how-to-write-a-song

How To Write A Song in 5 Easy Steps: With Song Breakdown

Having a song that you wrote yourself and can call your own is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world, especially if you’re able to perform or record that song for the world to hear. 

But how do you write a song? 

To write a song, you’ll need to follow five important steps:  
1. Figure out the topic that you want to write about
2. Create a rough idea
3. Build the song structure
4. Fill in your song
5. Add finishing touches

In this article, I’ll be going through the five steps in detail and also include some useful tools that can help you write a song faster! I’ll also use my song “Far Away”, which I published on Spotify and Apple Music, as an example to give you an insight on how I wrote the song and the thought process behind the track. I’ll break down some of the strategies as well so you can add it to your own songwriting process. 

Let’s begin!

1. Figure out the topic that you want to write about

Before you start writing a song, you should have an idea on what you want to write about. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to get a clearer picture before you start writing a song. 

Should I write lyrics or melody first?

Depending on what your music experience is, you can start writing either the lyrics first or the melody. For people who play an instrument, writing the music might be easier for you since you’re more familiar with playing chords and musical notes.

Other songwriters may be more sensitive to words. If so, start with lyrics.

When I wrote “Far Away,” I started with writing the melody first since that came to me while I was playing around with the piano, which leads me to the next point…

What songwriting tools should I use?

Every songwriter should have some necessary tools at their disposal to help with their songwriting process. Common songwriting tools include a songwriting booklet, a pen, and an instrument of your choice. Websites and apps like Autochords and Evernote can also be handy and can help you kickstart your song.

My usual setup consists a guitar, mic, laptop & headphones

How do I find inspiration?

Finding inspiration and knowing what to write can be extremely unpredictable. Some ideas can take a long time to put together and write, while some can take less than 30 minutes!

Passively waiting for inspiration to come your way is a very inefficient approach to songwriting because you’ll never know when it will happen. So the best way is to feed your creativity and find inspiration around you. 

Listen to your favorite songs 

If you’re struggling to find inspiration, listen to some of your favorite tunes and see if any songs pique your interest. 

You don’t want to copy any parts of the song, but there might be some elements that may inspire you to imitate. 

Here are some things you can look out for:

  • Genre of music
  • The mood of the melody
  • Arrangement of the song
  • Lyrics and theme

If there’s an idea that jumps out at you like a specific melody or a sound, try recreating it and fiddle with the notes. You’ll be surprised by how a small idea can turn into a great piece of melody or lyric. 

Must Read: How to Be a Versatile Singer: Master More Than One Genre

Imagery

Looking at different pieces of artwork can also be a great source of inspiration. Many popular songs use paintings and visual pieces to inspire their music. Songs like “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay and “Vincent” by Don McLean are a few examples of that

Try going to a museum in your town or look at an art book. There will be something that catches your eye, and that might be something you can write about!

Look into your own experiences

I believe everybody has a unique story that can be an excellent idea for a song. No matter how common some of the themes are, the story will always be unique to you. Whether it’s about love, loss, hope, or everything in between, sharing your own experiences using your song is a great way to connect with people who listen to your music.

You can think back at different moments of your life and see which ones you want to put in a song. If you don’t want to be too revealing, you can use metaphors to hide the details of the story.

Finding a memory that has meaning will allow you to bring more emotion and feelings to your song. 

How to organize all the ideas for my song?

Once you’ve done some background research, make a brainstorm of all the things that you can potentially write. Make a list with all the ideas that you have and shortlist the them. If you have any additional thoughts and inspirations on your mind, quickly write them down!

At this point, you should write down anything and everything you’ve thought about.

The most important part is picking a message for the song. Pick a theme, a feeling, or an experience that means something to you. I find that the more the message means to me, the better the song comes out at the end. 

If you’re having any trouble deciding on what to write for your song, I’ve written a step-by-step guide on how to pick a song topic that you can check out here.

2. Create a rough idea

Now that you have a bunch of ideas for your song. It’s time to let your creative juices flow and put it to work! The worst thing to do is taking a long time to decide what to write about, which affects your writing flow. 

“Analysis paralysis” is an enemy of every songwriter. Don’t let it happen to you!

If you’re starting with lyrics

At this point, you should have a sense of what theme or topic you want for your song. You can start writing some lines or phrases and try creating rhymes for them. 

It’s important to remember that this isn’t the step that focuses on writing actual parts for your songs like the verse or chorus. Though if you get into the flow and have an idea, you can start putting them together. 

However, this step is primarily just helping the “songwriting juices” flowing and putting your thoughts and experiences into words. 

