How to Write a Song TODAY

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Writing a song is an art form. Your first song will probably not be your best, but you can’t write your greatest hit if you don’t get started. Just like any art form, you will get better with time. There is no one size fits all formula for writing a song, and there are no fixed rules.

There are several methods that are utilized by songwriters all over the world. When you are in a band you might write a song as a group. Each member being responsible for their own part that fits into the overall song. When co-writing with another writer you might divide tasks. One person might write the lyrics and the other person might write the chord progression. When you are writing a song by yourself you have the task of writing both the lyrics and the chord progression. This can feel extremely overwhelming as a beginner, but keep reading, and by the end of this blog you should feel ready to get your ideas out in a musical way.

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We’ll cover everything from song format and chord progression, to naming your song. As you set out to write your song keep one major thought in mind, “You cannot edit a blank page.” Don’t worry about getting every aspect of your song perfect in the first take. Get your ideas out, have fun, and once you have the first draft you can always edit what you have. If you spend too long focusing on perfection during the writing process, there is a good chance you won’t finish.

Basic Song Format

There is a basic format that many songs utilize. Of course there are no hard and fast rules. Some songs are 30 seconds, while other songs are 30 minutes. For the most part radio/streaming friendly songs average around 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Pop, Reggae, Gospel, R&B, Indie, Emo, Folk, Rap and other popular genres usually have 2 verses, a repeated chorus, and an optional bridge section.

The verse is the major storytelling section of your song. This is where you move the story along and help the listener connect to the main theme. The chorus is the catchy part. It is usually repeated 2-3 times throughout the entirety of your song. It is the part that everyone sings. There is an unspoken rule with songwriting, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” This means don’t spend too long on your verses. Make sure to be concise with your words and get to the chorus within 16 measures. The bridge is the part of the song that is different from the rest. The bridge could be an instrumental solo, or a rap, or a vocal part that is sung over a different chord progression.

Let’s take a look at this example song to examine each part of the song anatomy before we move on to chord progressions.

[First Verse]

The verse is 16 measures of lyrics that help the listener understand the main point the protagonist is hoping to convey. The first reverse of this song “Hold” by Reina Mystique talks about how the protagonist feels stuck. A verse can be written in first or third person.

Always caught in a masquerade of mixed emotions

Sometimes I’m up sometimes I’m down

Sometimes I’m in between, but when I start to

[Pre-Chorus]

This particular song has a pre-chorus. The verse and pre-chorus share the 16 measures. The pre-chorus is not adding length to the song, but adding variety in a subtle way. The pre-chorus is not a requirement for any song. The pre-chorus fits in between the verse and chorus. It has a slightly different melody than the reverse, and leads into the chorus effortlessly. The pre-chorus is a continuation on the thoughts of the verse

daydream… It turns into fiction

Because I use words like sticks and stones

To take the weight off my aching bones

I use dreams like privacy so you can’t see how much you mean to me

[Chorus]

The chorus is the part of the song that the listener usually walks around singing. If the verse is the main thought of the protagonist, the chorus is the proclamation. It is a very concise way of summarizing the main idea of ​​the entire song. Although life is hard and the protagonist feels stuck, the chorus of this song is reminding the listener, and perhaps themselves, to continue to hold on. When you write your chorus, think about how you can convey your proclamation in the most effective way. Less words makes for an effective and catchy chorus.

Hold hold hold hold

Hold hold hold hold

[Verse]

The second verse of the song continues to move the story along. Also notice how the second verse and pre-chorus follow the same format as the first verse and pre-chorus. This helps the listener to feel connected to the song easily, and to follow along without feeling lost in the format. If your listener can expect what’s coming they are more likely to sing along and become a repeat listener.

Curved lips and a twisted smile you stole my heart

Often times I fantasize of how you could have loved me more

but when I start to

[Pre-chorus]

daydream… I feel regret

Because I use words like sticks and stones

To take the weight off my aching bones

I use dreams like privacy so you can’t see how much you mean to me

[Chorus]

Back to the chorus. The chorus is exactly the same each time.

Hold hold hold hold

Hold hold hold hold

[Bridge]

The bridge is a time of change for your story and your protagonist. This may be a point where you incorporate an instrumental solo or have a guest vocalist, like a rapper. In this song the chords change and a 3rd melody is introduced.

