How to Write a Song

Three Methods:Sample SongsListen to the MastersLearn the Craft

From before King David, to the Reformation, to the colonization of the Americas, and into present times, music has been a big part of civilization. The process of creating music has evolved over time—we've developed more words, fine tuned melody, and stacks of Marshall amps that go to 11—but the urge to express ourselves in song remains as strong as ever. This article will show you how to do it.

Sample Songs

Sample Pop Song

Sample Song from a Musical

Sample Country Song

Sample Rock Song

Sample Indie Song

Sample Love Song

Method 1
Listen to the Masters

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    Work out the melody, if music is what starts to happen in your mind. You just begin at the beginning without words. That beginning is to know what works best for you. Many songwriters, such as Peter Gabriel, work out the music before they work out the lyrics. They may sing nonsense syllables just to get a sense of how the lyrics and music might work together.
    • One of the most famous, most covered songs in history was created this way. The composer woke up one morning with the melody in his head, and sang "Scrambled eggs, oh you've got such lovely legs" as the lyrics as he developed the song. He eventually figured it out, and that's how Paul McCartney wrote the song "Yesterday."
    • For a good example of this technique, listen to Peter Gabriel's "A Different Drum" starting at about 1:40. His "lyrics" are just word-sounds.
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    Try the alternative; so, write "poetry" before creating the music: Work out the lyrics first, and possibly work with another lyricist as a partner, to get the "story/poem" created, possibly for a church worship team, TV drama, theatrical stage production or a movie. Think of Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein -- Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter -- or Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. Many people find this a much more difficult row to hoe—there's a big difference between poetry and song, and without a solid musical foundation, there are many hurdles to overcome to fit music to the lyrics. Still, when the muse strikes, who really cares if she hits you with the words or the melody first? Grab the inspiration and run with it.
    • One composer became very well known working with a lyricist: Elton John, putting the lyrics of Bernie Taupin to music. When it's done well, it's very good!
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    Work out the structure. Most songs have a recognizable formula: The intro, a verse or two with a chorus, a bridge, followed by another verse and chorus, and then out.
    • The intro. This can be strictly instrumental, a part of the chorus, or something completely off the wall. For example, "Rocky Raccoon" by the Beatles starts with a talky introduction describing the character and setting the stage for the song.
    • The verse. This is the majority of most songs—though not necessarily the most important part. This is the exposition, describing the scene, or the person, or an emotion. Very often there are two or three verses in a row that have the same musical structure, the same rhyme and poetic meter, but different words. The second verse builds on the picture painted in the first verse, etc. Most songs have a recognizable verse structure, though unless you read lyrics on websites, you may not always hear the actual words being said.
    • The chorus. This is where it all comes together — all the verses have been leading up to the chorus, and is usually the part of the song people sing along with. Think "All You Need Is Love" by the Beatles. Can you remember the verse lyrics? Maybe. Can you remember the chorus? It's easy! "All you need is love!" However, as important as a chorus can be to a song, it's not necessarily a given. In "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," Dylan has one sentence at the end of each verse (the title line), and that's about as close as he gets to a chorus.
    • The bridge. This is the part of the song that shifts—it can suddenly change tempo, or volume, or instrumentation—it's all fair game. A good example that puts this all together is "Better Together" by Jack Johnson. He uses this form: Intro-Verse-Verse-Chorus-Break-Verse-Verse-Break-Bridge-Break-Out

