You want to start songwriting, but you have no idea from where to start? You came to a right place.
But the basics are pretty simple thing to learn and get started with!
Songwriting basics for beginners can be divided into a few different sections. We’re not going to get very deep into details on every section but with this help guide you learn how to use resources provided in this blog posts and know what to Google for more information.
With this blog posts you will learn:
So let’s get started with songwriting!
Songwriting in general: What is songwriting?
Usually when people talk about songwriting it can mean various different topics depending on one’s background and point of view. For different people songwriting can mean composing music, writing lyrics, producing and writing music for other artists or making songs for own to perform and record.
It can actually can be all of the above but usually songwriting for people is simply writing new music and lyrics. Genres don’t really matter in this case. There are songwriters in all available music genres: pop, rock, r&b, hip hop, metal punk etc.
Songwriters create new music and lyrics. Some songwriters perform their own songs by themselves or with their band but some songwriters write only music for other artists and never perform or record their songs by themself.
You can do both if you want or you can write songs only for yourself. That’s fine too and a pretty good form of therapy many people say. Some people actually use songwriting as tool to write diary and relax.
Some people try to make serious money with songwriting. All options are possible and good. There’s no really big rules to define songwriting. Obviously professional songwriters like to make the difference between hobbyist and professional writers – it’s their job after all.
Usually professional songwriters make money through song publishing. Songs they write are recorded and performed by other artists and songwriters get royalties from those activities. We will go though music publishing and revenue stream more carefully later in this Songwriting 101 -blog posts series.
How to get started with songwriting?
First thing to know and understand is that there’s no really any rules for songwriting. To write a song you don’t necessarily new any standard song elements that would qualify your art as a song.
Though, you usually need music. And if you’re not writing instrumental songs you will need some lyrics as well. But other that those parts there’s no need to follow any songwriting standards if you don’t want to. But most of us want to to have some sort of form in our songwriting so let’s start with songwriting basics.
The most important thing when starting a new song is an idea. A good song idea is something that gets you inspired and from you can start working your new further. It can be only a word, sentence or a chapter from your diary. It can also be music – a simple melody, chord progression that you like or a drum beat.
Sometimes it can be a simple note played with acoustic guitar which gets you inspired. There are days that some stuff just sound and feels awesome. You should follow your instincts when starting to write a new song.
What makes an idea good enough from where you can start writing a new song?
Well, I believe it should always inspire and excite you. It should make you think “this one is pretty interesting”. Most of the time songwriting is just about starting from somewhere and playing around ideas while seeing to where a song leads next. Because of that it’s very important you personally like your idea in some level.
Professional songwriters can build a song from very simple ideas. You don’t need to have anything ready to get started with songwriting. This means you don’t need to have full idea of lyrics, well planned chord progressions or guitar riffs. But you need some idea from where to start.
Where to get those song ideas?
Unfortunately there’s no one answer but many songwriters just write and play music a lot. Usually some interesting idea just comes up after some time of jamming or playing with words. For lyrics I personally prefer a routine of writing morning pages where I write something and clear my head every morning. I just write without planning anything beforehand. I usually manage to get a few nice song cues I can use for songs later if I want to.
For getting ideas for music I just tend to play lots of music. I just jam and relax without really thinking anything. New melodies and chord progressions will start popping up when you just play and wait. And when those ideas arrive – capture them immediately. Record them down as soon as possible for a later use (I use my phone recorder).
What ever your method is – writing, playing, humming, talking. Make sure you do it often and capture all ideas that come eventually. That way you will found the most important elements for your songs – ideas.
Song structure and sections
– Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Interludes (Intro & Outro)
I wrote earlier that there’s no really any rules for songs. If you have music and maybe some lyrics in your piece, you have a song. That’s ok, but most of the songs in this world follow a few pretty simple patterns. It’s very acceptalbe to write your songs based on these “song templates” as well.
Most of the pop songs are usually around 3 minutes long. Those three minutes constist of two or three verses and one chorus repeated few times after song verses. That’s the format of a very simple pop song.
You can easily get started by writing this kind of simple songs but mastering the art of writing simple pop songs is far from easy. Go ask from songwriters who struggle getting their songs published.
