Are you ready to start songwriting, but you’re not sure where to start? With a little bit of guidance and practice, you’ll be able to turn your sparks of inspiration into fully completed compositions.
Below, we’ll discuss how to write a song in 5 easy steps. This step-by-step songwriting guide will walk you through the process of transforming your ideas into standalone tracks, and ties in nicely with previous posts we’ve made about songwriting.
1. Understand A Song’s Basic Elements
For starters, it can be helpful to understand a song’s essential elements. Generally speaking, you can break these elements down into two groupings: structural and sonic.
You already understand these different pieces intuitively. You could probably identify them by actively listening to your favorite song. Whenever the mood changes or transitions into another section, you’re listening to a shift in the song’s structure. With that in mind, here is the vocabulary you need to categorize these elements.
These are sections of a song that come together to create an entire piece.
- Verse: Verses in songs usually take up the most time and are usually where the listener gets the most information about the speaker/singer. In lyric-based songs, this is where the singer is telling a story. A repeated chorus usually surrounds the verse. Verses usually aren’t repeated to a T, but they may reuse the same melody as another verse.
- Chorus: These are the shiny, repeated moments in a song. The chorus is usually the most essential part of the song’s melody, and it often fully repeats with the same cadence and melody. Choruses include a hook, which just refers to a phrase or melody designed to stick in your head. The chorus, supported by the verses, is generally shorter and catchier.
- Bridge: A bridge just refers to a section that contrasts with the rest of the piece. Bridges stand out and can help build tension to a final chorus or going back into a verse.
Some typical song structures include:
- VERSE – CHORUS – VERSE – CHORUS
- INTRO – VERSE – CHORUS – VERSE – BRIDGE – CHORUS
- VERSE – CHORUS – BRIDGE – CHORUS
These are the main sonic elements you’ll need to consider throughout your writing process.
- Rhythm: The rhythm of your track adds energy and groove to your composition. You’ll want to think about rhythm when determining how each section should flow into the next one.
- Chords and Bass: Chords and basslines serve as a backbone for your melody. These structural elements are usually somewhat repetitive. The repetition allows the melody to stand out against chords or the bass. Chords are created by using notes within the key of your song.
- Melody: Melody refers to the string of notes that stands out amongst your other structural elements. Melody can stem through vocals as well as different instruments.
Remember that with any composition, nothing has to be set in stone. Not all songs are structured in the same way or have all of the critical elements represented. That to be said, these guidelines can be helpful when you’re just starting.
2. Find Something To Start With
Now that you understand the essential elements of a song, it’s time to get started. The best way to get going is to first come up with one of the sonic elements and build from there. Do you have a melody in mind? Record it on voice memos. A sick bassline? Mark it in your DAW. A great beat? Record it and start riffing off of it.
Most of the time, I prefer to start by creating a chord progression. This is often the easiest way for me to get inspired and start building something upon it. Learning basic music theory can be incredibly helpful in your journey as a musician. You can start by looking up common chord progressions online or even using a MIDI chord pack.
From there, improvise with yourself. What can you add to the progression to make it 10% closer to sounding like a full-blown track? During this stage, jot down anything and everything that comes to mind and save it for later.
There’s no one right way to write a song. The key is to create a fundamental element that’s inspiring enough to build off of itself.
3. Experiment With Melody
Once you’ve created your foundation of the song, it’s time to start adding in melodies. You may find that melodic ideas come to you naturally. Alternatively, you can use a scale to build melodic lines. Create different melodic phrases and capture them in your DAW or voice memos so you can refer back to them later.
Don’t get too hung up on where certain elements will go (i.e., which melody will be for the chorus and the verse). If one seems to fit naturally into one role or the other, that’s great, but remember that you can always refine these ideas later.
One exercise that helps me is playing a chord progression on a loop and improvising melodies using a nonsense word like “da” or “la” on top of it. I’ll record myself singing notes in my voice memos and then add lyrics to these notes later.
If you’re not finding melodies that fit well with your voice or instrument, you can always go a step back and adjust your starting sound.
4. Write Lyrics & Create Structure
Brainstorm different topics you’d like to write about. From there, you can think of words that fit within your melody’s phrasing. It also helps to rhyme lines to give your song some more flow and cohesion.
By this point, you should be able to piece together the whole song. Start laying out where you want your chorus, verse, and bridge sections to be. Feel free to listen to some of your favorite songs and reference their structure. It’s totally fine to listen to a pop song and follow the same format to ensure that yours is organized well.
Once you have structure, lyrics, and melodies that fit solidly together, you can start to rehearse these parts in conjunction with one another.
5. Refine Your Track
It can also help take a step back from your writing session and check back in the next day or week. Sometimes, you need a fresh set of ears to create your best work.
Luckily, with practice, this process should become easier over time. Above all, don’t forget that there isn’t one good way to write a song. Instead, figure out a process that highlights your productivity and creativity. Happy songwriting!