How to Write a Song


How to write good music? There is no set formula for writing a great song. You can write whatever you want! However, I think a song is best written from the heart.

You can use a combination of lyrics and music, a poem, just music, just lyrics, or screaming down a microphone. What you should do though, is give your song a message that other people can relate to (that could be just you, 2 or 3 people, or thousands). If it gives you a buzz, it may give others a buzz too!

Many songwriters suggest listening to good songs and learning from them. Try and analyse how they’ve been written, their structure and mood, whether it’s a powerful happy tune that makes you want to get up and dance or a tear jerking love song. However, do you want to be an individual? In which case, you can do whatever you want…    But, do you want to be listened to by others? This leads to the dilemma of originality and what’s gone before.

What is a song? To me it is music written to express how you may feel about someone, a situation, a life experience, or something that has a sense and meaning. You may be influenced by a personal experience, or someone else’s, (pleasurable or sad). After reading a book, or watching the TV, you might connect to a scenario and the start of a song is triggered!

Oh yes, always have a recording device (such as a voice recorder on your mobile phone), or a piece of paper handy, so when that inspirational moment comes, you can get it down before you lose it. For example, one of the Rolling stones best known songs was initially recorded on an early tape recorder. Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night. Without even knowing it, he pressed record on the ‘cassette recorder’, played his guitar for a bit and went back to sleep. In the morning Keith saw the cassette tape had run to the end, re-wound the tape and there was 30 seconds of a slow version of ‘(I can’t get no) Satisfaction’. He couldn’t remember ever playing the tune the night before! In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed the song “Satisfaction” in the second spot on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”

So, let’s begin…          Marie

how do you write a song?

The following describes how I generally start to write a song. There are no set rules, or specific order, I do whatever works best at the time. Let the voice inside your head describe what you are feeling. You could be in the shower, mowing the lawn, walking your furry friend, or kicking your lazy boyfriend / girlfriend out!

So how do you actually start to convert the tune you recorded on your phone, or scrap of paper into a song?

Everyone will write a song in a different way (or is that similar, but different?). However, they may start with one, or a combination of the following key elements:

  • A melody line, (either with or without lyrics).
  • A rhythm pattern.
  • A single chord (or sequence of chords).

All of these need a twist of imagination! I’ve used all of these to help me get started on a song. Less frequently, I have written down lyrics first and gone on from there. But whichever method you use, it needs to be spontaneous. A song needs to flow. If the flow is not there, leave it for a while and try again later.

See if you can play some chords on an instrument such as a piano, guitar, clapping, or anything you may have to hand and start strumming, or tapping out your songwriting ideas. This will start to give your song mood and direction. You don’t need to be a music maestro, just the basics to get you started. If you can’t play an instrument, ask someone to help you. A willing musician would be able to add chords and/or a beat to your lyrics and melody line to complete the process of your song for you, but they might ask to be a co-writer with you!

Writing a Song

Above all, your song must entertain…

The combination of music and lyrics (or whatever you’ve produced) should convey the message of the song to the listener, so that they feel it too. To be “catchy” and memorable, is a good thing. A good song usually has repeated sequences. This could be a short riff, repeated throughout the song, perhaps with variations (a bridge), or a whole chorus.

A song is always written in a particular key / chord. The key will give the song its recognisable sound which can be followed by fellow musicians and will help to pitch the melody of the song. Once the key is established the song can move around in and out of other keys / chords, giving it a sense of “colour” and movement to suit the feel of the lyrics and melody. Major chords produce a generally happier sound and minor ones may sound sad. I think it is nice to have both major and minor elements in a song.

For example, say your established key is C major, the notes of your melody would tend to blend with that chord, e.g. (C, E, and G) and with either of these three notes in the bass. To stay on these notes for a whole song, would mean it would lack structure, i.e. shape and interest so it would be best to change the key (chord) through the song.

Key Elements of Song Writing

A song should contain:

  • A beat / rhythm.
  • A melody line / tune.
  • Accompaniment (chords).

They don’t have to be present throughout the whole song, but can add variation change, by changing the:

  • Pitch.
  • Volume
  • and Phrasing.

This will help add feeling to the song.