Method 2
Learn the Craft

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    Stop thinking about writing songs, and start writing songs. You really want to be a famous star, don't you? You daydream about being on stage and hearing the roar of the crowd. Only trouble is, gee whiz, you're dreaming your life away.
    • If you want to write a really good song, you're going to have to work for it. Start today. Commit to writing a certain number of songs per week, the way successful authors commit to writing a thousand words a day.
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    Listen actively to different types of music. You may have your favorite and you may think the other kind of music sucks, but there's a reason people like it. Find out what that is.
    • Good writers read several genres of books. Good songwriters listen to genres of songs. As you listen, think about what you like about a song. Are the lyrics unique, do the song's chord changes perfectly capture a mood, do you like the transition from one part of the song to another?
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    Get technical. You don't have to have a degree in music theory to write a good song, but you should have an understanding of how songs are built. This includes a basic understanding of harmony, melody, and rhythm.
    • Harmony is about the chord arrangements and having harmonic qualities that blend with both the rhythmic feel and the melody of the song. A beginner would want to look into basic major and minor keys and chords which pertain to the given key they are working in.
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    Learn the chords. In the key of C, the chords going up the neck are:
    • C, Dm (minor), Em, F, G, Am, and Bdim (diminished). They are also called by their scale steps, which has the advantage of not being "key-centric." For example, the C is the I (one), the Dm is the II, the F is called the IV, and the G the V.
    • The I IV and V chords of any key can be thought of as a meat and potatoes way of writing a song, as these three chords will accompany any melody that stays within the given key. Most pop songs are built around a I-IV-V structure.
    • There are infinite ways to structure a song, but there's a common sequence found in most of them (see Tips). As you listen to songs, try to identify the different parts. Check yourself by looking at lyrics online or in a music book; the parts of songs are often labeled in these media.
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    Be ready when inspiration comes calling. Unfortunately, inspiration usually doesn't strike at the most convenient times, so it's important that you be able to remember each new song that pops into your head, no matter where you are.
    • Carry a pen and paper with you wherever you go, or better yet, carry a tape recorder or digital audio recorder—melodies can be extremely difficult to capture on paper unless you have a strong music background.
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    Learn to write lyrics. Think about something that really touched you or changed your life. That special someone? A bully? A bad breakup? Think about it and describe it. How did that feel? Did it hurt? Does (s)he make you think about him or her all the time? Just start by thinking about personal experiences!
    • It would be helpful if you have a musical instrument (e.g. piano, keyboard, guitar, etc.) so that you can explore the music. An added advantage is that you can easily write down the notes (or tabs) when you have a tune. Try recording it for feedback. Guitars plug directly into computer microphone jacks with an adapter.
    • You can always go back to your recording. It helps. If you revise it, then record it again.
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    Figure out what you've got. Once in a while, inspiration will hit you like a full force gale, and suddenly you have a full song out of nowhere. Most of the time, however, just a small piece of a potential song will come to you, leaving you to do the hard, but fun work of fleshing it out. You should have a feel for what part of the song you've come up with.
    • If it's super catchy (either a lyrical phrase or a snippet of music), and you can envision it being a repeated theme in the song, you've got the chorus or refrain — the climax or summary of your musical story — and you need to write verses to explain how you know in detail.
    • If what you've come up with, seems more narrative lyrically or subtler musically—a part of a story rather than the main idea—you've probably got a verse, and you'll need to write the rest of the story (more verses) and, usually, a chorus.
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    Set the mood. Make sure your music fits the story. If it is sad, then you may want your melody to evoke sadness (by slowing it down or adding some minor chords, for example) or you might want to add a twist and combine sad lyrics to upbeat music in order to create a sense of tension and ambiguity.
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    Say something. A song can get by with poor lyrics, and you have a better chance of writing a really good song if your lyrics are great. This does not mean they have to be serious, but they should not be clichéd or ho-hum. Write your lyrics as though you are talking to somebody who you want to impress or to someone toward whom you feel some sort of deep emotion.
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    Make your words sing. Lyrics can appeal to emotions, and they should also appeal to the ear. There are a few different ways to do this. Words should fit with a rhythm you are creating in the song, and the way these words sound play an important part as well. Some words sound smoother than others (for example, "cool breeze" sounds smoother than "frigid wind.") Use the texture and character of words to add to the feeling of a song.
    • Another useful tool for the song writer is a rhyming dictionary. There are a variety of ways you can rhyme lines in a song to help tie the lyrics together. Learn about these and other tools of poetry, and try putting them to work for you.
    • You can rhyme at the end of every line or every other line, or your rhymes can come more sporadically. You can also rhyme within lines to good effect (think of rap lyrics).
    • There are also other poetic devices you can use, such as alliteration ("They paved paradise, put up a parking lot"). The "p" sound is repeated. And, assonance ("...honesty, promise me I'm never gonna find you faking"). The repeated "ah" sound in "honesty", "promise" and "gonna").
    • However, do not burden yourself with rhyme! You can get away with making a phrase stand out by avoiding conventional means of fitting it into a song, and many successful songs do not rhyme at all.
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    Strike a balance between repetition and variety. Repetition is what makes a song catchy; repeated choruses, for example, stick in our heads even when the rest of a song does not. It is easy to ask people to join you in a refrain, which is why it is usually called a chorus. That’s why so many people know just a few lines of so many songs.
    • While there are good songs that are so simple that they have no chorus and have the same line length, the same rhyme schemes, and the same chord progressions repeated throughout them, most people get bored with that. The most common way to add variety is to insert a bridge into your song.
    • A bridge is a section of music, sometimes instrumental, that differs in its construction from the verses and the chorus, and is usually placed near the end of the song before the final chorus, where a verse would typically be. The bridge can be in a different key—using a different set of chords—than the rest of the song, but it doesn't need to be. It can also be faster or slower, shorter or longer, or otherwise different from the other sections.
    • Sometimes a bridge is followed by a shorter chorus, depending on the length of the bridge. Be aware that bridges can also refer to the transitions between verse and chorus, as this is a common usage of bridges.
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    Look for the hook. The hook is that elusive part of a great song that captures your very soul and makes you want to listen to that song over and over. Hooks are frequently found in the chorus and often become the title of the song. Sadly, there is no recipe for hooks, but you'll know when you have one. Better yet, your friends will tell you, because it is the part of a song they can not seem to get out of their head. Here are a few examples:
    • "Here's my number, call me maybe." If you've heard Carly Rae Jepsen's hit even once, that will be burned into your synapses forever.
    • "Oppa Gangnam Style". PSY's surprise YouTube hit has a hook that, like "Call Me Maybe," has spawned millions of views and almost as many parodies—the sign of a truly infectious hook.
    • In Tommy Tutone's song "Jenny/8675309", the hook lyrics may be the numbers 8-6-7-5-3-0-9.
    • In the Beatles' song "Hey Jude" the hook may be the ending part, Naaa, naa naa, nana naa naaaaaa, nana naa naaaaaaa, hey Jude that repeats and repeats as it bores its way into your brain.
    • Good hooks let people remember your tune from your lyrics, even if they do not coincide. Many people can remember the riff from 'Smoke on the Water' from hearing the title.
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    Smooth the rough edges. If the pieces do not fit together, try building a transition. Put all the sections of your song in the same key. If your song suddenly changes in tempo (speed) between the two parts, try gradually changing the speed as you enter and exit the section that does not fit with the rest of the song. Try adding a short instrumental interlude that will carry you from one part to the next. While it is possible that two parts should not be in the same song, it could be that you started one part with the wrong meter or wrong kind of beat.
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    Get feedback. Play or sing your song for people and get their opinions. You’ll probably get a better idea of what they really think after you’ve written a few songs: friends and family may tell you that your first song is great even if it’s awful, but as they hear more of your songs, they’ll probably give you hints like, "It’s good, but I liked that first one you wrote better" or "Wow, that’s the best song you’ve written. That’s a really good song." Be prepared for a critic in the family that will accept nothing less than to hear it post-produced with all the bells and whistles that a band in a studio can offer.
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    Once you've finished your first song, don't stop. Keep writing and practicing, and you'll find yourself getting better and better. You may need to write a lot of songs before you hit on one you really like, and even after that, you may need to write a lot more before you get another good one. Work hard and have fun doing it!


