The future of music

How to Write a Song: Comprehensive Guide

December 29, 2023
how to write a song

Whether you want to learn how to write a song from scratch or improve your songwriting skills, you’ve come to the right place.

In today’s guide, we will take you through the essential steps of writing a song.

More importantly, we will tell you what to do to make your song unique and memorable.

How to Write a Song 

To be honest, songwriting can be a long and challenging process.

But it’s also an exciting and rewarding one.

If you have a passion for music and writing, songwriting can be extremely fulfilling.

But if you want to write a good song that resonates with people and at the same time reflects your musical personality, you need to learn how to approach the songwriting process.

Now, explaining how to write a great song is not easy, primarily because there are many songwriting methods you can use. 

Some artists start with a title or a topic, while others focus on creating melodies.

And truth be told, there’s no wrong or right way – every successful songwriter has their songwriting process.

That said, you need to find a method that suits you best.

Nevertheless, there are some steps every songwriter has to go through, regardless of the method and style they opt for.

1. Choose a title 

Choosing the title of a song is certainly one of the things every songwriter has to do.

And many songwriters decide to start their songs with a title.

The thing is, if you start your songwriting process by choosing a title, you can get a clear idea of what you want to write about.

Developing a song’s concept and choosing the song’s topic is crucial.

You don’t have to come up with a big story or complex message – you can start with a small moment, lyric, or detail that inspires you. 

And then you can develop the story, melody, and mood of the song.

After all, this is just the beginning – many songs change and evolve during the process, and then they become something meaningful. 

But let’s get back to choosing a title for your song.

Generally, the song’s title needs to be: 

  • Easy to read
  • Catchy
  • Related to your song’s lyrics or concept 

If you still don’t know where to start, you can search for inspiration from other songs, movies, and TV shows, and you can write down interesting phrases or words.

You can also look for inspiration in the real world around you.

Try to notice the details – movements, sounds, and smells, as well as your thoughts and senses.

A person sitting beside a lake with a notebook writing a song.

Many would agree that finding inspiration is the first step in writing a song. 

And when looking for a perfect song title, you will also look for inspiration and song ideas. 

Choosing a specific question you want to tackle might also be helpful. 

You can also make a list of questions your title evokes – they might come in handy once you start writing the lyrics.

Alternatively, you can pick a title for your song after the whole process.

That way, you can search for inspiration in your song’s hook, lyrics, or topics.

Finally, choosing a title and topic for your song will help you with another important decision you have to make in the very beginning – choosing a music genre.

This comes naturally and very early on for many songwriters.

You need to find your genre – this might depend on your personal musical taste and previous experiences or a specific song. 

Some ideas and thoughts work well for upbeat rock music, and others fit emotional pop music. 

It all depends on what message you want to convey, what mood you want to create, and the style you feel most comfortable with.

2. Choose a rhythm

If you decide on your song’s topic, genre, and basic concept, you’re ready to choose a rhythm and beat.

The best way to approach the rhythm of your song is to think about the genre you picked.

A typical punk or rock song usually has a fast rhythm and often uses a 4/4 time signature, while lyrical pop songs have a slower tempo.

You should pick a rhythm that fits your genre, but you should also consider the mood you want to create. 

After all, rock songs can have a dreamy, tender atmosphere and pop songs can be rather intense.

The important thing is to find a beat that matches your mood and genre.

3. Choose a song structure

The next thing you need to do is to choose a song structure.

A song structure (or song form) refers to how a song is organized.

A typical song structure includes:

  • Intro
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Bridge
  • Outro

Now, these sections are usually arranged in the following order: intro, verse — chorus — verse — chorus —bridge — chorus — outro.

This is also known as the ABABCB structure.

Many songs also add a section called a “pre-chorus” or “lift” between the verse and chorus.

Pre-chorus is quite common in pop music and hit songs in general. 

However, no rule says the sections have to be in this particular order or any order whatsoever.

But starting with an intro, proceeding with verses, peaking at the chorus, and ending with a nice outro is something we are all used to. 

For example, most hit songs use standard structure, and that’s why they always sound so familiar.

But many artists decide to change the formula and create something unique.

You can also keep a relatively familiar structure and still create something new – the important thing is to add variation and keep listeners interested.

4. Write melodies 

With the song structure in mind, you can start creating melodies.

For starters, try to create a basic melody. 

If you play a piano, guitar, or some other instrument, you can play around with different notes and chords and see what grabs your attention.

woman playing the guitar

If this is your first song, you should stick to common keys, such as G, A, C, D, E, and F.

And when deciding what kind of melody works best for your song, think about the concept and the message you want to convey. 

You can also think about the mood you want to create. 

And once the melody feels right, you can write it down and start developing it.

You can develop the melody using major and minor scales.

Giving your melody a focal point might also be helpful – in a song, a focal point refers to a high note that a melodic line touches only once.

And you can rely on the 3 main types of melodies:

  • Chord-based melodies
  • Scale-based melodies
  • Monotone melodies (monotone rhythmic patterns)

Now, you don’t have to be a guitar pro to write melodies for your song, and playing an instrument is not a requirement for being a good songwriter.

However, basic music skills will help you in your writing process.

That said, if you want to improve your songwriting skills and make the whole process easier, we suggest taking guitar or piano lessons.

Many online music lessons are affordable, effective, and very convenient. 

5. Write lyrics

Songwriting is a creative process, and this is the part where you’ll have to be in a creative mood.

Writing compelling, memorable, and relatable lyrics is not an easy task.

But it would be best if you took it one step at a time.

For instance, some lyricists and songwriters begin writing lyrics by creating a hook.

Essentially, a hook is that quality of a song that makes you want to sing it over and over again.

A hook of the song can be a catchy phrase, a memorable riff, or a short instrumental section.

