There are many steps to writing a song and a lot are often missed. This process you will learn will help you stay organized and help you be creative. Often beginning songwriters will a write song using an idea or a riff they had. They have trouble with figuring out where to go next. What else could be played that could go with it or accompany it? These are issues we all face when we try to sit down and write following no process whatsoever. Here are some simple steps to writing a song!
Steps to Writing a Song
1. Song Form
You may not feel like you need to know what the exact song form is before you even start writing, but it’s important to have an idea. Are there going to be multiple verses? Is there a bridge? Is there a guitar solo or solo for another instrument? How many times do you want to repeat the chorus? These are questions that should be answered. Sometimes you may begin with one form and end up with something different. By having the form you are able to have an outline of how your song is put together or how you are hoping it is put together.
Here is a simple song form example:
Intro – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus – Outro
*This is an extremely common form because the chorus is repeated a total of three times so that the listener can easily remember it by listening to the song only once.
Here is another example of a song form:
Instrumental Chorus – Verse – Half Chorus – Verse – Verse – Full Chorus – Solo – Chorus
*This is similar to the song form from before, but here the length of verses is changed as well as the chorus to make it more unique. You may have realized you wanted to do that right away or you could have come up with it later on. The fact is that it is easier to have a form because you can see how parts fit together.
2. Chord Progression/Song Key
If you are unfamiliar with writing chord progressions or don’t know what song keys are, refer to my blog on writing chord progressions. What if you don’t know what key you want to play in? That’s easy, just pick one! The easiest keys to write in would have minimal sharps or flats. Here you may also want to try and decide if you want the song to be sad sounding and in minor or happy sounding and in a major key. Just because you write in a minor key, however, doesn’t mean it’s a sad song.
Here are examples of a chord progressions in the key of a minor:
1) Am – Am – C – G 2) Am – C – G – Am 3) Am – C – E – Am 4) Am – G – Em – Am
*If you follow the tonic to predominant to dominant to tonic progression then you can generate a bunch of chord progressions easily! You can even take these chord progressions and mark them as the different parts to your song. Maybe the second progression above is used for the verse and maybe the fourth is used for the chorus. The most important part of writing is to pick. It may not sound amazing right now or the direction you were going for, but this is a process and you can’t judge it until it’s complete!
3. Melodies and Lyrics
I wrote melodies and lyrics together as the next step because you can go either way. Some songwriters prefer to have lyrics before hand because then as they listen to their chord progression they can hum a tune that flows with the words and chords. Others like to come up with a catchy melody that works with the chords then figure out what to write about later. Sometimes using lyrics can inhibit your creativity because you try really hard to make the words you wrote fit with a melody. I don’t have a preference and have written songs both ways. Let’s assume you will write a melody first so follow these steps:
1. Write a melody that uses chord tones you sing on strong beats of the song.
2. Write a melody that uses passing tones or neighbor tones that flow between chord tones.
3. Use repeating rhythmic devices like syncopation. Syncopation is defined as musical rhythm in which stress is given to the weak beats instead of the strong beats. It is also when you displace the strong beats by having notes hold through beat one or beat three.
4. Check to see if your melody has a high point and a low point. It is okay to have many notes repeated because lyrics with multiple syllables may need notes that stay the same.
Now that you have finished your melody, think of a subject that you could easily write about. I always instruct my students to make an outline just like in English class. The topic could be broad like Guy Gets Girl, Falling In Love, An Issue at School, Relationships, Something That Upsets You, Something That Makes You Feel Good. Then come up with five more supporting topics that relate directly to your topic. For example, if you write about Guy Gets Girl then your five supporting topics could be “When I First Saw Her”, When We First Talked/Met, “When I First Realized She Was In A Relationship”, How They Broke Up And You Were There For Her, How You Ended Up Together.
Once your have your five supporting topics, come up with four to eight lines that support those sub-topics like supporting details to a paragraph. You can either write these so that they follow a rhyme scheme or you can write them as complete sentences and work on changing them to rhyme later. Sometimes when you think of writing lyrics it seems like a daunting task but if you follow the above steps to writing a song lyric then it will be easy.
Instrumentation is important to think about while writing a song and you may have known how you wanted it from the beginning. Instrumentation for your song could be solo voice and guitar, two guitars and voice, full band without piano, full band with piano, piano and voice, piano, voice and guitar, etc. Sometimes songwriters like to write for full band and then make a stripped down acoustic version later on.
Arrangement comes after instrumentation because it is dependent upon instrumentation. For example, if you plan on only having guitar and voice for instrumentation, then you need to arrange for the song to have parts that make acoustic instruments shine. Arranging can be given it’s own separate blog because of how broad it can be and all of the factors involved. Arranging could be where to place certain dynamics in a song, how fast or how slow you want to play, the octaves in which you play, the chord voicing for certain chords, rhythms of specific parts of the song and more.
One of the most important steps to writing a song is recording. Some songwriters record all along when writing a song, but it isn’t necessary. It is extremely important to hear what your song sounds like when you aren’t playing it. Being able to critically listen to your work while you aren’t playing it is key. You may find out there are a few notes here or there you want to change. It is difficult to hear a song while you are playing or performing it the same way a listener would for enjoyment.
I hope that following these basic steps to writing a song are helpful and aid you in writing your next hit! Always keep writing and even if you feel unsure how your song will turn out along the way, finish it. Even famous musicians have songs that they don’t like, but their listeners still do. For more help on songwriting visit our blog or if you are interested in scheduling in studio or online lessons, visit www.letsplaymusic.com or call 603-425-7575.