Getting started with your song
Let’s assume you have an idea for your song described in the previous chapter of this blog post. Play your song idea a few times and think what you should do with your idea:
- Would it be a good intro (start) of the song?
- Would the melody you have be suitable as a singing melody for the song chorus?
- If your idea is a lyric line try to imagine would that line be a good starting point for a song story or the main hook for the song chorus?
To figure this out start playing and developing your idea. Does it feel your song draft could grow stronger or quiet down a bit? Does it feel you need some additional themes around it?
Typically the highest point and the catchiest part of a song is the chorus. Chorus should be something people can easily understand and remember.
Other parts of a song (verses, bridge) should support the chorus. A song chorus kind of sums everything together while other parts of a song builds a story.
Next we’re going to learn how these different song parts are usually written.
Most of the songs start with an intro. It’s not mandatory but in pop songs it’s more common to have an intro than not to have one.
An intro is kind of an opening theme for a song and it’s mission is to get the attention of a listener.
A common song intro is usually rather short but it’s very important part of a song. Most of the music listeners nowadays judge a song within a few seconds. Aim for a catchy intro or your listener will move forward in their Spotify playlist.
Make use of other parts of the song
It’s very common way to use an instrumental chorus as an intro. Other very popular method is to use a simplified or a bit different version of a song verse as an intro.
I think it’s a good practice to think about your song intro after you have a full song structure and other parts done already. With that way you can decide what kind of an intro would suit best for your song’s feeling that time.
Writing a good song intro can be hard since it’s very important the get listener’s attention from the very beginning of a song but same time an intro shouldn’t be too “big” in a way other parts of a song following later (verse, chorus) won’t feel lame.
It’s important to keep in mind that a song chorus I usually the song climax in where energy and attention of a song should peek. It’s a quite common that pop songs are written to grow bigger during each song section in a way that the last chorus is at the top of the tension.
Intro opens, outro closes
Outro is an opposite of an intro in a way it that it’s porpose is to close. It’s not mandatory to write outro for your song but it’s always good to think how your songs end. There should be a clear start and a clear end.
Many pop songs have some sort of chorus variation (instrumental for example) as an outro. Sometimes there are even new themes introduced during the outro. In that way it’s possible to build a bit more interest in for the whole song and maybe give it more lasting in listen.
But remember that when aiming to write songs other people want to listen it’s important to place and present your best ideas in a very beginning of a song. As mentioned people don’t have a patience to wait for something that might interest them. Nevertheless, a well written outro can be a very interesting addition and that missing peace when writing an excellent song.
Song verses come usually after an song intro and are meant to start telling a story which will culminate in the song chorus eventually. Of course it doesn’t always be or have to be that way, but it’s very common way to write pop songs.
Musically verses are mostly always lower on tension than song choruses. In common pop songs there are usually two or three verses which are musically very similar. Lyrics are different between verses usually but they all aim to present the song chorus from a bit different perspective.
It’s a good practice to arrange verses in away that verses are all a bit different musically also. That way your songs stay interesting for a listener. But not too much, don’t confuse your audience. Maybe add or take a note or two, so it’s almost the same but not quite.
A good verse builds tension
When writing a song verse you need to think what kind of the song chorus will be. As mentioned song verses are usually “smaller” than song choruses. That usually means less instruments, less volume and lower tension. Melodies tend to be lower on verses as well.
You don’t have to think these things too much when you write your songs but it’s good to know this stuff when you’re analyzing and rewriting your song versions. The best guide is your gut feeling and opinions when you start thinking how your song could go next – what kind of the chorus could be and so on.
It’s very common for pop & rock songs that chorus get the most attention in songwriting. Pretty much every song part prepares a listener for the song chorus. It’s understandable since a good chorus is obviously crucial for a pop song success – it’s about how listeners remember and understand the songs they hear.
A chorus is the highlight of your song. That’s actually one of the hardest things in songwriting for many songwriters – to write a good chorus.
After some songwriting practice it’s pretty straight forward and simple to write a simple song but writing a good chorus is always hard.
You should definitely remember to practice this skill during your years as a songwriter. But remember not to get stuck with your song chorus if you’re not progressing well enough with one song. Keep moving forward, you can always make your old songs better when you know what to do with them.
