How To Write A Song: Songwriting Basics
You dream about writing your own songs, but feel it’s way too difficult to do, especially on your own.
The truth is – writing a song isn’t hard if you know the basics and use a few useful tricks to help your song stand out from the rest.
In this post we’ll go through how to write a song from writing the lyrics to crafting the melody.
Continue scrolling to read, or click on the How To Write A Song: Songwriting Basics YouTube playlist below.
What are the 3 parts of a song?
The majority of songs have 3 major parts: lyrics, chords and a melody – vocal, instrumental or both.
Every songwriter has a different approach when it comes to writing songs, some may start off by writing the lyrics and get down a story as a starting point, others may turn to the music itself and write melodies which later would inspire the story.
The more you write songs, the better you develop a routine or process to write and complete your songs effectively.
Let’s briefly look at these 3 major parts:
- Lyrics – These portray your story to the listener. They can be about an event, an emotion, or a person. Your lyrics will paint a vivid picture in your listeners head.
- Chords – Chords are 2 or more notes played simultaneously, and are used to provide depth and texture to songs. If you’ve seen a band perform and watched the musicians (guitarists & pianists) they’ll be playing chords on their instruments.
- Melody – These are the notes the vocalist or musician plays in terms of pitch. They impact how the listener feels.
How to write lyrics
The lyrics are one of the 3 parts of writing a song (unless it’s an instrumental song).
For some it is the starting point, and it’s where they gather their thoughts and try to visualise a scenario in their head and put it down in words.
This is what you want your lyrics to represent; an emotion, an event, a theory, a question etc.
It also doesn’t have to be real, it can be complete fiction.
Before you focus on your lyrics in detail you should always try to brief out a storyline first to give you some direction.
The easiest way to do this is to break down your story into 4 parts:
- Main purpose of your story e.g. wanting to find the love of my life.
- 2 different scenarios based on this focal point e.g. being in love, and falling out of love.
- A revelation or something that changed how the story might end e.g. not needing to be in love to be happy.
Other than your story, another important aspect of your lyrics to remember is rhyming. Making your lyrics rhyme helps the listener to remember them.
Rhymes can come in a variety of forms but the 2 most common ones are:
- Rhyming couplets – AABB
- Alternate rhyming – ABAB
The A’s rhyme with each other, and the B’s rhyme with each other.
Let’s go through the different sections of a song most commonly found:
Most songs have 2 verses covering between 4-8 lines of lyrics each.
They are used to branch out and explain the purpose or message of the story. Each verse would have different lyrics and be based on something different.
For example: verse 1 about being in love, verse 2 about falling out of love.
A chorus showcases the main purpose of the song and can cover from as little as 2-8 lines long.
It is repeated 2-4 times throughout the song with very few variances each time.
For example: wanting to find the love of my life.
Not all songs one but they are used to bridge the gap between a verse and a chorus.
A pre-chorus acts as a build up or a quick change in dynamics for a short period of time, as it is usually short with anywhere between 1-4 lines of lyrics.
For example: praying and begging for your one true love to knock on the door.
Bridge (aka Middle 8)
Most songs will have a bridge and it is used in contrast with the other sections of a song, it stands out, it’s different. Some songs don’t have a bridge and instead may have a 3rd verse, or repeat a pre-chorus in this section.
Bridges will rhyme, however, if you see any changes to the rhyming schemes used throughout the song it’s usually here.
For example: not needing to be in love to be happy.
How do you structure a song?
Now we’ve been through the most common sections of a song, how do they fit together? How do we structure a song?
The most common song structure is:
The majority of modern Western music is based on this. However, don’t let that stump your creativity.
Below is a summary of our example storyline structured as a song:
I could choose not to include the pre-chorus, or instead of a bridge I could have a 3rd verse.
The choice is always yours.
Note: If you need a few tips on how to write better lyrics, check out 11 Songwriting Tips To Help You Write Better Lyrics.
Chords & chord progressions
Having a chord progression is another important part to writing a song.
If someone is more musical than lyrical, they’ll usually start off a song by creating a chord progression.
What are chords & chord progressions?
A chord is 2 or more notes played simultaneously, and a chord progression are a series of chords played in a sequence. Chords are used to add texture and depth to a song, they allow you to build and release tension.
Note: If you’re a beginner and know nothing about music theory, check out my Beginner’s Guide To Basic Music Theory as we go through how to create scales, chords and progressions.
Firstly, you’ll need to start with a musical scale, secondly, find the basic major and minor chords in that scale and lastly, craft a progression or use a common one.
Let’s take C major scale as our example: C D E F G A B – all the white keys on a piano. From this scale we can craft 7 basic chords:
- C major – C E G
- D minor – D F A
- E minor – E G B
- F major – F A C
- G major – G B D
- A minor – A C E
- B diminished – B D F
To create a chord progression we would use these chords in a sequence.
Common chord progressions
If this is your very first song or you’re a beginner then sticking to a commonly used chord progression is advantageous because it will demonstrate the right amount of tension and release throughout your song.
Examples of common chord progressions are:
Each chord correlates to a number, for example our C major scale example – C major is number 1, D minor is number 2 and so on.
Therefore we have these chord progressions:
- C major – A minor – F major – G major (1-6-4-5)
- C major – G major – A minor – F major (1-5-6-4)
- C major – F major – G major (1-4-5)
When you write a song, you typically have one chord progression for your verse and a second for your chorus, for example:
- Verse: C major – G major – A minor – F major (1-5-6-4)
- Chorus: C major – F major – G major (1-4-5)
How to write the melody
The melody is the final part of writing a song.
It is probably the least used starting point when writing a song, however we all are different so if you feel more capable starting at the melody then do so.
Note: It is worth noting that familiarising yourself with the basics of music theory is highly beneficial for creating a melody. Check out my post Basic Music Theory: The Complete Beginner’s Guide.
Your melody is crafted from the scale you chose for your chord progression, therefore if you chose C major – C D E F G A B, then you’d use these notes to craft your melody.
How do you write a melody?
Melodies are built from a series of musical phrases. A musical phrase is a collection of notes that together form an idea, think of it like writing a sentence which will be part of a paragraph.
How many musical phrases you use when writing a song is your choice, however as a rule of thumb most songwriters use between 2-4 phrases per section which are sometimes repeated to make the melody more memorable.
How can I vary the melody throughout the song?
When writing a song, if you sing the same 3 notes, using the same rhythm, it will get boring for the listener.
Musical phrases consist of 2 parts: notes (pitch) and rhythm.
Sing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” then straight afterwards sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” They both have the same rhythm however different pitches.
Think of this as your verse and chorus, you can vary your sections by focusing on different notes, however still sharing the same rhythm.
Alternatively, you can focus on the same notes but change the rhythm.
Here are a few pointers on crafting your melodies:
- Make your verses more rhythmical to add groove and momentum.
- Repeat musical phrases, and repeat rhythmic patterns throughout your song to create familiarity to the listener. It will help them remember your songs.
- The melody of your chorus should focus on a different set of notes/rhythm compared to your verse to create a contrast.
- Make sure your melody ties in with your chords otherwise your song will sound unpleasant.
Note: If you need more tips on how to craft the perfect melody, check out 11 Songwriting Tips To Help You Craft The Perfect Melody.
It’s your turn
There we have it!
All the songwriting basics you need to know when you want to start writing a song.
Now it’s your turn to go ahead and write some amazing music, I hope this post has been beneficial to you.
Good luck, and get creative!