If you want to learn how to write a song, the following songwriting for beginners guide is for you. We will take a look at:
- Choosing a Genre
- Song Structure
- The Start of Your Song
- The Verses
- The Chorus
- The Melody
- Rhythm and Time Signatures
- Chords and Chord Progressions
- Song Lyrics
- Song Hooks
- The Bridge or Middle 8
- The Ending of Your Song
Learn How to Write a Song – Songwriting For Beginners – Tips (written by Mantius Cazaubon)
Choosing a Genre
Before you begin writing, it’s wise to decide on a particular genre. The genre of a song is simply the style that you would normally associate with it. For instance, songs that incorporate acoustic and pedal steel guitars and talk about living on a farm, break up or divorce, are usually in the Country music genre.
There are hundreds of genres and sub-genres, including Rock, Pop, Hip Hop, R&B, Dance/EDM and Christian/Gospel. Every song is in a particular genre but sometimes there is no clear distinction and a song can be placed in more than one. Sometimes two or more styles of music are fused together.
Make a decision as to the particular genre you will be writing in. The more you stick to one or two genres, the better. It’s better to specialize instead of trying to be all things to everyone. Write in a genre that you’re passionate about and familiar with; this will make songs come to you more naturally.
Having said this, you shouldn’t be constrained by any particular genre. You can push boundaries and bring elements from other genres into your song. Just make sure that you do not stray too far away from the genre you’re in. If you move too far away and go overboard, your listeners may not be able to relate to your song.
While uniqueness is important, and you don’t want to sound like everybody else, it’s wise to incorporate enough of your genre’s characteristics in your song so that it fits into radio format. A familiar sound is important for listeners just as a familiar taste is important for people at the dinner table.
If songwriting is more than a hobby and you want to make money in music, commercial considerations are very important. Don’t choose a genre that is so obscure that you are doomed from the start. Don’t choose one where you stand to earn very little or nothing from your efforts.
It’s very important to know and understand what works in your chosen genre. Therefore, you should listen to the hits and study their chords, melodies and lyrics. Figure out what these songs have in common. Figure out what it is about the top 20 songs that gets fans so excited. Why are these songs getting so much airplay? Whatever you think are the answers to these questions, incorporate them into your songs.
Learn How to Write a Song – Songwriting Tips For Beginners
Let’s talk about song structure. What does this mean? It simply refers to the way the sections of a song are arranged. Sections are the intro, verses, choruses, bridge, pre-chorus, outro and so on, of a song. A common song format is intro / verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge (or middle eight) / verse / chorus / chorus / outro. In other words, the song starts with the intro, then moves to a verse, then a chorus, then a verse, and so on. Songs can also include a pre-chorus between verse and chorus or an instrumental break.
The most important part of a song is the chorus, followed by the verses. It’s important for your chorus to appear very early in the song, before 60 seconds. You can even start with the chorus. Why? Because you want to grab your listener’s attention right away. You want to give them the juicy part of the song from early on so that they can listen to the rest of your song. People have a short attention span, especially today. If you wait too long to introduce listeners to your chorus and hook, they may never get to them.
In many songs, verses are quieter than the chorus. Sometimes verses are lower in pitch than the chorus. This creates contrast and makes the song interesting. The song, Africa by Toto is a great example of a song with lower pitched verses and a high chorus.
Having talked about the importance of the chorus and verse, there are always exceptions to the rule. One such exception is the famous song, Yesterday by The Beatles. This song has no chorus. It also doesn’t have the typical verse. It’s structured differently.
Listen to the hits songs in your genre and study their structure. Pattern your songs after this. You are always free to add your own creativity and deviate a little, but do not stray too far away from your genre’s typical structure.
The Start of Your Song
Don’t take the introduction of your song for granted. The intro and opening lines can either make or break your song. Grab your listener’s attention right away with a strong intro. Make a positive impression in your listener’s mind from the very start. This is how you get him/her to listen to the rest of your song.
