Category Archives: How To Write A Song

how to write a song

How to Write a Song: Guide For First-Timers

Maybe you want to become a YouTube sensation. Or you want your voice heard all over the world through Twitter. Or maybe you just want to try your luck on America’s Got Talent.

A whole bunch of music artists made it big through the internet.

You have Tori Kelly who remained undaunted after her American Idol attempt. Then you have the all-famous Justin Bieber, who surfed to stardom through his childhood singing videos.

But, what’s the first thing you need to do if you ever want to get off the ground like these YouTube stars?

You need to learn how to write a song.

You wouldn’t have made it to reading your first novel if you hadn’t learned to read first. And you won’t make it to singer-songwriter status without knowing how to write a song.

1. Listen To The Greats

 

“…We see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”

And that’s exactly how we need to act as aspiring artists.

Every great artist has emulated someone before them until they themselves adopt their own style.

You might ask ho should you listen to. I might say that it really depends on what style you are going for.

Most songs today are four chord songs anyway. So, my advice is to begin with the great rock musicians.

Listen to The Eagles. Bob Dylan. Chuck Berry. The Beatles. Queen. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Led Zeppelin.

And listen carefully. Think, what happened when they wrote these songs.

Ask yourself, “What’s repeating in these songs?” “How is each song similar?” “How is each song different?”

And keep a journal of your thoughts.

Emotional Narrative

 

Pay attention to how the songs you listen to make you feel. Notice how the song doesn’t make you feel the same way all the way through.

This is what we call the emotional narrative of the song.

The emotional narrative is like a story told through your feelings. If you can learn how to write a song with this in mind, you might actually write an award winning song.

We connect to music through our emotions. Listening to music is not a rational process.

And if you are trying to convey some sort of message, do it through emotion.

2. If You Want to Know How To Write A Song, Learn To Play An Instrument

 

This may be hard to hear, especially if your parents tried to force piano lessons on you. But learning to play an instrument is the best way to learn how to write a song.

Of course, the easiest path would be either the guitar or the piano. These are the soloist bedrocks of popular music.

Unless you’re planning on strictly being a singer, you’re going to have to learn musical instrument incorporation.

So, what better way to learn this than by actually learning to play? And if you ever want to sing your own songs, it’s always a bonus when an artist can play an instrument too.

You Don’t Have To Spend Money Right Away

 

You don’t have to jump into the deep end when it comes to an instrument purchase.

A used guitar or drum set can be a great launchpad for learning.

Even if you have to borrow it from a friend or go down to the local community college to play, get an instrument in your hands.

Get Lessons

 

If you can, get some lessons.

Self-taught sounds awesome, but there is some truly great wisdom and skill out there to be learned.

Start Simple

 

While it’s admirable that you want to play some Carlos Santana greats right off the bat, these kinds of intricate chords and riffs might be a little over your beginner head.Instead start small. Like, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star small. You have to walk before you can run, right?

Instead start small. Like, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star small. You have to walk before you can run, right?

While it might be horribly maddening, the very basics are where you need to start. If you’re ever going to learn how to write a song, it’s the building blocks that will get you there.

3. Finally Getting Lyrical

 

Ok, it’s time. Crack those knuckles and sharpen your pencil. Because it’s time to learn how to actually write that song.

Some of us have an ear for music. We can hear it in our head and then just play it, hum it, or sing it.

Some of us see the words and the notes and can write it.

Others just struggle to get just one note to come out.

If you’ve taken some lessons or at least learned a few chords, you should have some basic notation down. At least you’ll know the names of your favorite chords. That can be enough to get started.

Let The Words Tumble

 

If you’re looking for words, just start scribbling them onto the page. Some of the best songs I’ve written came from just brainstorming interconnecting words. These words usually well out of emotions deep inside me.

Grab A Thesaurus

 

If you feel like your language is too basic, grab a thesaurus. It’s a great tool for improving your lyrics, but it’s also a great inspirational tool.

You can hop around and get the feel for the meaning of different words and how they fit together.

Read Some Poetry

 

Look up some basic rhyming schemes. Music is poetry.

Find out who the great lyrical poets were and find out how they wrote their poems. Emulate those styles of rhyming.

Monkey See Monkey Do

 

Don’t be afraid to borrow.

Don’t outright plagiarize, but structure and style and themes all get recycled, remixed and reused. It’s a great way to get your feet wet.

Just don’t over-use other people’s styles. You need some of your own vibes in there somewhere.