Generally, a song has lyrics. These can be sung, spoken, mumbled, hummed, screeched, or rapped (whatever takes your fancy), with instrumental elements throughout. To be deep and meaningful, the lyrics are best written as descriptive as possible, telling a story about him, her, them, me, you, us, your mother, brother grandma, etc, etc.

You don’t have any lyrics? Don’t worry, there are plenty of instrumental songs out there, or there are songs with a limited amount of lyrics that work really well, (or lyrics may come later?). It also works the other way round – Lyrics but no music!

Can’t sing? Don’t worry, there are plenty of well-known songs or songwriters out there who it could be argued can’t sing, but are very well respected for their creativity and their musical / lyrical ability.

A song usually has three five key elements:

  1. An introduction.
  2. Verse (draw the listener into your song).
  3. Chorus (every one sings along – or gets the tissues out).
  4. Bridge – Optional, not essential. Typically a part of a song that may sound completely different – This is where your imagination can run riot (or not).
  5. An ending.

Song Structure: Easy as A, B, C?

A = Verse, B = Chorus, C = Bridge

Common song structures are: ABC, AABA, AAA, ABABCB or they could be much more complicated ABABCABCAB. Have a look at some of your favourite songs and work out their structures. It may help shape the type of song you’re trying to create. Don’t forget, you can also add an introduction and ending.

  • Make the structure relatively easy to follow, to keep the listener engaged.
  • Repetition can help with familiarity, variation can help with interest.
  • The chorus needs a memorable riff so the listener finds themselves humming or singing it back to themselves.
  • The rhythm (not the drums). Feel the rhythm through the song. It may speed up or slow down, but must be steady (rocking).
  • The chords may be absent for a time (A Cappella or Acappella). In contrast, Cantata is the name given to accompanied singing.
  • You may hear the term ‘free form’. In other words, be as original as you want with no set structure.

Writing songs shouldn’t always be literal. They may be an indirect description, very much like many poems, using words carefully to describe a visual image with as few words as possible, but with good original descriptive qualities. Try and work a ‘hook’ into your song. To have someone humming your tune, or repeating your lyrics, means you’re on your way to…      ‘Getting them hooked!’

Other songs

Many famous songs have been written in just three chords. For instance, Sweet home Alabama. The three chords that are typically used are (here comes the technical bit!) the chords on the tonic, sub-dominant, and dominant (scale degrees I, IV and V): in the key of C, these would be the C, F and G chords. Sometimes the V7 chord ( dominant 7th) is used instead of V, for more interest. The I (tonic), IV (sub-dominant) and V (dominant) chords (primary triads) together encompass all seven tones of the tonic’s major scale. These three chords are a simple means of covering many melodies without the use of passing notes. There are literally tens of thousands of songs written with I, IV and V chords. Almost all country, blues, and early rock and roll songs are three chord songs. A great many pop songs are also I, IV and V chord songs. The order of the chord progression may be varied, popular chord progression variations using the I, IV and V chords of a scale are: V – I – IV I – V – IV – V V – IV – I Beside the I, IV and V chord progression, other widely used 3 chord progressions are: I – VI – V I – II – V. (Don’t worry if this chords bit doesn’t mean anything to you, it will come with time).

In the 1960s, bands began writing songs that stretched the scope of rock and roll beyond three-chord songs (the Beach Boys and the Beatles). This led away from the ‘old school’ country and blues base of rock and roll music, and eventually resulted in the development of rock music and the many genres that followed. Three-chord music still remains popular and has remained, particularly in punk rock. Song writing can take time, but it can also appear in minutes. You never know when an inspiration may come to you, so always be prepared with a note pad or a voice recorder. I often start a song when out for a walk on my own. I will sing into my voice recorder and when I get home, sit at the piano and add some chords.

Other info!

  • Don’t forget to structure your song to let the singer breathe.
  • Being cheesy, or trying to be clever. It can work, ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua sold millions, but there is a thin line between it working for a while and then becoming annoying.
  • To gain inspiration, Play in a different key, use a different instrument, time signature, rhythm, or sing with someone else.
  • Secret ingredient – Passion.

If you get the bug, you could soon be writing 20 songs a day, making a fortune!          … If only it was that easy.

Why not take a look at some of the songs I have written. They are on two pages:


P.S. If you have any questions you can contact me here. 

My Song was Played on BBC Radio
My Song was Played on BBC Radio