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How to Write a Song: Songwriting for Beginners

Updated on March 8, 2012

If you are a musician or an aspiring one you will have already realized that you're going to need to write music. How do you do that? Well that's what this hub is all about. In this hub I'm going to detail methods of writing music, how I personally write lyrics and ways that I've seen songs written to maybe help narrow down what is easiest and best for you!

If you have no musical experience, that is okay. The greatest thing about music is it doesn't have to be complicated to sound good. If you have a lot of musical talent, well sometimes simple isn't always best. I'll leave that entirely up to you. For now, let's look at some approaches you can take.

Sometimes it is best to just jam out a bunch of nonsense. Have fun with it, I can't stress that enough. Creating something on the fly is a very gratifying thing and when you can use it for songwriting. Even better!


Music is just as much what "feels" good as what sounds good. If you aren't digging a riff or you have this notion that you know what a note should be but you just can't find it. You are feeling the music. There are numerous ways that you can use this to your advantage, here is the one I'm most familiar with.

When writing music to what feels right, I've found it is much easier to help brainstorm when you are with other musicians.

Working with others can be just as much a blessing as a curse. Musical taste and opinion can get in the way and if you have any experience with artists, well, we're quite an opinionated bunch. If, however, you manage to overcome the lack of communication or understanding, music will be made and it will be good. This depends solely on you as a person and how much you are willing to put aside pride and come to a compromise. Being in any music group is all about compromise, and it doesn't always have to be a painful sacrifice!

This is an example of the circle of fifths. It shows correspondence between notes and how they work together.
This is an example of the circle of fifths. It shows correspondence between notes and how they work together. | Source

Classic Music Theory

This is a bit more advanced but it let's an individual structure a song and control the flow dependent upon actual musical knowledge and not just improvisation. Using many different techniques a person with music theory can create literally any soundscape they desire.

Examples of techniques are scales, major and minor pentatonic, the circle of fifths and the reverse fourths.

These are advanced methods at your disposal and it takes practice, study and diligence to become competent enough at using them correctly. With anything, if you are truly interested you can compose some pretty amazing music.

Lyrics 101

My area as the singer has conveniently coincided with my somewhat adequate ability to mince and mingle words. Lyrics can be done a lot of different ways. My guitarist insists that I write them with the music, whereas I have a much easier and more fun time writing to already finished work. I like to tell a story with my lyrics. They can be subtle or obvious, full of puns, euphemisms, references. You can literally write about anything. Listen to the radio, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Once you have your lyrics, creating a melody out of them can be a bit tricky. In my experience, I follow the lead guitarist. He plays so and so note, I sing a note similar to that and maybe add some vocalization. You should use musical influences to try and develop a style as well. This is important so I'll write it again in bold letters.

When writing any kind of music, song or lyrics, use what musical influences inspired you in the first place. This helps you develop your own style and become a better musician.

Experiment with it, find what you like best and go with that. If it fits, and if you find that melody that sounds best I would say you should always have a form of recording. Phone, camera, etc. If you can't duplicate it, nothing is more frustrating.

  • Use a tablature or sheet music program, it's efficient and can make things a whole lot easier.
  • Decide whether you like to improvise or structure a song with musical theory, finding what works best for you should take precedence before you even begin to write
  • Use influences, the biggest thing you should have already realized about music is that everything has already been done before. Originality is just how good someone is at making it their own.
  • Have fun! This is always important. Don't do it if you don't like it.

Further Tips

Now either of those methods can be used to compose. You can improvise and then transcribe the music onto sheet music or you can do the opposite and structure the tempo and notes by jotting something down in a notebook and then memorizing it from that. Whatever works best for you.

For myself I've used these two types and personally I like to have the music written out to see and hear over and over again. This is where an important piece of information comes into play. I highly recommend, in this electronic day and age, using a type of tablature or sheet music program. My first band and I used a simple and efficient program called "Guitar Pro." It was extremely effective, especially when it came to conflicting schedules.

Nowadays, I sit in a room with other musicians and argue what we like and try to explain what we want from an instrument we don't play. However, it works and we have fun with it. In the end, we all have good laughs and when we finally have that finished product we rock out all the frustrations.

In the end, with anything in life, you should decide upon something if it works for you and you enjoy it. Music is only as difficult as something you don't understand. If you are having trouble, get your questions answered. Ask questions, get all the information you can. I hope this has given you a little insight and inspiration into methods you can use to write music. Remember, it doesn't have to be complicated to sound good. Do what works for you.


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