If you have any difficulties finding words that rhyme together, you can use the Rhyme Time app which is an excellent tool to help you with finding words that rhyme together.

For my song “Far Away,” I wrote the lines:
Whatcha doing there today / Oh I miss you so / hello hello

I wasn’t sure where I was going to use this line, but it was the first phrase that I wrote down.

This line also became the premise of the song, which was about long-distance romance and the daily difficulties of maintaining the relationship.

If you’re having trouble thinking of specific lines to write about, repeat step 2 and try to find inspiration that can spark an idea in your head. For example, if you’re writing about your own experiences, think about the moments that stand out to you and your feelings. 

Don’t feel discouraged if the words take a while to come. I’ve once stared at a piece of paper for an hour, not knowing what to write—followed by an hour where all the words came to me. 

Songwriting is not exactly a science but an art. Just be patient and trust that the words will come to you. 

If you’re starting with the melody 

For those who are focusing on the melody, think about mood, and the appropriate chords that will work the theme. Is your song a positive song or a negative song? 

For example, if your song is somewhat depressing, you can decide to play your song in a minor key. For more upbeat and happier songs, write them in a major key. 

An excellent method that I like to write melodies with is playing an instrument and fooling around with random notes that I think might work with the song. 

Sometimes it may take a while for me to find what I like, but similarly to finding the right lyric, the right chords and melody will eventually come. 

Also, if you’re stuck, repeat step 2 and continue to listen to some of your favorite tracks to help you think of some fresh ideas. 

When I was writing “Far Away,” I was listening to John Legend’s “Ordinary People” for some musical inspiration. I focused on the mood of that song and also the pacing. Although I later went in a different direction for the final track, the melody and tone was set right from the beginning.

Read more: 101 Wedding Songs For Singers That’ll Get The Crowd Cheering

Record everything

One of the most important tools that any songwriter can use is a recorder or their recording app on their smartphone. 

During your songwriting session, you’ll come across moments where you write something that you like, and you need a quick way to document it. Record your idea and keep it on file. 

If you want to play it safe, you can record your entire session so you have everything from beginning to end. This way, you’ll have everything documented that you can look back on later. 

Most smartphones have a dedicated recorder app, and it works wonders. But if you’re worried about using your phone and having distractions while you’re songwriting, I recommend using a high quality, compact and inexpensive audio recorder like the Sony ICD-PX470 on amazon

Write down a working title

Once you have either a few lyrics written out or your rough melody lines prepared, you should be much clearer with what you’re writing about. At this point, you can write a working title for the song.

A working title is a placeholder name for your song. Though sometimes you may like the working title so much that it stays as your final name for the track. 

You shouldn’t need to spend too much time thinking about the working title. There will be plenty of time to change it and perfect it in the later steps. Just write one that you feel reflects the song and move on. 

3. Play around with song structure

To properly write a song, you’ll need to know the conventional structures of a song and its functions. 

A standard song structure: 

  • Intro
  • Verse 1
  • Chorus
  • Verse 2
  • Chorus
  • Bridge
  • Chorus
  • Outro

You can consider these as the building blocks that make up your song. 

The sections don’t have to be in that order necessarily, but if you’re writing for the first time, it’s good to stick with that order and learn the fundamentals before you start experimenting with unique song structures. 

What makes a song?

The intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, and outro will be the main blocks that you’ll use to create your song. Each of these sections has different uses.

Intro: Similarly to the beginning of a movie or a book, the intro should pique the interest of your listeners so they’ll continue to listen to the track. It shouldn’t be overbearing because you want to start simple and show the main parts later in the song. 

The aim is to provide tempo, rhythm, and melody of the song while introducing the vocals.

Verse: The verse of a song is an opportunity for you to write out your story. This section is where you can lyrically speak your mind and lay the foundation of what the message of the song will be about. 

Because the verse doesn’t repeat like the pre-chorus and the chorus, you have multiple sections to write out your story. You can even use the second verse as a continuation to the story from the first verse. 

Pre-chorus: This short section can be an optional piece for your song. The pre-chorus acts as a lift in mood between the verse and the chorus. As you’re going into the chorus, the pre-chorus increases the impact and builds anticipation. This section can be repeated in a track. 

Chorus: The chorus is the central part of the song that I suggest you focus on, as it’s the part that will be repeated multiple times throughout the track. In the chorus, you’ll be putting all the main ideas and feelings together and the section will be an excellent summary of the main messages of a song. It’s also very common to find the song titles included in the chorus. 

Most of the time, listeners will remember your song because of how catchy the chorus is. There’s usually a “hook” that keeps the song exciting and unique. 