  • Take your time. Most songs don't pop out of nowhere and scream, "Hi! Here I am! Write me!" As the old saying goes, "good things take time, but really great things happen in the blink of an eye". So just wait for it. One day you'll get it.
  • If you've got total writer's block, start by scribbling out your feelings/what you want to talk about. The lyrics will come to you when you see the lyrics on paper. Well, it might take some work, but at least get those beginnings of a song down.
  • Stop, collaborate and listen to another songwriter. Some people can pen great lyrics, but can't write a melody to save their lives; for others, the reverse is true. Find a like-minded songwriter who can put your words to music or your music to words. Many hit songs have been written by collaboration.
  • You can usually record yourself a memo on a cell phone, and if not, you can call yourself and leave a message of your singing or humming on your voice mail. Make sure you sing loud enough for the song to be clear when you listen to the message later; make people think you're crazy!
  • Try the mainstream songwriting formula of... Verse - Chorus - Verse2 - Chorus2 - Bridge - Chorus3. It's simple and quite effective.
  • Write down any bit of anything that might be a song lyric. You can look in advertisements, TV commercials, pictures, books, and so forth
  • Another great way of writing a song is to write a free verse poem with a little rhyming. It's easier to write songs when you don't think of them as songs but as poems. Write your poem then edit it by finding the right stanzas for the verses and the perfect stanza for a catchy chorus that pulls it all together.
  • If you do play an instrument, try putting it down once in a while. Spend more time singing to come up with melodies and sounds. This way you eliminate the possibility of just playing the "same old licks".
  • While a lot of musicians and songwriters don't know much about music theory—and some can't even read music—a good knowledge of the essentials of music can help you harness your creativity and develop your own style. Even if you can play and sing by ear amazingly, knowing at least how to read and write music will help you play with others and communicate your music to your band members (if you plan to start a band).
  • Make sure your song is catchy, but not in that annoying way.
  • Dynamics are a good tool to utilize to separate out the different sections of the song. Quieter for verses, louder in the choruses. Dynamics can also help to create that chorus hook that everyone will remember when listening to your song.
  • Currently most popular songs have some variation on the following sequence: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge/instrumental solos, chorus, and sometimes an outro. Sometimes the order of these components is different, and sometimes one or more of them is absent.
  • Just like any writer, you might get writer's block. Follow the suggestions in How to Get Over Writer's Block to break out of that creative rut.
  • It helps to know how to play an instrument. Knowing how to play a guitar or piano, for instance, will make songwriting immeasurably easier. Plus, you'll be able to accompany yourself when you sing for others. If you don't have an instrument, try using Google to find some song makers. Free ones are hard to find, but you can always get a free trial.
  • Experiment with lots of ways of making sound. Try to play an instrument you are less familiar with. The "mistakes" you make may prove inspiring.


