by Tommaso Zillio

Whether you have written 1 or 100 songs, it’s always good to familiarize yourself with new composition techniques. The following are some ideas to either get you started, or to change the way you have been doing things for years.

With all the people who spend time writing songs every day, it’s interesting that many probably don’t often consider HOW to actually write a song. For instance, where should one begin? Do you start with the chorus, or the verses? Is it best to write on the guitar, or piano? Or should you try to write the song away from your instrument?

The ways one can write a song are seemingly endless. However, there are some out there who have been lucky enough to find a method that just works for them. Which is great, but it often leaves the not so lucky ones to feel like they don’t have what it takes. And then there are the people who are convinced that there should be no method at all and that all music should only come “naturally”.
What is for certain is that there will never be any one way of writing a song

that will work for everyone. On top of that, something that works for a musician one week might not work as well for them the next.

If you want to continue to believe that songwriting is nothing more than sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike, feel free to stop reading now. Not trying to burst anyones bubble. Though, if you are looking for ways to change up your writing technique the following is a great place to start.

Read through the following 7 ideas that you can take into your next writing session. These certainly are not the only 7 ways, but they just a few to give you a taste of whats possible.

0.1 1 The Dependable Way

If you are looking to simply write a basic tune, you are going to want to follow this procedure. Begin by finding one chord progression for your chorus, and another one for the verses. Play them over and over till you can find an interesting melody to put over top. The common format for these kinds of tunes are often Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus. At this point you will want to add

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a bit of intrigue with a bridge and maybe even a solo of some sort. Then play the chorus at least a couple more time, perhaps an outro as well, and you got yourself a standard song structure.

The good thing about this is that it is generally a pretty safe way to write a tune and provides you with an easy structure to follow. The bad thing is, you follow this structure too often and your music will start to get a little boring (and you will probably get bored of writing tunes this way as well). Its good to know how to write a song this way, but should not be the only way you write.

0.2 2 Make Your First Line The Biggest

Besides writing a song in terms of chord progressions, you can also consider writing in terms of dynamics. Maybe you want to blow the listener away on the opening line, or perhaps you want to begin very quiet and increase the dynamics bit by bit throughout the song.

Decide if you want the chorus to sound fuller and more intense than the verses, or if you want it the other way around. Theres no real right answer to this. Do you want each chorus to be played with the same intensity? Or do you want to save the real big chorus for the climax at the very end?

A fun way to challenge yourself is to take some paper and draw out a graph out the dynamics of your tune from start to finish before actually writing it. Next, start writing out chord progressions and melodies that fit with these dynamics. Theres various ways to build up and bring down a tune including pitch, chord qualities and instrumentation. So go ahead and experiment with these.

0.3 3 Start With The Lyrics

You’ll find that most songwriters like to find a good chord progression before they figure out the lyrics. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t try it the other way. There are in fact many popular tunes that started with the lyrics, Elton Johns “Crocodile Rock” being one of them.

The advantage to starting with the chords is that it is easier to to find words that fit within a certain chord structure than it is to try and find a chord structure to fit around words that have already been written. Though trying to do it the other way around is a challenge that may lead to interesting results. Perhaps the lyrics you wrote only works in a time signature you have never tried before. It gets you thinking outside the box a little bit and produces a more unique sound.

If you are someone who writes metal or prog rock music, this is definitely something you should try. Its a great practice to get you used to odd time signatures.

0.4 4 Take Lyrics From The People Around You (Money For Nothing)

Can’t seem to find any words or stories worth putting into a song? Then take words from other people (no, don’t blatantly steal someone else lyrics). What you can do is start a conversation with someone you know (or a complete stranger is even better).

Listen closely to what they have to say and write it down. With the right mind set, any conversation or personal anecdote has the potential to become a hit song. This is precisely how Mark Knopfler went about writing his hit “Money For Nothing”. He went to an appliance store and struck up a conversation with one of the clerks, carefully transcribing what they were saying.

Theres no real skill required for this other than being able to really listen to the people around you.

0.5 5 Start By Choosing The Instruments You Want

Before actually picking up an instrument, decide in your head what instruments you’d like the song to have. Once you do, be sure to write it down so you don’t forget.

What you write down could look something like this. . . “The song will start with a soft piano intro until we get into the opening line of the song, at which point a string section will be added. At the first chorus I will include some bass drum and vocal harmonies in the back that will build up throughout the song. When the final chorus comes I will include a full drum kit and electric guitar. The outro will go back to the original soft piano.”

This technique is not only easy, but its fun too! By imagining how you want the song to sound before playing it, you aren’t limited to your own playing abilities and you will probably write more interesting and complex sounds than usual.

0.6 6 Get Yourself A Song Writing Buddy

When writing a tune, there’s no need to do absolutely everything yourself. Try finding a friend to not only write with, but to hold you accountable for writing more often.

When writing together, you can have one person write the lyrics and the other person write the music (it’s good to change up who does what once in a while). Who ever writes their section first can share it with the other person to complete.

After both parts are written, you can try recording a rough demo to check out the result. Co-writing does take a bit of getting used to, but you’ll be surprised

0.7 7 Choose A Specific Story Or Feeling To Write About

For this technique, come up with a specific feeling or situation first. The more detail you can think of the better. For example “anger” is a little too broad.

“Angry at a cheating lover” is okay. While “My lover of 5 years cheated on me with my best friend the day after our anniversary and I found out by smelling his scent on her summer dress” is way better.

After you’ve come up with the story line or idea, then go on to figure out the musical elements of the song. Will this song be best represented acoustic or electronically? Should it be predominantly major or minor? What kind of time signature do you want it to have? How complex do you want the instrumentation to have? Is it going to have one singer, or more?

Figure out all these details before you actually play anything. After you get all the small details figured out, the actually song will start flowing naturally. And with an idea as detailed as this, you cut down on the amount of wasted time with your instrument thinking “hmm what should I write about”. Just remember to actually write everything down. Don’t try to go off a vague idea in your head or else its easier to forget about the whole thing all together.

To see this method in action, watch the following video linked below:

0.8 Write A Song

At this point you should hopefully feel inspired to start the actual writing process. What you are going to want to do is. . .

1. Pick from one of the above methods (which ever one you liked the most) 2. Shut down your computer and remove any possible distractions
3. Begin writing a song

Set a time limit and give yourself a couple hours tops to write a full tune beginning to end (the world doesn’t need more half written songs). Continue this process once a day for at least a week and then you will have 7 new songs to enjoy. If you find you enjoy one of them enough, post it to YouTube and send me the link. I’m interested in hearing what you create!

About the Author

A professional prog rock musician, Tommaso Zillio is a regular writer of columns about music composition.