper that displays the words!
The progression supports every element of your song and impacts the piece’s overall tonality. The chords you choose will ultimately govern the key, what notes you can and can’t use, and more.
Some songwriters like to start with a few chords and go from there. There’s tons of room for experimentation here. But, the standard I–V–vi–IV progression is usually the go-to in commercial music. You hear it in thousands of songs!
If you want to develop something a little more organic, use the Circle of Fifths to guide you. This literal circular chart helps you understand the relationship between major and minor keys across the musical spectrum. Use it with your song structure chart to figure out your chord progressions. It’s a pretty handy tool that many songwriters take full advantage of!
Step 5: Write Your Lyrics
Believe it or not, lyrics don’t usually come until much later. You can use general lyrical ideas early on to craft your song. However, fleshing out those ideas come after the core musical foundation.
Writing lyrics is a subjective process. Everyone has their own methods and styles. Until you figure out what your signature lyrical style is, you’ll need to experiment.
Don’t be afraid to use emotional language and speak from the heart. Listeners connect with honesty and raw passion! Stick with your theme, tell your story, and create an easy-to-follow narrative arc.
Focus on the Chorus
Your chorus is going to be the most memorable lyrics you write. Remember: The chorus repeats several times throughout the song. Oftentimes, it’s where the title of your track and its overall theme comes in!
Spend a little extra time here. Try to keep things simple for the sake of repetition. You can dive deeper into the core themes of your song with the verses.
Did you know that most songwriters end up changing lyrics as the song progresses? Some of your favorite songs probably had slightly different lyrics when they started!
That’s perfectly normal. You have to adjust to make your words fit into the arrangement. Be flexible and don’t get too attached to a specific line. You might have to alter it later!
Step 6: Expand the Arrangement
Most songwriters stick to one instrument up until this point. The piano and guitar are usually the go-to choices. Those who work from home professionally may take advantage of virtual instruments as well.
Either way, there’s going to come a time when you need to expand your arrangement. Single-instrument setups aren’t the best choice for every tune.
The goal here is to add more instruments into the mix! Again, the exact instruments you use will depend entirely on the song structure, theme, and genre. Typically, you’ll have a drum set to provide the rhythm, a guitar to take care of the chords, and other instruments for flourishes and effects. You might even switch things up between the verses and the song bridge.
There’s really no right or wrong way to expand your arrangement. It all depends on the song itself!
This step can take a lot of time and musical know-how. Don’t be afraid to seek help from other musicians and writers. Filling your arrangement with more elements adds tons of depth and takes your song from average to extraordinary!
Step 7: Record Your Demo
Finally, you’re ready to lay down tracks and make your demo!
This step doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. Record your song with a smartphone or home studio gear! The point here is to perform the tune and create an audible product that you can listen to later.
There are a couple of reasons for this step. First, it helps you shop the song around. You can give it to other musicians you want to collaborate with, labels, and more. This isn’t a polished recording that’s ready for the masses. Instead, it’s a demonstration of your song ideas.
Secondly, the demo forces you to listen to your work and see where you need improvements. Many songwriters continue to build the song up after the demo. Once you have some time to soak everything in, you’re free to think outside of the box.
Play with Sound
When you record your demo, have fun and experiment with sound!
Many songwriters who work from home tend to get stuck inside a specific workflow. It’s not until they start recording that they begin to venture into other sonic territories.
Play with plugins, tweak the song bridge, add virtual instruments, and take advantage of effects. Who knows? You could end up creating something that puts your song on the map!
Step 8: Finish and Record Your Song
After all, is said and done, you’re ready to finish up and record the final version of your song. Thanks to all the technology we have at our disposal today, you don’t have to shell out a ton of cash to get a professional-sounding piece.
You can do many of the same things at a home studio that you can in a professional one! Take time and record everything to bring your ideas to life. We also recommend going the extra mile by mixing and mastering your song before making it available to your audience.
Writing a song is not an easy process by any means. While it does come naturally to some, it’s always a drawn-out affair that takes time and dedication.
That said, the work you put into it is always worth it. Songwriting is one of the most beautiful skills you can share. It’s about connecting with others and making something productive out of all of your life experiences.
Trust the process and put your all into every song you write. With some practice, you could end up writing your next masterpiece!