People make up their minds about your song very quickly. If you fail within the first few seconds, that is it for you. Record company executives decide whether they like your song or not in as little as 40 seconds. The same can be said about regular listeners. I’m sure you know how easy it is to click the close button on a computer. I’m sure that you do not want listeners to click that button or link and move on to something they find more appealing. For this reason, the singer should start singing from very early on and your intro must be compelling.
It’s been said that first impressions last. This is true for music as well. It’s basic human psychology. Arouse the listener’s interest right away.
Learn How to Write a Song – Beginner Songwriting Tips
Your verses are where you develop your idea and advance your concept, plot or story. Your verses should keep the listener interested in your song. Each verse prepares your listener for your chorus and influences the way they view it.
Your verses and chorus go hand in hand. It’s pointless having a strong chorus and hook, and weak verses. You must keep listeners engaged so that they can make it to your hook/chorus. Win the attention of your audience quickly.
A song usually has two or three verses. In this era, most songs usually have only two verses since songs can’t be too long anymore. Make each verse focus on a different idea and build on the other(s). Communicate your storyline in a clear manner.
For popular music, make your verse about 45 seconds long. If there’s a pre-chorus after the verse, a 30-second verse is probably just right.
This is the main part of the song. It should be memorable. It is the emotional and musical climax of your song. In most songs, your hook should be part of your chorus, although you can have other hooks in other sections of your song. Repeat your hook a few times in the chorus.
Ensure that your chorus stands out. Make it exciting. Every section of your song must accentuate the chorus, especially the hook. One way to make your chorus stand out is to make its pitch higher than the rest of your song. Make every other section lead to your catchy chorus with a strong hook. Make your chorus short and to the point. Make just one lyrical point in your chorus.
The melody is the tune of the song. It’s the actual notes of the lead vocal. If you take out the words of the song, you’re left with the melody. For instance, if you play what the singer sings on a piano, one note at a time, you’re playing the melody. A good melody should be memorable.
If your song is in a popular genre, your listener should be able to easily hum or whistle its melody after one listen. Keep it sweet and simple and ensure that it grabs attention.
A powerful melody will sound great even if all the words are extracted. It will sound fantastic even if its unaccompanied by chords. One great way to test your melody is to play it on an instrument and see whether it sounds great without any words. Or hum or whistle your melody to see whether its still catchy.
The melody of your song should evoke a strong, emotional feeling.
The tempo of a song is simply how slow or fast it is. For instance, from slow to fast, a song can be 120 BPM, 130 BPM or 140 BPM. BPM stands for beats per minute. If a song has a BPM of 120, it means that there are 120 beats in every minute, or 2 beats every second. You can use a metronome to find or decide on the best tempo for your song.
It’s very important that you choose the right tempo for your song, especially for dance music. Your tempo cannot be too fast or too slow when compared to the other songs in your genre. It should match what is currently in rotation on the radio as much as possible. If your song is too fast or too slow, it’s hard for a DJ to add it to his/her mix and your song will most likely not get played.
Rhythm and Time Signatures
Most popular songs have a 4/4 time signature. 4/4 time means that there are 4 beats in every measure. In other words, the beats are counted, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.
Some songs can have a 3/4 time signature, although this time signature is not as popular as it was back in the day. This means that there are 3 beats in every bar or measure. In other words, count 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 and so on. The 3/4 time signature is typically used in Waltz music.
Other time signatures include 6/8 and 2/2, but 4/4 is the most popular one, followed by 3/4. Ninety something percent of songs are either 3/4 or 4/4 time.
How to Write a Song – Songwriting For Beginners
Chords and Chord Progressions
A chord is three of more notes played together. Chords create harmony. The most used chords in music are major and minor chords. Major and minor chords are three-note chords, also called triads. The two other main types of chords or triads are diminished and augmented chords. There are other types of chords, such as suspended second, suspended fourth, dominant seventh, major seventh, minor seventh and sixth chords. More advanced chords include ninth and thirteenth chords. As a songwriter of popular music, if you can play simple major and minor chords, you’ll be well on your way. Popular songs leave out most of these advanced chords and just keep it simple.
