You want to compose your own music but you don’t know where to start and how to write a song?
You will learn in this article where and how to start and all the steps to write a song easily from start to finish!
Please note that the order is not something you must follow absolutely to write a song.
Here are the different steps.
1. How to start to write a song?
Starting can be the most difficult thing sometimes or the easiest.
I suggest 3 different ways to get started.
But they are not incompatible at all.
Try them and mix if it helps.
I bet you will have more inspiration than time to write all the song ideas you will come up with. But, don’t stress yourself too much with this if you can’t find anything for now.
Keep moving to the next steps and the inspiration will come.
Find a general idea/theme
The first thing to do is to have a general idea of the song.
What are the feelings, the emotions you want to express? What is the story you want to tell?
For example, you may want to suggest a happy moment you lived. A love story, or the sadness of having lost someone close to you.
Your life is full of stories to give you inspiration.
But you can get it from a movie, a book. Or even your neighbors 😉
You got the point.
Robin Frederick, who knows well how to write a song, suggests starting with a title.
It is a good way to keep your focus on a single idea. And to avoid drifting away and ending up with 5 different parts of a song that are unrelated.
By the way, you can find a link to her books below. They are quite recommended.
I also recommend you to read a few articles on her own website, great content!
Use a starting point
What I call a starting point here is not something that will start your song. It is any piece of content that can help get started to write your song.
It can be:
- a melody you have in your head.
- a riff on the guitar.
- a lyric, even a single sentence.
- a beat or drum pattern.
- a bass line.
- a fancy chord on the piano.
- a sound or rhythm you heard outside (even a seagull call).
Personally, I tend to find ideas on the guitar while playing randomly.
After a few minutes or immediately I get a riff or a few chords that gives me a starting point.
But I find melodies more easily on the piano/keyboard.
Try out different ways, with different instruments and see what works the best for you.
Steal others and deconstruct
OK, disclaimer here: no I don’t tell that you literally have to steal others.
But if you are getting started in the art of songwriting, you can take an existing song and change the lyrics, or the melody. Or any part of it.
You might end up rewriting a whole song that will have nothing in common with the original.
In fact, if you deconstruct an existing song, you will get a lot of interesting information about how it was written.
This is a powerful way to analyze and make progress as a songwriter and more generally as a musician.
But without going that far, you can get an idea of a part of a melody or a drum loop from “stealing” others.
2. Choose a song structure
The next thing to do is to choose a song structure.
This varies a lot from one song to another and depending on the music style.
There are no real rules here, rather suggestions from what works the best or not.
I suggest that you start simple.
For example, you could choose a A B A structure. The A part is repeated and you have a different B part in the middle.
In many music styles, however, there are usually more parts than that.
The main parts of a song are:
This one is easy and you may even don’t have one. Even if it highly recommended. It can be anything: a drum roll, the main chord progression played on a single instrument or a synth pad. Examples of strong song intro: Money for nothing – Dire StraitsJump – Van HalenWonderwall – OasisAnd many others. A little exercise: make a list of 5 intros from your favorite songs or music pieces.
This is where you tell your story. There are usually several (at least 2) verses. They have the same melody but different words to tell different parts of the story. If you don’t have any lyrics yet, why not use a poem that you put into music. They are beautiful songs made like that. Exercise: Isolate the verses of 5 songs you know. Then compare the lyrics of the different verses of the same song to get the whole story. When you will write your own verses, you will have these examples with you to help structure the song.
It is the most emotional part, the hook of your song. The lyrics or the melody that everyone will sing. Think about it. How many times you are able to recall the chorus of a song and not the verses.
A few great chorus examples:
- “What’s Up” – 4 Non-Blondes
- “Highway to Hell” – ACDC
- “Satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones.
Technically, the different choruses must have the same lyrics and the same melody to help listeners to hook to it.
– Pre-Chorus or lift:
This is not really a separate part of the song, but rather the end of the verse to prepare the chorus. It can be very short or as long as a verse. It builds a sense of suspense and anticipation, making a connection to the chorus. It is optional and it is not useful if the verse flows naturally into the chorus. But if those two parts are quite different, it is a must. It will make the difference between a rough song draft and a well polished and engaging song.
Exercise: Identify in 10 different songs if they have a pre-chorus or not and how it moves the listener from the verse to the chorus.
This part is really optional and depends on the music style you want to write. Not frequent in pop music, very common in jazz music. It can be any instrument playing an original part, usually along with the main chord progression.
This is a good way to pump up your listeners and break the monotony of the song. It is usually the peak of the song, its climax. Usually, before a chorus, it is quite common in pop music. Totally absent in other styles.
Exercise: Identify bridges in 5 famous pop songs of your choice. Then, listen to how they make a transition in the song.
Depending on the music style, there are standard ways to finish a song. An easy way to make an outro is to simply repeat the chorus indefinitely with a fade out.
Exercise: Here again, choose 5 different songs in your style and write down how they finish.
Note that they are all optional. And you can use them as bricks to combine as you wish. Except of course for the intro and the outro. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are common and proven song structures that you can use right away.