Now Go Write Your Song

 

If you’re too afraid of failure, you’ll never do anything.

If you’ve already written your awesome song or music, get it into one of our contests.

And, as always, keep making that music.

How to Write a Country Song

 

 

Recently, Rolling Stone sat down with a number of country music greats such as Keith Urban and Tim McGraw and asked them how to how to write a country song. They came up with a number of rules that should be followed in the songwriting process.

First, you should concentrate on the melody first. A lot of would-be songwriters will compose the lyrics and then set them to music. But if the song is not catchy, something that compels you to sing along with it, all the clever lyrics in the world will not make it a good song,

In the country music world, songwriting is often a group effort. The trick is to have writing partners that you click with immediately so that in some ways it can be like love at first sight.

The big cliché about country music is that the songs are all about heartbreak and break-up. “She done left me for another one.”

You should try to write a song that is a little more upbeat, something that people can listen and sing along to and forget their troubles. Think about the joys of falling in love, not to mention riding around in pickup trucks, hunting, fishing, and partying. These sorts of feel-good songs seem to be doing well in today’s market. Along those lines, some of the country artists suggest that country music is following what rock music used to delve into.

A good country song not only has a good chorus but a good “after chorus,” that being the verse that comes after.

The lyrics of a country song tends to be about real life, the sorts of lives that people who listen to country music live. A country song can tell a story or just capture a mood from everyday life.

A country song uses lots of adjectives to describe something, the more, the better. In that way, the words in a song will paint vivid word pictures in the minds of the people who are listening to them.

A good country song writer will listen to other genres besides country. You never know what rock or R&B song will spark an idea for a good song. Along those lines, you should just listen to people talking whether it is face-to-face or on the radio or TV. You never know what certain turns of phrase will find their way into a good country song.

“Write what you know” is the sort of advice people give to all sorts of writers, whether they are novelists, poets, or songwriters. Write songs based on the sort of things you have experienced and observed.

A good rule for the tone of a country song is to write the verses quiet, but explode with the chorus. This approach seems to be most popular with country music fans.

Try listening to hip hop and incorporating some of its style in your country song. A lot of country people actually listen to hip hop, even in small, country towns.

The one thing about rules in any aspect of life, even in country music, is that you have to learn how and when to break them. Experiment with structure. You can start with the chorus instead of the verses. You can use a two-line verse and a big chorus. Keep trying to find out what works and what doesn’t.

There is one rule in country music that should be never broken, which is not using bad language in your lyrics, especially the F word. You can sing about sex all you want, but do it decorously. Many country music fans tend to be conservative and family oriented. What may fly for rap or some forms of rock will not fly in a country song.

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Can Taylor Swift Show Us How To Write a Song?

 

 

Though Taylor Swift is one of our most talked-about songwriters, discussions of how to write a song as good as hers typically focus too much on her subject-matter and not enough on the craft involved in her work. So let’s take a look at two of Swift’s songs to analyze just how quickly she is able, even in the first few words, to hook the listener through character, plot, and even a few obscure poetic devices.

Of course, mentioning character and plot implies that Swift’s work is narrative—or story-telling—and, often, it is. She began as a country artist, and country music is largely a narrative genre. What’s more, her narrative tendencies have carried over into her pop work, as well. So let’s look at the first lines of the country “Our Song” and the pop “Style” to see how quickly Swift can set up a scene, a character, and a situation, as well as an expectation that will consistently carry through to the end of a song.

“Our Song” begins, “I was riding shotgun with my hair undone in the front seat of his car.” Immediately we have an image. We have the narrator’s gender—for it is dangerous to assume that the singer is the same person as the narrator—implied by “hair undone”: female. We know something about this female: the fact that her hair is “undone” implies that, sometimes, it might be tied up in a ponytail, in a braid, or a bun. Sometimes this person’s hair is done up. So there’s something to contrast the loose hair with—simply because of one word: “undone.” And this suggests, however subconsciously, a dichotomy: formal/informal, restricted/relaxed, maybe even good/bad.

Ok, what else? Well, we have the word “shotgun.” This word carries undertones of danger and lawlessness. But still, it’s metaphoric, idiomatic—the shotgun isn’t real. Yet now there’s a mood. The undone hair, the suggestion of a shotgun that isn’t there. Even if this person doesn’t always follow the rules, there are rules that, in order to be broken, do nevertheless exist. In other words, this person does have constraints, though she might feel adventurous enough, in a non-existent-shotgun sort of way, to want to break them sometimes.

