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How To Write A Folk Song

Updated on November 5, 2012

Getting Started

I have been a passionate songwriter for almost 15 years. During this time I have written countless songs in many different genres. If you are reading this hub chances are you want to become a songwriter yourself. Let me tell you, songwriting has been one the greatest outlets through the good times and the bad.

Because most of my songs are folkish or rock, this hub will go over the process of how to write a folk song. You don't need any tools except for an acoustic guitar and your laptop.

Lets get started.

Developing The Right Habits

Before we begin let me warn you about some of the bad habits that you need to avoid while songwriting.

1) Record Everything! Whether you use Garageband for Mac or just simple recording software for PC, get in the habit of recording everything you write.

2) When your recording your new songs, take an extra 5 minutes and record yourself talking through how you played the song. There is nothing worse than listening back to something you like but can't figure out how to play it.

3) Be yourself. Don't try to write songs that sound like Bob Dylan, The Beatles etc. Its ok to be influenced by them, but work on developing your own sound.

4) Trust no one. One of the greatest pieces of advice I was given was from my wife when I was 19. I was bragging about how great my songs were and she TOTALLY put me in my place by telling my songs weren't authentic. I hated her for it but she was right. I tried so hard to write lyrics that sounded just like other peoples lyrics. It just didn't work for me. Ten years later I have found my own sound and can always count on my wife given me the right advice.

I know this is a long point but bear with me. Don't rely on friends and family to give you honest feedback about your songs. Most songwriters are plain and boring and very overconfident because they have people constantly boosting them up.

Create a melody

First thing you should know there is no right or wrong way when songwriting. In 99.9% of my songs I wrote the melody first on guitar. If your method starts from humming a tune, and putting it down on paper, that's ok.

I have always found writing the melody the easiest part of writing a song. I don't usually play guitar with the intention of writing a song. I more or less just pick up my guitar when and fiddle around with it until I play something that I like.

My wife would probably tell you that this is the worst part of songwriting, because you tend to play a few bars over and over until you find the right melody.


1) Don't be afraid to experiment by changing chords around.
2) Try tuning your guitar to different keys.

Writing Lyrics

Lyrics are the most important part of a song. You can have the catchiest melody but if you have lousy lyrics its not a good song. In my opinion this is also where most songwriters fail. Lyrics are the heart and soul of a song.

You can only do so much with an instrument, the rest must come from the lyrics. Bob Dylan is a great songwriter because of lyrics, not musical theory. One of the problems that I have with songwriters today is that they don't sing about today's issues. When you write lyrics write about what you know, what you experience. Not the cliché.

1) Read
2) Write
3) Re-vist


You might think that once the lyrics and melody are done then you have yourself finished, polished song. Not true. I have spent years going over songs that I thought were finished, only to make them better.

Songwriting is a process that never ends.

The Unworkables

Since I started writing songs I have written hundreds of melodies, most of which ended up being nothing but wasted space on my hard drive. Don't disregard these tunes as being a write off. I can't tell you how many songs of mine were written over the course of years. Sometimes I couldn't figure out a bridge, sometimes it was the lyrics that stumped me.

Remember when I told you to record everything? The creative mind never sleeps. You could be doing just about anything when the perfect lyrics or melody helps you complete a long overdue project.

An example of an Unworkable

One of my first songs was written when I was 17 and living with some friends of mine. For years I would play the rhythm guitar but could never come up with a vocal melody. My wife must have heard this song 1000+ times. I would just play it over and over again. There was no chorus, no bridge, and no lyrics. It was pretty hopeless.

Then when I was 26 or 27 my wife told me about a man that he Father had met in chemotherapy the week before. The man was telling my father in law about how corrupt and crooked the cities politicians were. So here these two men sat talking about crooked politicians while they were both fight for their lives.

A few days or weeks after my wife told me this story I sat down and finished a song that had been unworkable. Once I nailed the first line it all just flowed out of me.

This is no city,
this is Alcatraz
built without the water
you can leave but gotta act


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