Hours pass like minutes and the months add up to years

Consistency is all I know so with faith I take a stronger

[Chorus]

The final chorus may repeat multiple times or just fade out after one cycle.

Hold hold hold hold

Hold hold hold hold

Chord Progressions

Every song has a chord progression. Think of the chord progression as the bones of your song. The chord changes will determine where your melody can go in each section, with or without causing discord. *Discord is the sound you hear when someone is singing/playing off key.

You do not have to play an instrument or know music theory to write a chord progression. When writing your song you can find a royalty free beat from YouTube or Soundcloud and write your melody over the top of it.

You can also use a website like www.autochords.com The way chords work together will determine the overall feel of your song. Whether it is happy, sad, quirky, cliche, haunting, etc… If you have an idea for what you want your song to sound like you can use autochords and the website will generate the chords you need. You can also play around on the site until you find something that inspires you.

In the above example “Hold” by Reina Mystique, the chord progression is Bm, AM, DM, GM. The same chords repeat over and over again throughout the song, until the bridge. The bridge is the change in the song. In the above example the songwriter uses the same chords as used for the verse and chorus, but in reverse order. This is a common technique used to add variety without needing to add too many extra chords. The benefit of this is that players looking to play or cover your song do not need to know too many chords, again opening up your song to the broadest audience.

Lyrics and Melody

When you are writing the first draft of your lyrics, think about what your story will be. Is your song in 1st or 3rd person? Is your song funny, inspirational, thought provoking, or even informational? Are you writing to share about a personal experience or trying to get your song placed in a movie or TV show? If you are writing to get your song in a show or movie it can help to keep your lyrics broad. Avoiding specific dates, and names, etc…

Think of your lyrics as a poem or free form thought that can be edited to fit your melody. Don’t worry about getting your lyrics perfect on the first pass. Trying to be too perfect will slow you down, and oftentimes discourage you from finishing your song. Lyric inspiration can come from anywhere: a conversation with friends, a quote you wrote in your journal, a bumper sticker, or the back of a gum wrapper. As a songwriter you should be constantly collecting quotes and possible song lyrics. Inspiration can strike at any time, so keep a journal close by.

A lot of songs include lyrics that rhyme, but this is not a requirement. Great tools for helping you write your lyrics are a rhyming dictionary and/or a thesaurus. If you don’t have either of these, there are free online versions available.

The melody of your song should be short phrases that are easily repeatable. Listen to some of your favorite songs and hum or whistle the melody without the lyrics. You will notice specific patterns that repeat over the chord changes. Whistling and humming can help you understand melody further. If your melody is too complex it can be difficult for the listener to enjoy and sing along with. Parody songs take the melody of an existing song and change the lyrical content. Writing a parody song is a great exercise in understanding melody and composing your own lyrics.

You can also find the lyrics to your favorite songs online and read them while you listen. This is another great way of helping you understand the story song format.

Editing

Editing is your time to clean up all of your ideas. Editing can be done on the same day that you write your song, but oftentimes is done on a different day. This way you have time to let your ideas sink in. You can be the main editor of your song, or you can share your ideas with a friend or family member, and use their thoughts to inform your editing process. You might change a lyric or adjust a melody or make it more catchy. Be sure to record your original idea on your phone’s voice memo or by using recording software. This way you have various drafts to reference.

The Name

Lastly you have to think of a name for your song. This is the fun part, but is not always easy. Oftentimes songwriters will use the words from the chorus. In the above example the chorus repeats the word hold and the song is called “Hold.” Other times the songwriter chooses a random word or phrase to be quirky. Look at the song names of some of your favorites to draw inspiration on what to name your piece. You can also enlist the help of friends and family. Most importantly, don’t stress the naming process. The name of your song will not change the integrity of your song.

Conclusion

Have fun, explore different methods, and be patient with the songwriting process. To write a song today, start with the chord progression. Write some lyrics and add them to your chord progression with a fun melody. Then edit your song and add a name. Repeat this process at least once a week for a few months and you should be able to find a nice songwriting rhythm. Not every song you write has to be shared. Some songs are just for you. Others are for the world. Either way, every song you write is another opportunity to hone in your skills!

Reina Mystique

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