So, you’re interested in writing songs,but how should you start this process? Where do you begin – with lyrics or the actual music? To be honest, there is no set rule. Every songwriter works differently and the process changes from song to song. It all comes down to personal preference, and the ideas you have for each song. Try doing it both ways to see what you prefer; for one song, start with the lyrics and for another song, start with the music. This will help you find out what practice suits you the best
Before you even start thinking about lyrics and music, you should think about:
- What style or genre of song do you want to create. Figuring this out early will help guide the lyrics you write and the music you compose.
- What the song is about. Writing about a certain personal experience is the go-to for many artists. Songs are a form of expressing one’s thoughts and feelings, so many emotionally powerful songs throughout the ages are about the artist’s personal experiences.
- The structure of your song. More information on song structures is written below.
Understanding song structures will help you greatly in how you write your lyrics and music. Having a structure to your song will help keep it organised, and most importantly, memorable. Once you get to know the most common song structure, it will help with the familiarity of your song to new listeners.
The most common song structure used within popular music is the ABABCB structure:
Intro / Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / Outro
There are some songs that add a variation to this structure:
Intro / Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-Chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / Outro
You can make changes to these common pop songs structures to suit your song. Knowing the basic song structure will give you a good starting point on how you want to lay out your music and lyrics. It’s never a bad idea to experiment, so play around with new ideas and make changes depending on what you want your song to sound like.
Here’s a breakdown of what each section does:
VERSE: The story of your song will be told through each of your verses. Lyrically, each of your verses will be different because your story will want to progress, but the melody mainly stays the same to help keep your song memorable.
PRE-CHORUS: Think of this as the musical build up to your chorus. Usually, it repeats these lyrics throughout, similar to how the chorus will do.
CHORUS: The lyrics used in the chorus will be repeated throughout. This is the big idea as to what your song is about. This is where, most of the time, you will include the title of your song. This will be the catchiest part of your song, so it’s always a good idea to have the title of your song as the main lyric here. This will help listeners remember your song and it will make it easier to sing along to.
BRIDGE: This is the contrasting section of your song. It allows you to do something different musically and lyrically. Most of the time, it gives the songwriter a chance to add in (iconic) instrumental solos.
INTRO/OUTRO: Intros and outros are very useful in helping you start and end your song, and they are mainly instrumental to allow you to slowly introduce your first verse and slowly finish your song after your last verse. These tend to normally be around 4-8 bars.
Lyrics are there to form the story of your song. Figure out what you want your song to be about before you start writing. Once you’ve figured that out, this will give you your guideline on writing your lyrics.
As you are telling a story through the medium of song, the most common and effective practise is to draw from your own experiences. Writing about your own emotions and thoughts on certain events that have happened to you makes for a good and powerful song people will relate to and want to listen to. As with any kind of writing, it’s more stimulating to write how your events make you feel rather than simply just saying what happened.
Your lyrics don’t necessarily have to constantly rhyme (exception here is Rap- constant rhyming helps the fast paced rap flow). Using effective rhyming in certain places will help certain lyrics stand out- use it to make an impact.
For inspiration try reading some poetry, or reading through the lyrics of your favourite song to gauge a feel of the rhythm behind the words and how sentence structure is laid out to the music.
There’s a lot to take into account when composing music- so many layers and intricate details to compose. However, before you dive right into writing the music, you should think about what genre or style you want to compose.
Once you have a style in mind, this will help you think about (in no particular order): chord structures, riffs, a catchy chorus or hook, instrumentation, the start and the end of the song, the bassline, the beat, the melody, harmonies, rhythms, etc.
For example, romantic ballads tend to be slow paced. They tend to have just a singer and piano accompaniment, with lyrics that are focused on emotions. Rock songs tend to have a heavy drumbeat, electric guitar part, plus solos and a prominent bassline repeated throughout.
These are just basic examples, but as you can see once you figure out the style you want to write for then you have a good guideline as to how you want to compose your music and gives you leeway into experimenting new ideas.
With any musical style, the general rule is that you want to begin simple and then build it up throughout the duration of the piece. This is to ensure your song has direction, a sense of progression and a climax. You can either strip it down for the ending (to end it similarly to how it started ) or you could end the song on a climax. This all depends on the style and feel of the song
Some helpful advice during your songwriting process:
Most ideas are fleeting, so you want to make sure you record them in the moment before you forget them. I can guarantee if you say to yourself “oh I’ll write that down later”, you will forget it! Always carry a notebook with you (pocket sized ideally for the convenience) so you can jot down lyrical and musical ideas wherever you are.
If you’re not very confident at notating music, then record yourself singing or humming your idea into your phone or any other recording device. Ideas often come to me very suddenly when I’m out and about, sometimes when not even doing anything remotely related to music, so I always make sure I jot down all my ideas in my notebook and record them on my phone as well. You never know when these ideas will come in handy for the future.
Writer’s block is the most frustrating moment anyone can go through. Even the most experienced songwriters and composers will go through periods where no ideas are flowing, or the ideas are flowing but it’s a struggle to get them going as musical material.
Attempting to compose music or write lyrics while going through a writer’s block is seriously ineffective. It can be stress inducing which is not helpful or productive. Do yourself a favour, take a break and be patient with your mind. Keep listening to music and taking time to look after yourself – you never know what or when or where the inspiration will hit you.
Never be shy to ask for feedback. Sometimes a fresh pair of ears can really help you see if your chorus is catchy enough, if the song is memorable, or if any of your other concerns are valid. A new perspective will always help – whether you’re new to this art, or you’ve been doing it for years.
It is important to remember; you don’t need to compromise your artistic vision. If you feel strongly about something, then stick to your instincts and craft.
With anything in life, practise makes perfect. Keep writing songs to get the ball rolling and then don’t be scared to experiment. Mix it up a bit and try new things that you never thought to explore before. This is where you should listen to a whole host of genres and styles- even genres you don’t necessarily like listening to or have never listened to. You never know where your next inspiration will come from.