If you just create a chorus that’s catchy or memorable, you’ll have yourself a pretty good song. 

Bridge: Every good song needs to have changes in mood and dynamics to keep the song interesting. This is where the bridge comes in. This section provides a change from the repetition and a “break” from the rest of the song. 

The bridge is also a great section to experiment with and try something different. You can add a guitar solo here, or even introduce a new chord. Experiment and have some fun in this section.

Outro: The outro is where the song finishes. It signals to listeners that the song is ending by slowing down or fading out. Typically, songs end by repeating the introduction and lowering the song’s mood back down. 

Here’s a narrative arc that can help you create a cohesive story line for your song:

Using this narrative arc to a typical song structure would look something similar like this:

Narrative Arc for songwriting

Decide on your song structure

Now that you’re familiar with the different sections that make up a song, you can start deciding what song structure you would like to use. 

Here are a few popular song structures that you can use for your song:

Famous Songs for each song structure:

  1. “This Love” by Maroon 5, “Fix You” by Coldplay
  2. “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, “Oh Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison
  3. “Bad Blood” Taylor Swift, “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor
  4. “Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra, “Foxy Lady” by Jimi Hendrix
  5. “Happy Birthday”, “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan

There isn’t a right or wrong song structure, so don’t worry too much if you’re not sure in the beginning. If this is your first song, I recommend starting with a standard song structure below so you can learn the fundamentals before experimenting with unique song formations. 

Standard Song Structure (ABABCB with into and outro)

This familiar song structure is simple, straightforward, and provides enough room for tension and release. You’ll also find this structure in many popular songs now and throughout history because of its simplicity.

To learn more about song structure, you can search up lyrics and listen to your favorite songs. Try identifying the different sections as you’re listening.Take notes on how they execute those sections and what part of the song makes you enjoy it so much. 

Once you’ve analyzed and dissected many of your favorite songs, you’ll slowly gravitate to a certain song structure that you’ll want to follow.   

4. Fill in the song 

By this step, you should have an organized theme about your song, some recorded lyrics or melodies that you can refer back to and a solid song structure. 

Write your melody

Once you have a few melodies and hooks loosely recorded, you can start writing the rest of the melody within your song structure. 

Think about what melodies work well with each section. 

For example, if you have a catchy melody that you like, consider using that melody as your chorus instead of the verse. Since the chorus repeats throughout the song and also “hooks” the listener, placing the catchiest melody in the chorus works very well. 

When I was creating the melody for “Far Away,” I started with the verse. After jamming out the song a few times and deciding on what chords I wanted to use, I came up with a few variations of the tune. It took about an hour or so to determine what melody I wanted to use.

After deciding on my verse, I repeated the same steps with the chorus and the bridge. 

Ultimately, there isn’t an absolute path that you MUST follow when writing melodies. 

Sometimes you have an idea. You might think it sounds great as a chorus, but it actually works better as the verse. And vice versa. 

Try not to get too caught up with which sections you should work on first. Just pick one and build it. Think about what melody fits the mood of your song, record it, and write it out. 

Again, there may be moments where the melody “comes to you” when you least expect it. You may be at the grocery store, going for a jog or even taking a shower. So make sure you have a recording device near you at all times to make sure you don’t lose any of that magic!

Must Read: 21 Simple Tips on How To Sing Better Quickly

Write your lyrics

In your brainstorm sheet, you should have a bunch of rough lines written that fit well with your song. You should expand on those ideas and continue to write out your lyrics. 

Follow the song structure in step 3 and write what works best in those sections.

You can write a first line that introduces the message of the story while intriguing the audience with the situation. 

For example, with “Far Away,” the first line is:
Whatcha doing there today / Oh I miss you so / hello hello

This line begins by grabbing the attention of the listener while introducing the story. It paves the foundation for the rest of the song without revealing too much. 

The next line: 
6000 miles away/ without you in my life/it’s slow it’s slow

I continued with this line to provide a bit more information for the listener so that they can slowly understand the situation. 

When you’re slowly introducing the story and describing what is happening, you’re filling in the audience and preparing them for the chorus, where you’ll be revealing and culminating the main messages together.

During this step, don’t forget about looking back at the rough lyrics that you’ve written down. 

Not everything you’ve written down will work, but some might. It would be a shame if you left good lyrics off your final song. 

Continue writing your story in the other verses, chorus, and bridge. You’ll find that as you write for a extended period of time, you’ll be in a focused state where ideas and words will naturally come to you 

Also, if you’re having trouble with coming up with the right vocabulary, you can do a quick search on thesaurus.com and rhymezone.com to help with finding the proper words.