What a good chorus is all about
First things first: There are several good books about best practices written from very skilled songwriters so you should definitely start studying different perspectives of how to write a perfect chorus.
But in general the main components of a good song chorus are:
- Catchy (contains hooks).
- Easy to remember.
It’s a pretty simple formula but same time very hard to master. Simplified means you shouldn’t make your listener think during song chorus, other parts of a song can be for that.
As I wrote earlier song verses should build tension and ideas for a chorus. All those ideas and thoughts are culminated during a chorus in a very simple way.
Chorus is what the song is all about. The main lyric line can be a very good song name as well since it’s repeated and it’s easy to remember.
In fact some songwriters tend to start songwriting by deciding a song name first and then building lyrics and music around the song name. That’s way they make sure it gets enough attention and repetition during the song.
So make your chorus simple, bigger than the other parts of a song and add the most catchiest ideas inside of it. Every good chorus has a hook which means something that almost screams for the attention.
Verses and chorus are the main song parts that are usually included in most of the songs. You can gladly write songs without intros, outros, or other additional part, but as said earlier, every part can be a really important part of your song when used when needed.
Bridge is a part that usually comes after the second chorus in pop songs. It’s sometimes called “part C” (verse = A, chorus = B) or “second chorus” since it’s usually one of the highlights of a song.
In many times bridge is said to be the connection between a verse and chorus but in this case I mean bridge as C part of a song.
Bridge can be described to bring a new idea for a song after few verses and chorus repetitions. Sometimes it kind of a continues the chorus and drives it a bit more further or sometimes it continues with the same groove but goes a slightly different direction.
Not in every song has a bridge since sometimes it’s a too much for a simple pop song. You can think bridge as a possibility to say a bit more what’s left to say during chorus.
Bridge can be instrumental as well but most importantly it should bring something new for a song. Without new ideas a bridge is useless.
A basic song structures
Now that we’ve been going through the basics of a song structure most pop songs are written it’s good to start to learning how all these song parts are tied together.
There are several structures / templates how pop songs are often written. You can easily start writing your own songs by using one of these common song templates.
It’s good not to write songs by using any strict rules but this kind of structure guidelines are a good way to get started. You can rewrite and arrange your songs later after you have completed the draft version of a song first.
Song parts are interpreted here with letters each one meaning a single song section. you can obviously add an intro and an outro for these structures if you wish but those parts are not mentioned in here separately.
A = Verse
B = Chorus
C = Bridge
Song structure: ABABCB
Read: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus
This one is a pretty straightforward and very common song structure. It starts with a verse followed by chorus, repeated those two one time, followed by a bridge section and then going back to song chorus which is repeated eventually couple of times.
This one is actually a quite long song structure but it’s very common. Verses are usually rather short in pop songs which lenght is around 3 minutes. If you’re writing a slow tempo ballad you should consider leaving something out if you’re aiming to stay around radio song lenght.
Alternatively this structure is often seen written as AABABCB as well. This means there are two verses at the beginning of a song before the first chorus.
Song structure: AABAB
This one is really simple. It consists only few verses and chorus. No additional song parts in here.
This kind of stuff is common in folk music and singer & songwriter songs. The song structure can be also seen in draft versions where the main song ideas are just collected together quickly before starting to arranging and thinking what kind of song you’re actually writing this time.
Song structure: BABABCB
You don’t have to build songs using common verse / chorus / verse / chorus -structure. Who says you can’t start songs with chorus? Try this one if you want get to to the point fast.
Music: Chord progressions, melodies, rhythm
Now that you know how many great songs are built together it’s a good time to star thinking what should be written inside of those song parts.
When you’re starting writing a new song, you probably don’t think too much of the stuff related to song structures or arrangements.
Instead of those things you will most likely to focus on the main musical idea – chord progressions, guitar riffs, lead melodies – or the main lyric lines first.
As I’ve written earlier in this posts (it turned out to be a quite long one, eh) it’s most important to start working a new song with an idea you feel inspired and excited of.
But after you have found out that leading idea, a cool riff or a catchy melody, it’s good to know a bit of how songs are built musically.
We’re not going deep into music theory here but I’m going to slightly open the topics you should start thinking and studying yourseld if you want to learn more about music works technically.
