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How to Write a Song
Each summer for two weeks, I teach small classes of kids how to write, produce, and record a song. They're ages 12-17, and many of them come up with some excellent stuff.
This hub will hopefully pass on some of the knowledge I've gained as a songwriter that I try to impart to the kids I teach. (This means it's aimed at those of you who have never written a song ever before! But you veterans are welcome to read, too.)
The First Rule
I probably say this 100 times a day (though it's easier said than done), but: Do not censor yourself before you start.
I know it's hard. Often I'll reread a line or two I've just written and want to scribble it out or burn it or something because it sounds so stupid. You have to remember that no one has to ever read this, not even you if you truly hate it later, so you can be true on the paper. The more open you are, the easier it will be, and the less likely you are to get stuck with writer's block.
The Different Ways
As far as I can tell, there are three main ways to write a song.
- Write the music first.
- Write the lyrics first.
- Write everything as you go along.
The way you go about this will greatly depend on what you feel is your strongest talent and how your creative process works.
If you're a writer, you might feel more comfortable getting something down on paper first, but you also might rather start with some idea of a melody so you don't get stuck with just a poem.
And if you're a musician, you might gravitate towards writing some chords or a "hook" first, but it also might be easier for you to jot down some words or ideas so you know what type of sound to produce.
Of course, you don't have to work in just one way; after your first few songs it'll become more natural, and you'll figure out the best way for you, personally, to work.
But until then, here's a quick step-by-step, and we'll take the lyrics first (if you want to write music first, just switch the steps around... it'll still work, I swear).
A View of the Process, by Amanda Lee
You can write a "hub" like this and make money from the advertisements! Just join the HubPages community (it only takes a few seconds), and start writing about whatever moves you. It's that simple!
Just Follow the Steps!
- Listen to something that inspires you, anything that moves something within you.
- Jump off from there, and jot down some phrases about anything: your feelings, fears, wants, or even just tell a story. Remember not to stop yourself before you start! Let it flow; you can burn it later.
- Either leave them jumbled or rearrange them to make sense to you, but then piece the phrases you have written into a song structure (the easiest is probably verse, chorus, verse, chorus). A chorus can be as simple as a word or two!
- Do you hear any music in these words? If you do, great! If not, don't worry. There's an easy starting point for every song: a chord. Each song has to start on a chord (pretty much), so get thee to an instrument (if at all possible, otherwise just do this in your head)!
- Play one chord and sing the first few lines over that chord. Don't like the tune? Play the same chord and sing a different tune, elongating different words. When it sounds like it's time to change chords, do it! If you only know one chord, it might be helpful (but not necessary) to get one of your instrument-playing friends to help you.
- But you don't need an instrument! I've performed (and eventually written) several songs with just clapping and/or stomping (see Regina Spektor's "Flyin" or Jeff Buckley's "Be Your Husband"). It can be very effective, and you don't have to deal with those pesky "chords" we were talking about.
- You're almost done! Continue writing the melody, and remember that a song can definitely have only two chords and be incredibly interesting, so don't worry if you're not very musically competent. Once you have a melody for both your chorus and your verse, you're done!
- Now all you have to do is tweak the lyrics to your liking (and throw out what you hate), make sure the chords and chord changes fit (or the clapping/stomping), and rehearse!
Congratulations! You just wrote a song.