By the end of this step, you should have both the melodies and lyrics fully written with the song structures in place. 

5. Add finishing touches

So now that you have the melody and lyrics written out, it’s time to look over your song and add some finishing touches.

Experiment with different instruments

Playing the song with a different instrument can make a big difference with the tone and the feeling of the song. You may find that using a new musical instrument brings out a different mood and might sound better to you. 

If you don’t know how to play a particular instrument, try asking a family, friend, or a bandmate who does. If you can’t find anyone, there are experienced musicians on fiver.com who can quickly play your song at a low cost. 

Read Next: 12 Steps For Singing and Playing Guitar at the same time

How “full” do you want your song to be?

Also, think about how many instruments you would like to use in your song. 

Depending on the tone that you’re after, you can have a track that uses multiple instruments and effects like “Far Away” or you can keep it raw and simple. 

There are many great songs that use only a handful of instruments like “More than Words” by Extreme or “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele.

Play with genres and Rhythm

Once your melody and lyrics are complete, you can play around with different genres and rhythms to gain different perspectives on your song. 

Maybe you thought your song would be a ballad, but actually, it sounds better as a faster, more upbeat song. 

You don’t know what works best until you try your song with different variations. 

Even if you’re pleased with the first version of your song, comparing your version to something different will help you make the best decision. 

Play and record the song

To get a different perspective, you should record the song to see if there are any improvements  that you need to make. 

You want to hear the song as a listener so you can critically think about any potential changes to your lyrics or melody. 

Also, one of the most satisfying feelings of being a songwriter is not merely just writing songs but actually hearing the song in its entirety! 

Sing the song yourself or find someone else to sing it so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Make the final changes

After doing all the experimentations and hearing your song in different genres and rhythms, you should decide on what changes you would like to make. Be sure that you’re tweaking your song only if you feel that it makes sense. 

Create your own best songwriting process

Congratulations! After going through those five steps, you will have written yourself a fantastic song. 

What you’ll realize is that throughout this process, you have been organically creating your own songwriting process in this journey. 

Every songwriter’s approach to songwriting is different. The best method of writing a song needs to be developed and practiced consistently. 

In the beginning, the song might seem hard, and you might not feel inspired with writing the song. 

If you find yourself stuck, don’t be afraid of taking a break. Constantly forcing yourself, thinking about new lyrics and melodies, won’t help. Take a short break, walk around and try again. 

Most importantly, never stop writing!

Songwriting Tools 

Songwriting can be tricky at times, especially when your “creative juices” are running low. Here are some great tools that you can use while you’re songwriting to give you some much-needed inspiration and ideas!

Evernote Evernote is a useful online notepad and organizer that you can access through your desktop, android, and ios devices. If you’re on the go and an idea suddenly pops up, this app is perfect to quickly jot down your thoughts in an efficient and organized manner.

RhymeZone This website is a free and straightforward rhyming dictionary for all the moments where you’re stuck with lyrics.

Autochords One of my favorite websites for finding the perfect chords to use when I’m writing a song. Their Chord suggester tool is helpful for finding progressions and patterns. The interface is extremely clean and easy to use.

Songwriter Pad Songwriter Pad is one of the most popular songwriting apps for both android and iOS users. The app helps you to create ideas with their unique word and phrase generator by using the user’s mood to generate words and phrases. It also has a rhyming dictionary included as well. 

BandLab This recording studio app is a free music creation tool where you can create your songs from scratch and collaborate with other musicians. They have a very easy to use multi-track editor that allows you to record, edit, and remix your songs while on the go. Bandlab also provides different beats, loops, and sound packs that you can use regardless of the genre that you’re writing. 

Rhyme TimeThis app is excellent for writing lyrics. It is a fast rhyming dictionary that you can use anywhere, even if you’re offline. The app has a very easy-to-use interface and is useful for finding even the most difficult of rhymes. For IOS, click here

BeatStars If you like beats, this app is definitely for you. BeatStars is a free streaming and beat leasing platform for recording artists, songwriters, producers, and beatmakers. This app allows unlimited streaming of the best beats around the world, which will give you all the inspiration that you’ll need for your song. It also has a lyrics pad where you can write lyrics and search for rhymes. 

n-Track Studio This portable music-making app turns your smartphone into a full-fledged recording studio & beat maker. There’s a huge selection of audio, MIDI & drum Tracks available. They also have great effects and guitar amps to choose from.

Do you want to improve your singing and learn how to hit those high notes without straining your voice? CLICK HERE to get a FREE trial with 30 Day Singer!

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