You don’t necessarily need to know music theory that much to get started with songwriting but it’s going to definitely help you in a long run. Usually pop songs are written with a few chord patterns and same song structures, so there’s no reason you couldn’t use them all the time.
Or just start with simple stuff and and start building your music theory knowledge later if you feel so.
When simplified, Music can be divided into two parts: chord progression and melody.
Chord progression is a pattern played with keys, guitar etc. and it usually builds a background for a song. It’s very common to start writing a song from a simple but inspiring chord progression you’ve come up to.
There’s probably million songs written only by strumming E minor chord with an acoustic guitar.
With the help of a chord progression pattern it is rather simple to build a song draft which includes verse pattern and chorus pattern. Usually these two chord patterns are bit different but in a same key.
Here are a few very common chord progressions to get started. Modify them for your own songs.
Chord progression: I–V–vi–IV
This one is a very common chord progression. These roman numbers are a simply way of telling a chord number for a scale it’s played.
For example C major scale consists of notes C, D, E, F, G, A, H, C and those notes are written in numbers 1,2,3 etc. You get the point – Same way as chord progressions are written here.
And in this case: C – G – am – F
Is this chord progression familiar to you? It probably is since it’s pretty much in a every song or at least in every other song in written in this planet.
Btw, it’s pretty hard to build a unique sounding chord patterns and you don’t really need to. It’s about how you make your own sound and songs from this very common chord patterns.
Chord progression: vi–IV–I–V
This chord progression is also a very common but also a really nice progression to start your new song. This one is in minor so it has a bit darker fibe in it.
Chords in C -major key: am – F – C – G
I’m again very sure you’ve familiar with this chord progression. If you haven’t already used it in your own songs you probably hear this quite often in music you listen since it’s so common.
You can Google around a bit to find massive resources of different chord progressions for different type of songs. If you’re lazy, here’s the link for Google search.
But how you’re supposed to write songs with these chord progressions?
I think it’s a good question and I’m going to try to answer it now.
Since songwriting is about creating new songs it doesn’t mean you should re-invent the wheel at the same time when writing new music. If you can do it, that’s pretty awesome (and you’re going to be a millionaire) but most of us cannot really do that.
Why – the music theory and how we’re learnt to listen music in our cultures are limited with options you can use when creating music. Certain types of sounds – melodies, chord progressions, beats – just sound better for our ears because we’re grown into them.
That’s the reason why most of the music is built from same elements. There’s no more options. But the options are limitless when it comes to how you can interpret music.
As I’ve written earlier I believe the most important thing in songwriting is to find ideas you’re excited and can get you started with a new song. If you’re playing a chord progression of am – F – C – G few times it will probably get a bit boring quite soon.
And then – you’ll need to modify the chord progression towards more interesting way.
Try to change the ending G chord to D chord – how does the progression sound now? What kind of melody comes to your mind when playing this chord progressions?
Try this ideas to get started with your new song:
- Play only bass notes from a chord pattern you’re jamming. What kind of beat you’d like to hear with it?
- Reverse the chord progression – what happened to your song?
- Instead of playing pure major and minor chords try to break those chords into more exciting combinations – When playing with guitar try Sus -chords or play power chords but with open strings. Does it sound interesting?
What I’m trying to say with these examples is that knowing few basic chord progressions used in many other songs is useful, but the trick of writing your own songs is to learn how to break those rules.
The aim is not only to sound a bit more unique but to get you inspired. Many times you will find something interesting by accident and find a lead idea for your next song.
I sincerely believe accidents are leading inspiration for songwriting and composing music for many of us who don’t hear music inside of our head.
Songwriting is about exploring new possibilities and ideas but you need to make sure you’re actively looking for new songs as well.
The other important part of music is a song melody. When a chord progression is the backbone and often a bit unnoticed part of songs, is melody in turn leading and usually the most striking aspect of a song.
Music listeners notice melodies first and if a song is worth to remember it’s usually because of a melody.
It’s hard work trying to learn writing catchy melodies which are easy to remember but the outocome is definitely a worth of a try.
Read books, listen music, google around – Learn
Writing melodies is a topic which would require an another or several long blog posts to cover but good thing for us it’s a highly popular topic.
