Everyone has a favorite song or two—the ones that, no matter how many times you’ve heard them, can still give you goosebumps or get you out on the dance floor.
How do some songs remain so close to our hearts, even after years or decades have passed? Many times, it’s the lyrics that speak to us. Other times, it might be simply because it a catchy tune or awesome guitar riff that we can’t forget.
When you write a song, you have to pay attention to two aspects: the lyrics and the melody. Some people write the lyrics first, while others start by singing out the melody. It’s actually like the chicken-and-egg riddle: it doesn’t have a clearcut answer! Instead, you get to decide where you want to start.
How to Write a Song in 6 Steps
Writing a song is not as difficult as it seems. If you’ve never done it before, these simple steps can help you get started:
1. Decide on your theme.
Your theme is essentially what your song will be about. Does it tell of a soaring love story, or a tragic heartbreak? Are you writing a fun song about childhood, friendships, or a sad ballad about lost dreams and regrets in life?
The theme will determine the mood of your song, and this is not easy to change once you’ve started on it.
The theme will also help you think of a good hook, but don’t pressure yourself to write the hook right away. Some songwriters write the hook first, but others end up discovering a hook when they get to the chorus.
And that’s OK: the hook for songs don’t always appear in the verse, as oftentimes, the chorus is the most memorable part.
2. Write your lyrics or use placeholders.
Once you’ve decided on your topic, you can choose to write your lyrics. Don’t be intimidated about writing your lyrics, as you can always edit it as you go. And they don’t always have to rhyme!
If you don’t feel ready to write your lyrics at this point, some songwriters suggest using placeholders. Placeholders are essentially lyrics that you just use temporarily. It can be silly lines you make up, or an existing poem or prose.
A great way to practice songwriting is trying to set the Bible Psalms to music. Because they are already designed as songs, you can explore putting them to music without worrying about writing lyrics. A lot of them also come with a set rhythm that you can use to your advantage.
An example of a group that uses Bible verses in songwriting is the International House of Prayer Missions Base in Kansas City. They have a group of singers and musicians scheduled around the clock to sing different Bible passages, some spontaneously and others prepared from their homes.
But if you love writing poems, writing lyrics should be a breeze for you, and you may need to pay more attention to experimenting with the music.
3. Try out your chord patterns.
Most modern songs use a chord pattern. If you are a musician, you may already be familiar with chord patterns, like G – D – Em – C, or G – Em – C – D. Play around with different combinations in a key signature you’re familiar with.
If you are not a musician, you can use online chord generators, like:
- Autochords: With Autochords, You can choose the mood you want and the generator will give you sample chord progressions. It also lets you choose the instrument that plays the chords. However, it only plays the pattern once, so if you want to keep it playing you have to keep pressing “Play”.
- Chordchord: This lets you auto-generate different patterns, and it keeps playing the pattern over and over, making it easier for you to try singing. You can even set the tempo and the drum pattern to go with it. Then, clicking “Generate” will give you different patterns to play with.
- OneMotion Chord Player: This tool lets you choose the instrument and the style, and it also keeps playing the pattern over and over. Unfortunately, you have to change the chords manually in order to explore with different patterns, so you need a basic knowledge of chords to use this tool.
Try out the different chord progressions and find one that you like. Sometime, you may not know which one to stick with until you try singing to them, as in Step #5 (below).
An important thing to remember is that musical chords can sound happy or sad: if you want an upbeat tune, be sure to use a major chord. For sad or war-like pieces, opt for a minor chord progression.
4. Turn on your recording tool.
We cannot understate the importance of this step. Before you start singing, make sure you have your recording tool ready. This is because music is more an art than a science: as you soar through the creative process, you might stumble upon a melody you really like—and without recording it, it might fly away without a trace, to your utter frustration!
In the old days, even before analog recorders, songwriting and composition involved more memory work, since the composers had to write down the song in musical notation in order to remember it. Fortunately for us, we now have smartphones that can do audio recording at a simple click on the screen.
So just before you start singing, put your smartphone or laptop within maximum voice range and turn on the recording app.
If you are already confident in songwriting, you might save this step for later. Some songwriters only start recording when they’ve gotten a verse or a whole chorus down pat. But for beginner songwriters, I would recommend recording from the get-go, just so you can easily go back and find what you like.
And don’t worry, you can always discard recordings that did not bear fruit! The key is have a method in place for remembering the ones that may interest you.
5. Sing along to the chord pattern(s).
If you have already chosen a chord pattern from Step #3, this is the time for you to start singing to it. Experiment with different melody lines. Don’t be afraid to try dramatic changes in tone.
If you haven’t decided on a chord pattern yet, that’s also fine. Sometimes, the chord pattern will click once you actually start singing and find one that matches the melody you want to have.
A good way to form melody lines is to use traditional song patterns, such as these:
- Verse 1 – Chorus – Verse 2 – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus
- Verse 1 – Verse 2 – Chorus – Verse 3 – Verse 4 – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus
- Verse 1 – PreChorus – Chorus – Verse 2 – PreChorus – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus
If you feel you can’t sing that well but you play an instrument, you can also use your instrument to try out the melody lines. The keyboard is a great instrument to use to pick out notes for your song.
The video below is an excerpt from Tom Morello’s Masterclass on Electric Guitar, in which he explains how to write a song using his guitar:
6. Refine your lyrics.
As you sing, you’ll find that sometimes you may need to change some of the words in your lyrics. Or, if you haven’t actually written down your lyrics yet, now is the time to change the placeholder with the words you want in your song.
Write Your Own Song
As you try your hand at writing a song, continue to practice and build up your confidence.
The more you sing, the more you will feel confident at trying out different tunes, giving you a wide repertoire of your original compositions.
Have you ever written a song? Share the chorus in your comments below!