If you are new to chords, you can search for popular chord progressions on the internet to write your song. Two popular chord progression are I vi IV V and I V vi IV. In the key of C, it means that you play the chords, C major – A minor – F major – G major, or C major – G major – A minor – F major, respectively. As a new songwriter, knowing how to play chords is not an absolute must. But as you progress, it’s good to work on your chords. Chords will help you write better. They will make you become a better-rounded writer.
Starting with a great chord progression can work wonders for your song and its melody. They can help you generate ideas. You are free to use different chord progressions for different sections of your song or use one chord progression throughout.
Chord progressions are copyright-free. This means that you can use any chord progression you like even if it has been used before, or even if it’s in your favorite song. Some chord progressions are known as “money chords” because hit songs continue to be written on them. The two chord progressions I presented earlier are two such examples.
Lyrics, as I’m sure you know are simply the words that the singer sings. Depending on your specific strength, hit lyrics can be an even bigger challenge than the musical part of your song. If you play an instrument, putting a chord progression together is fairly easy. You can even use a chord progression that already exists, as we’ve seen. You can come up with an interesting melody quickly. But hit lyrics are in a different league altogether.
Coming up with a great lyric depends a lot on inspiration. You need to be in the right zone and have the right mindset at the time, for lyrics to flow to you. They can come to you effortlessly when you are in a very emotional state. At times, you may be inspired by simply watching a movie, listening to a speech, reading a book or seeing people excel in their field of work. You can be inspired by a tragedy, by witnessing something new and incredible, or by simply living life.
Strong lyrics engage your listener’s imagination. They move your audience in some way. They evoke emotions such as sadness and happiness. They can cause your listener to feel motivated, inspired, make them dance, and so on. Whatever effect you’re looking for, you must bear this in mind as you write or re-write your song.
What point is your lyric making? What’s the point? It should be clear in the words of your song. Make one major point. Don’t complicate things or confuse the listener by going in every imaginable direction with your message. Everything should gel together nicely and make perfect sense.
Repetition is very important, particularly for pop lyrics. Be sure to repeat lines or words, particularly in the chorus, so that you hook the listener. Avoid using cliches; they will only bore the listener.
If lyric writing is not your forte and you’re better at writing music and melody, consider co-writing with a lyric writer that complements your specific strength.
Learn How to Write a Song – Songwriting For Beginners
This is the most important element of a pop song. A great song hook gets your listeners attention, engages their ear, is easily remembered and makes them crave for more. A hook can be lyrical or musical.
The main hook is in the chorus but a song can have hooks in its other sections. Adding hooks to the other sections of your song is a great way to maintain the listener’s attention throughout the entire composition. When adding hooks in other sections, ensure that these hooks compliment the main hook. They shouldn’t dilute the main hook or take the listener in a totally different direction. Hooks shouldn’t compete with each other.
Make your hook short and simple. Create it in such a way that it’s singable by anyone, even a five year old.
You can learn a lot about hooks by simply listening to hit songs and identifying the hook(s). Notice where the hooks appear and how often they do and learn from this.
If your hook is powerful, do not be afraid to include it in other sections of your song, as long as you don’t overdo it.
The Bridge or Middle 8
A song doesn’t necessarily need a bridge and it’s a matter of choice. But the bridge (also called middle 8) certainly adds a new dimension to your song and takes it to the next level. For songs that have a bridge, the bridge usually comes after the second chorus. It’s designed to create contrast. It is a great way to do something different in the song, to take the listeners in a new direction and keep the song interesting. A bridge serves as a departure or release from the rest of the music. When adding a bridge, ensure that it stays consistent with the rest of the song.
The Ending of Your Song
Like every other part of your song, the ending is very important. It should be so great that the listener wants to listen to your song again. A great ending should be impactful and keep your listener wanting more.
There are many ways to end a song. You can end it by using repetition, as in Elton John’s Rocket Man where he sings “And I think it’s gonna be a long long time” over and over. Another way is to end on a different chord as opposed to the root chord. You can also change to a higher key towards the end of your song like was done in Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called. If your song is in the key of C, you can play Ab major, Bb major and C major as your final three chords.