It’s easy to start finding information related to melody writing even if you’re starting from the basics, want to learn how hit songwriters are doing it or how melodies technically work from the perspective of the music theory.
Melodies and chord progressions work together
Melodies and chord progressions are supposed to work together so you should learn to use them together as tool. By this I mean the process where interesting chord progression can inspire new interesting melodies.
That works other way around as well so if you come up with a melody you think it’s worth of a song it’s probably useful to work it further with the help of different chord progressions.
Even a feeling of simple melodies build from a few notes can change dramatically when playing around with various chord progressions.
Keep it simple with melodies
I personally prefer simple melodies that can be whistled or sang even when you’re not a singer. This way I make sure I use only notes which are important for a melody.
It’s pretty easy to overplay and use too many notes when you’re writing melodies with an instrument you’re very skilled. Good singing melodies are usually a quite simple, repeating and obviously easy to remember.
How to make a melody worth of another listen is a bit harder task to understand and master.
Small things makes some melodies stand out from the average. Try using notes and scales outside of key, arranging songs in a way the melody really stand out etc.
It’s obviously important to think of how melody is eventually performed. For example it’s really important to match your melody with a song lyrics if you’re writing a vocal melody.
One very good note is that it’s very common to write a higher melody for a song chorus when compared to song verses. Remember the song structure section in this blog post – how song parts are built and tied together – same thing goes with song melodies.
You should write a storyline even when working with melodies. Song melodies should have a clear structure.
– Song ideas, inspiration, writing routine, structure and a little bit about rhyming.
We’ve been covering many songwriting topics in this blog post alreday but there haven’t been that much stuff about song lyrics yet.
Writing music and knowing the basic theory behind songwriting is important but lyrics are at least equally important, if even more when writing songs.
If your songs are remembered or popular it’s probably because of your song lyrics with the help of some catchy melody hooks. Song lyrics tell stories and popular songs tell them in a way people can relate to them.
Lyric writing is a craft which require lots of practicing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing in your own or foreign language you will most likely have to spents lots of sleepless nights with your unfinished song lyrics.
You should study lyric writing like any other part of songwriting
There are several points to remember when writing song lyrics:
- Lyrics need to be singable. Words need to be written in a way singer can easily interpret the lyrics.
- Consider your words carefully. Most of pop songs are around 3 minutes long and usually consists only two verses and one chorus repeated few times.
- Lyrics need to cover a selected song theme in a way listeners understand what the song is all about.
- Lyrics need to have hooks as well. Cliches are never interesting.
So while you need to write your lyrics to be descriptive, catchy, and short they also need to avoid common cliches and other pitfalls.
With that said it’s safe to say writing song lyrics is not the easiest task but I believe everyone can learn it by spending time with the craft enough.
Finding lyric ideas
The first thing you need for a new song is an idea or theme for song lyrics.
This is the part many beginner songwriters fail already. Some people think they just don’t have anything to say or enough imagination for song lyrics.
That’s not true since we all have plenty of stuff we can write about. But that doesn’t mean ideas will just come without trying to find them.
The most important thing when starting to write song lyrics is an attitude. You need to mentally decide, that no matter what, you’re going to find some ideas for a song.
Then it’s up to you how you start collecting your ideas. There are few common ways to do this which I know many songwriters do.
Keep your hook book close to hand
The first tool many songwriters use is a notebook aka “hook book”. It’s also common that people use their mobile phones instead or old school pen & paper nowadays, but you get the point.
The idea is to start collecting ideas and writing them down as soon as possible when they come to your mind. Sounds simple and something everyone should know to do without saying, but many beginner songwriters don’t do it when they’re starting out.
If you start this habit of writing down every new ideas, inspiring words or sentences when they first come up to your mind you will end up getting more ideas for song lyrics than you will ever have time to work those ideas.
The key with the hook book is that when you finally have time to sit down and start working your lyrics you have some ideas already so you don’t have to start from the scratch.
The lack of collectin ideas before starting a new song is probably the reason why so many aspiring songwriters feel they don’t have enough good ideas for songs. Songwriters need to collect ideas all the time.
In fact when you start collecting your song ideas systematically to your hook book or phone you’re working your songs unconsciously. That’s a good thing for your learning.