All right, is there anything else? Well, “riding shotgun” also suggests a relationship. She and the car’s driver are close, invested in each other. These two probably have each other’s backs. This is not likely their first date; she feels comfortable enough to be herself—and this also reflects the at-ease feeling we get from her shaken-loose hair.

So, then, riding shotgun implies knowing each other well enough to be able to take care of one another. Incredibly, in the first eight words, Swift has set up a scenario that involves two people whose relationship is comfortable but not boring, relaxed but not mundane, safe but not stifling—and with a tinge of anticipation of possible adventure to come.

And the song will, in fact, proceed to unfold without ever denying nor defying these initial parameters. Amazingly, everything that happens in this song is foreshadowed in these first few words.

So with all this in mind, let’s think about how Swift has created this image. She hasn’t actually described this female, yet we can imagine her. Maybe she has her feet on the dash, maybe her hair is in loose waves or curls, windblown.

But, you ask, if Swift hasn’t exactly described this scene, where did it come from? Well, it was triggered, not described. That is, Swift suggested it rather than demanded it. It was already contained in the mind of the listener and Swift merely unleashed it.

It’s a contemporary archetype, not a stereotype. That’s why the hair has no specific color yet is so vivid, has no specific style yet is real enough to touch. By triggering the image and not describing it, Swift has allowed the scene to thrive without limitation in the mind of the listener. And what’s more, there’s really no way to instruct a writer how to trigger an image, not describe it. It seems accomplished almost as though by magic.

Ok, what else is Taylor Swift up to here? Well, there are a few poetic devices at play, namely assonance, slant rhyme, and internal rhyme. Swift uses a lot of internal rhyme, which is—quite simply—words that rhyme within the line instead of at the end of it. And often, when she uses rhyme anywhere, it tends to be what’s called slant rhyme, or near rhyme, or half rhyme, or off rhyme—you get the idea. Rhyme that’s not too obvious or contrived. “I was riding shotgun with my hair undone in the front seat of his car.” Wow. And the word assonance just means that the vowel sounds are rhyming—as in undone and front. Easy to overlook, yet powerful.

But what does all this accomplish, all this internal rhyme and such? What is wrong with simple end rhyme—or rhyming just the last word in each line? Well, think about it. Any rhyme serves to pull you forward through the story, so to speak—like a thread running through the song that’s caught you and is pulling you right along with it.

But when the rhyme is unexpected and scattered throughout the lines—rather than just predictably and clunkily placed at the end—then the effect is more buoyant, as thought the song is a river and the rhyme is a current propelling you through. Thus—and here’s the real magic—the words gain musicality and are even better able to complement the actual music. It just sounds good.

Ok, now what about the pop song “Style”? Well, even though the song’s a different genre than “Our Song,” notice there’s something very similar going on, once again, in the first few words: “Midnight, you come and pick me up, no headlights.” Notice the alteration of what might have been just a boring, exact, predictable rhyme, but is instead: Midnight; headlights. Amazingly, simply by choosing two everyday compound words, Swift is able to utilize both kinds of rhyme at once: exact rhyme (night/lights) and slant rhyme (mid/head). Again, wow.

But do these first lines of “Style” effectively set up imagery and a scenario—with characters that will be consistently carried through to the end—as we saw in “Our Song”? Yes, certainly. What better forewarning of the clandestine relationship to follow than a car pulling up, at midnight, with the headlights turned off! It’s the equivalent of the first scene of a movie, in just nine words.

So maybe this will give you something new to think about whenever you hear those tired, outmoded discussions of who Taylor’s songs are about. Technique, above subject matter, is the real issue at hand. But—most important—will the above reflections help you to write songs as good as Taylor’s?

Much of what a songwriter does is done subconsciously. If it weren’t, the result would likely be stilted, forced. Yet, in the editing, the writer decides what will remain, and this part of the process is where the attention to craft is most conscious. Did Swift recognize how economically she was establishing her characters and their situations as she was creating them? Or was she thinking about this only in the editing process? When a songwriter’s craft so seamlessly intertwines so many elements, it’s hard to tell.

Just remember, trust in the power of your subconscious. Let these poetic devices play in your mind, unconsciously, as you write. Then, in the editing process, if they are working, let them stay.

For still more thoughts on how to write a song, please don’t hesitate to contact us!