How To Write A Song

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Getting started can be the hardest part of writing a song. To begin, choose either the lyrics or music as your jumping off point. You can start with a simple phrase of words or can start off with a few notes played on an instrument.

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If you choose to start with the lyrics, your first step is to pick out a title for your song. This may sound like the step that comes last, but by choosing a title first, this can help refine your focus and help you build your song around it. That said, if the title is giving you writer’s block, SKIP IT. You can always work on it later.

Next create the hook. A hook is the catchy line of the song often found in the chorus, and is most commonly the most repeated lyric in a song. For example, in the hit song “Mamma Mia” by ABBA the hook is “Mamma Mia, here I go again, my my how can I resist ya?” Another example of a hook in a popular song is the line “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time” in Elvis Presley’s hit song “Hound Dog.” 

After creating the hook, the next step is to build a chorus. Start forming your chorus by surrounding your hook with general phrases that are catchy and pleasing to the ear. The chorus can have a rhyming pattern or can stand on its own. For example, “Hello” by Adele’s chorus goes “Hello, from the other side, I must have called a thousand times…”. This clearly has a rhyming pattern and sticks in the listeners mind. 

Once you have completed your chorus, it is time to begin writing the verses. From there, you go to writing the verses. The verses come before the chorus and help build up to it and give more explanation to the overall meaning of the song or are used to help tell the story of the song. 

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For example, in The Rolling Stones hit song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the first verse goes, “I saw her today at the reception, a glass of wine in her hand, I knew she would meet her connection, at her feet was her footloose man.” This first verse helps give that catchy chorus the context it needs to be relevant and meaningful to the listener. 

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If you choose to start out with the music, the first thing that you need to do is to pick a genre that best fits the song you would like to create. For example, if you want to make a country song you might consider starting with either an acoustic guitar or a piano. But if you want to make a pop song, you might consider using synths. Don’t play any instruments? You don’t need to! There are plenty of online studio tools you can use to make music without having to have any experience with musical instruments. After you decide what genre you want to make your song, the next step is to pick a rhythm. 

Creating a rhythm is easier than it sounds; all you have to do is think about what type of song you want to write. A happy song will have a faster paced rhythm while a sad song will have a slower paced rhythm. Needing some inspiration for the rhythm of your song? Visit https://saintannsny.org/depart/music/rhythmwriter.html to use their rhythm generator! 

After creating a rhythm, it is time to form the melody. To create the melody of a song, use the guitar, piano, or your own voice to help guide the lyrics or the notes you already have down. It might take awhile to nail this down but just keep trying different things until it sounds right! 

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After that, go back to whatever step you didn’t start with. So, if you chose to write the music for the song first now go back and write the lyrics or if you chose to write the lyrics first now go back and write the music. We are now at the halfway point to making your first song! 

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Finally, comes creating the bridge and adding additional instrumentation. The bridge, sometimes referred to as the third verse of the song, is the part of the song that sings different lyrics that are general and nonspecific but still speak to the message or theme of the song. The bridge is often either sung in a different key or is composed of different notes in the key that the song is already in. It almost is like a second chorus and can create a more emotional depth to your song. The bridge is optional and not every song needs one. To finish your song up, add some additional instruments to the guitar or piano like drums, synths, bass guitar, etc. 

Other helpful hints: 

  • Most songs follow this structure: Intro, Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Outro. However, you do not have to follow this structure. You can choose what you want your song to look like. 
  • Working with a co-writer can be helpful! Two is better than one in most cases! 
  • Don’t get discouraged! It takes practice but if you work at it, anyone can be a great songwriter. 

Some helpful resources to help you get started: 

4 Simple Steps to Writing A Song Ted Talk: 

Learn the inspiration behind Beatles songs and lean how two of today’s hits were made: 

Stories Behind Paul McCartney’s and The Beatles Songs on GQ: : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u97_inloBmY 

Dua Lipa’s Making of “Physical” from The New York Times’ Series Making Of A Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu6KttI5loo&list=PL4CGYNsoW2iBe_JY8XeXiUQdr2GRFgY-Z

Taylor Swift’s Making of “Lover” The New York Times’ Series Making Of A Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEeWmItgdxA&list=PL4CGYNsoW2iBe_JY8XeXiUQdr2GRFgY-Z&index=4