Song Writing for Simpletons

Updated: Dec 24, 2021

So you're trying to write a song? Feeling stuck and uninspired? Well look no further, this is the ultimate beginner's guide to song writing.


There are a few key steps to song writing and although the finished products have roughly the same components every musician's process differs. The following steps are a deconstruction of what it takes to make a song and can be followed in any order or forgotten entirely if you'd rather.

1. Getting started

Although artists have many different ways of writing songs they all seem to agree on two

things, it should be instinctual and inspired. These are the key ingredients of beginning your song writing process, so you have to ask yourself what inspires you? Singer-songwriter Conan Grey has said for him song writing is a natural process. His brain conjures up a snippet of a melody line or a lyric and from there he will construct a song quickly, recording it as he goes, after he will spend weeks editing the lyrics so they are effectively expressing the song's message. You can listen to Conan Grey discuss the song writing process here.

Some people prefer a more methodical approach, you could try starting with the lyrics. Write a poem, a verse or a chorus about your chosen subject and then come back and add the music once the lyrics are done. Or perhaps you don't have a way with words, in this case, you might want to start with the music, notate and compose your song and then add the lyrics last. Each song you write might warrant a different method of composition so don't try and force it, instead let the song grow organically and maybe even change your method as you go.

2. The Music

It might seem a little bit redundant to mention the fact that you need music for a song, but it is important that you understand a little bit about music theory and the key components that make up a pop song. First of all most pop songs fit a verse-chorus structure, perhaps with a middle-8 or a bridge in the second half of the song. For example, ABABCB - is a very popular format, where A refers to a verse, B to a chorus, and C to a bridge. You might want to try using this format as a reference point and developing it as you become more comfortable with the song writing process.

Scales and chords can sound scary if you are new to the music scene, however, they really are useful if you want to be able to notate what you have written or to accompany the lyrics or vocal that you have written too. The best part is, it shouldn't take too long to learn the boring theory part as most songs are written with the same 4 chords, so if you teach yourself these chords the possibilities are endless. These chords in roman numerals are I, IV, V and vi. Below are these chords and the scale degrees that they relate to in the key of C major. The Lower case numerals relate to minor or diminished chords, whilst those in uppercase are major or augmented.

The most common way to use these chords is in the order I, V, vi, IV and these scale degrees can be transposed into any major key to best suit your voice or song.

Theoretically speaking as long as you know chords I, IV, V and vi from any one key you have the tools to write a hit. Comedy rock band Axis of Awesome perfectly demonstrate just how many bands utilise this popular I, V, vi, IV chord progression.

3. Lyrics

You can start by writing lyrics with the melody it might be instinctual or you might have a musical idea that they have to fit into already or you might have a blank slate. Some artists start by writing poetry and then fitting a melody around this, but nearly all artists agree that you should just have fun with what you write. Perhaps you will choose to write from experience and hope to strike a chord with listeners, or perhaps you'll be inspired by literature or art like Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights'. Regardless the most important thing is to write for yourself before writing for an audience.

Here Florence Welch explains her absence of a writing process:

And Finally

Remember that practice makes perfect - you might write a hundred songs before you write one you like, so what are you waiting for, the sooner you start the sooner you write that hit single!

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