  • Be careful with rhyming. Don't choose a word just because it rhymes with another—make sure the words make sense in the song. Be aware of rhyming dictionaries: they can be helpful, but if you overuse them, you're liable to start sounding ridiculous. A thesaurus is a better tool: it will give you the most ways to express your thoughts, and help you find the best lyrics.
  • Don't forget to copyright your song.
  • Don't let yourself become constrained by the "verse-chorus" structure. A lot of excellent songs are written as a single string of ideas instead of one idea repeated multiple times. Maybe that "hook" you came up with would work better as a one-time-only "climax" that the rest of the song builds up to. Don't be afraid to get creative. Adding some variety to your song structures makes for richer variation in your songs.
  • Avoid plagiarism. Naturally, you don't want to just copy the melody or the exact words of a hit song. Another, more subtle problem is subconscious plagiarism, where a songwriter does not realize that he or she is largely copying another song. This has happened before in songs such as "Spirit in the Sky", which is often mistaken for ZZ Top's later hit song, "La Grange". If you worry that your song sounds like another song, you might be right. Play it for as many listeners as you can, and see if they think so, too. You need to avoid people mistaking your song for another song, or they may not credit you for writing it.
  • Don't be afraid to try something new. Many highly influential and well regarded musicians have become successful through avoiding many conventions all together. Don't feel like you are bound to what is considered contemporary or safe. Music is an art, and as such some of the most rewarding work you can do can be the most different. Many genres of music ignore conventional song writing structure (for example, progressive rock is structured in a way that there is often no discernible verse or chorus.) With experience, you will learn where you want to take songs, and you should follow your intuition.
  • Try something new! Be original and experiment with different things. Who says that you always have to rhyme every stanza or have a chorus?

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