The most common song structures
One of the simplest song structure is:
Simple and efficient. I think that it is a good structure to start with if you are a beginner. Just the essential and not overwhelming.
A good standard choice with a more complete structure is:
The intro and outro allow the listener to dive into your song and leave it more smoothly. And the bridge adds some interesting variety and enhance the last chorus for a powerful ending.
Other useful examples:
Here the emphasis is on the story itself. I would choose this structure for an intimate song. For example only a guitar and vocals. A song where you want to make the listener dive into the narrative.
Interesting structure if your verse and chorus are a bit different and need to be “glued” together with a pre-chorus. Don’t use the pre-chorus with the bridge, as it is already there for linking the two choruses.
- Start simple and keep it short.
- Try different structures for your songs.
- Don’t limit yourself to standard song structures. Why not write a pop song using a typical jazz music structure?
- Not every song has a structure. I just wrote some ambient music that has is “linear”. I tried to use an A – B – A structure but in the end, I found out that it worked better without.
- Experiment and experiment again. Be creative with the structure itself.
3. Pickup a key
Choose the key you want to write into. For starting, I would suggest using an easy key, with no complicated chords or scales.
Take for example the C major key.
On a piano, you can play the famous I – V – vi – IV chord progression only with the white keys. Easy.
4. Choose a tempo
Depending on the initial idea, you may want to choose a downtempo rhythm or a more intense one.
Imagine that you want to tell the story of a man running for his life. You will want to use a high tempo to make us feel like we are running together with the music.
It is worth trying a few tempos for the same song, you might be surprised.
Exercise: Play your song at a low, medium, and high tempo. Which ones sound the best for you?
5. Choose a chord progression
Most songs are built on chord progressions.
Some can have only a melody and an implied progression.
Others use only one chord, more likely in electronic or ambient music.
But I recommend generally that you choose one chord progression for the verse at least.
Just as a reminder, here is the most famous chord progression of western music: I – V – vi – IV.
I can’t promise you that if you use this one, you will have a hit song, but many famous songs use that one.
The chorus can have a different chord progression or simply use the main progression shifted up by a major or minor third.
6. Find a melody
In fact, it can be the first step, the starting point of your song. But you may not have found a melody yet.
How to find a melody?
Play the chord progression you have chosen. You can record it and let it play as a loop also. And start to improvise. It will be easier if you know what scale relates to your chord progression.
If you use for example a classical C – G – Am – F chord progression, you can find a melody by playing on the C major scale. Easy on a piano, all the white keys. One of my favorite way to find a melody.
Instead of using an instrument, you can sing along.
OK, I can hear you saying: “But I can’t sing, my voice is awful, I have a cold…”
I don’t mean to really sing as if you were an Opera singer. I am sure you can at least hum something.
I am not a singer, but I can find melodies very naturally using this trick.
Find it in your lyrics
Once again, Robin Frederick has an interesting suggestion.
She observed that when we talk, we already use a melody together with the words.
She suggests then to exaggerate this “melody” when you read out loud your lyrics. Check out her article here.
Listen to other songs and sing or play their melodies.
As for all the songwriting techniques, learn from others.
The good news is that you already have access to lots of music everywhere.
I suggest that you sing or play along with a few different songs.
Whatever is the most natural for you.
You will see that lots of melodies are very simple. You will stop chasing the perfect very original melody.
Try it. You may even find a new melody idea that way.
To conclude on melodies
In the end, I recommend that you keep it simple.
Do not try to find a complex unique melody.
Don’t forget that the melody is only a part of the whole song. It has to fit with all the other elements.
As you go further with your song, you can always change it so that it fits the lyrics.
7. Find lyrics
Even if I placed this one last in the list, this could be the starting point of your song.
A song is usually written to give a message, to tell a story to your audience.
There are almost no rules again here (what a chance!).
You can use rhymes or not. Write long verses or very short ones.
This only “rule” I see is to make sure that your song conveys one single message.
That’s why it can be good advice to start by writing your title, which is a summary of your message.
Then write down a whole story to give some context to your message, to explain and make people feel the emotions attached to it.
But don’t confuse your listeners by mixing messages.
A good way to find the words of your lyrics is to draw a mind map around your title. And find words and concepts related to it.
Also, a good rhymes dictionary (#AffiliateLink) would be very helpful.
8. Add variations (optional)
OK, I lied. There is an 8th step.
But this one really a step in itself.
Here are a few tricks to make your song more interesting if you need to:
- Change the order of the chord progression
- Move up or down the chord progression or the melody
- Change the rhythm
- Reverse the order of the chords or the melody
- Change the starting point of the melody
Now you have a good overview of how to write a song. We have seen different steps:
- How to start to write a song
- Choose a song structure
- Pickup a simple key
- Choose a tempo
- Choose a chord progression
- Find a melody
- Find lyrics.
- Plus a bonus step: add variations.
With all that, you can now jump on your instrument, your notebook, or your phone and start writing your first (or next) song!