Write something every morning
One other good option to boost your lyric writing and get your ideas flowing is called morning pages. This working method is one my favorites and I’ve been doing this for years.
It’s actually one of my most favorite daily routines since it’s a pretty nice way to start a new day. I’ve written couple of articles about this topic so if you’re into reading more you can check the introduction of morning pages here.
In short, morning pages mean a writing session you’re having first thing in a morning after you’ve woken up. You show up with a cup of coffee and start writing for 10 or 15 minutes without thinking anything. Just write.
It will get your brains working but same time you will probably end up writing a few pretty nice new lyric ideas and lines. There’s no any harm if you don’t, you’ve spent some time writing and working your skills anyways during that morning.
Morning pages are pretty good for lyric writing since it helps you to build a routine. It’s really hard to come up anything good when you’re trying it once per week with limited schedule.
That’s the problem many songwriters have, not having enough time. But 15 minutes per day it’s pretty easy to catch and with the help of morning pages you know you’re progressing and working your ideas every day.
Build a song and lyric draft as soon as possible
You probably noticed I didn’t cover anything about rhymes, lyric hooks and writing lyrics a melody here. Firstly there’s so many high quality books and articles written about technical parts of lyric writing so I don’t really think I could write anything better here.
For example try googling with these search phrases for more information about lyric writing:
- “lyrics rhyming”
- “lyrics hooks”
- “writing lyrics for a melody”
Secondly, I believe paying too much attention for details will make you more harm than benefit when you’re first starting with songwriting.
Rhyming etc. are important aspects in song lyric writing but you don’t need to think about those things at all if you don’t want to. It’s a same thing with writing your first chord progressions for songs.
Just do it and analyze your songs a bit later.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when you’re starting out or write perfect songs from a scratch. Songwriting and lyric writing is a skill you need to study a lot to master and you learn by writing songs.
Instead of paying too much attention in details I think the most important thing for a beginner songwriter is to learn to complete the first draft versions of songs as soon as possible.
You can arrange and rewrite your songs later if you wish. Or you can move forward to a next song.
But make yourself a favor and learn to finish the first draft as soon as possible. You don’t want to collect song ideas and start writing them but never complete those songs. Make one lyric at a time and move forward.
Here are some points to remember when writing lyrics for your songs:
- Make a constant effort to find ideas. Write them down when you notice you could have something.
- Build a routine for finding new song ideas as well – Write morning pages for example.
- Write simple songs with a clear theme. One topic per song is enough.
- Learn to complete your lyrics and the first draft as soon as possible within selected schedule.
- It’s important to move forward constantly when you’re writing songs. Professional songwriter write lots of songs all the time and only some of them gets published or performed live ever.
Remember the chapter in this blog post where we went though all different song sections mainly from the perspective of music. Same stuff works with lyric writing as well.
As a rule of thumb you can easily write lyrics for a song with these simple steps.
The first step: Decide of what your song is all about and what you’re want to say about it. That lead idea, sentence or word is your song chorus.
The second step: Build a verse that initializes and builds a story that makes sense during the chorus. The second verse is a same kind of thing but from a new perspective or the story can move forward until going back again to chorus.
And that’s about it. Remember it takes time and years to write a high quality song lyrics but basics are easy to get started with. Write a lot and study others and you will learn.
Few words from inspiration & working methods
The most important thing when learning songwriting is to understand that best way to learn is by writing songs. You need to learn how to find your best ideas and make sure you know how to use them for your songs time after time.
You also need to learn to build your working routines around songwriting since you cannot rely on inspiration. It’s very likely that inspiration will fade after some time and there might be long periods in your songwriting career you don’t feel that inspired at all.
You need to know how to write songs anyway even when you’re not feeling inspired by your surroundings, other music, art etc.
That means you kind of learn to find inspiration by writing songs. That’s what the craft of songwriting is all about. Writing songs no matter of what all the time.
The good thing is that everyone can learn songwriting and there are lots of awesome resources to study. And don’t forget to study other songwriters too!
If you want to read some chapters again you can navigate there using these links:
Songwriting in general – what is it and how to define songwriting?
How to get started – What do you need in a song?
Song structure and sections
Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Interludes (intro & outro)
Basic song structures
Music: Chord progressions, melodies and key
Lyrics: Ideas and topics for songs