Your hook should be short (two to four bars in length), and it should fit the melody and the overall vibe of the song.

Now, many people write the chorus around the hook. 

The chorus is the heart of the song, and it’s the section people usually remember best.

Therefore, make sure the lyrics in the chorus convey strong emotions or imagery, and try to summarize the themes and ideas of your song.

Woman writing a song while using a laptop and headset.

You can also start by working on the lyric in your first verse and then writing two more verses that fit the pattern of your first verse. 

It all depends on the songwriting style that fits you best. 

But regardless of what songwriting techniques you want to use, make sure that words and melody fit well together – this is called prosody.

In songwriting, prosody is when all elements work together and support the central message of the song.

This is not easy to achieve, especially in the beginning.

But if you want to understand prosody, when writing a song, try to think about: 

  • How do the stresses in your words match the stressed beats in your music
  • The rhythm of your words
  • How high notes of your vocal melody emphasize some words 

6. Finalize your song 

Writing lyrics and melodies and making sure it all works well together can take a while.

Therefore, don’t expect things to work out at first.

You’ll probably have to do a lot of changes and adjustments before deciding your song is ready for distribution. 

And finalizing a song usually includes:

  • Deciding on the final structure of the song
  • Adding other instruments (if needed)
  • Listening to the song carefully
  • Improving some parts if necessary 

When listening to your finished song, write down all parts you believe might need some tweaking.

And if you think something is missing, you can consider adding a bridge if you don’t have one already.

A bridge (sometimes called a channel) is an optional section of a song that can add more nuance and variety.

You can also add a modulation; common modulations are up a half-step or a whole-step, and adding them can create more tension.

Another device that works for some songwriters and that can have a similar effect is a breakdown – this is usually achieved by making the bass and drums drop out. 

When finalizing a song, it’s important to conclude that everything feels right.

Even if something isn’t put in a logical order, it doesn’t mean it sounds bad.

On the contrary, songs can sometimes seem too correct, and that’s also something you might want to avoid. 

So, it all comes down to your personal judgment.

Asking another songwriter or experienced artist for feedback can also be very helpful. 

7. Record a demo 

At some point, you’ll have to wrap it up and say: my song is ready. 

And although the main songwriting part is over, there’s an important thing left to do – recording a demo version.

There are many ways you can record your song.

If you don’t want to hire a studio or a music producer, you can record it by yourself by using a smartphone, a video camera, or a laptop and software.

A rough song demo can be a simple recording made with your phone, or it can be a complete track with drums, piano, guitar, and other instruments.

It all depends on your goals and abilities.

black microphone with person behind

Regardless of what type of demo you make, make sure you capture the essence of your song. 

If performing your song doesn’t feel right, you probably need more practice.

Practice both the instrumental and vocal parts until they feel more comfortable and natural, and work on your weak spots and transitions before playing them altogether. 

This will help you memorize the whole song as well as make you feel more confident and ready to record a great demo. 

What Makes a Good Song?

Now that you know how to write a song, you’re probably wondering what is that ingredient that makes the song stand out from the crowd.

More importantly, what makes the song catchy and memorable?

Well, that primarily depends on what kind of music you want to create.

For instance, if you want to make a hit song, you should focus on standard song structure and hooks.

But generally speaking, there are many ways to write a song, and every songwriter has their techniques and methods. 

If you want to become a successful songwriter, the important thing is to create a song that resonates with many people. 

But writing a relatable song doesn’t mean you have to stick to standard structure and typical lyrics – you should do what feels right.

And you should express your thoughts and emotions in a way that feels natural to you.

That should be the core of your songwriting. 

How Long Does It Take to Write a Song? 

Sometimes you hear about a famous song that was written in less than an hour.

But for most songwriters, the whole process usually takes much longer.

But even if you’re just starting, that’s not easy to predict.

How long it will take you to write a song depends on many factors, including:

  • Length of the song
  • The complexity of the song’s structure
  • Instruments involved
  • Mixing and recording method
A person writing a song with a ukulele.

Writing a song for beginners can take anything from a few hours to a few days.

In some cases, the songwriting process can last for weeks – for instance, a great idea can come to you out of nowhere and you’ll decide to change the lyrics or the chord progression in your song. 

And some artists take years to finalize a song and include it in their studio album.

But if you’re a beginner, you’ll probably spend a day or two (at least) playing with different melodies and writing lyrics.

You shouldn’t push yourself too hard though.

Sometimes lyrics will come so easily to you, and as some artists put it, the lyrics will flow through you as though you’re some kind of channel.

And sometimes, you’ll have to think long and hard before coming up with something good.

Even experienced songwriters can feel stuck sometimes. 

But at the end of the day, the length of the songwriting process doesn’t matter.

And you shouldn’t compare yourself to others.

Focusing on the idea behind your song and the quality of your music is much more important. 

How to Write Your First Song

Writing a song might seem challenging at first, but if you follow the steps we mentioned today, you can do it without hassle.

The thing is, anyone can write a song. 

And technically you don’t need anything but your voice. 

However, you need to learn how to put a song together.

Before writing anything, try to:

  • Listen to different kinds of songs
  • Notice the patterns in music
  • Learn more about common song structures
  • Explore different songwriting techniques 

It’s important to learn how to write a song step by step. 

And after you’ve conducted a little research, it’s important to begin.

Once you get things started, everything will start falling into place – you will come up with a great idea or title, you’ll play an amazing riff on your guitar, or you’ll write down that perfect verse.

Here are some of the songwriting tips that can make your process a bit easier in the beginning:

  • Start with a topic you’re passionate about
  • Stick to a more common song structure
  • Write regularly
  • Practice writing melodies and chord progressions separately
  • Always carry a songwriting notebook 

But the truth is, there’s no secret to good songwriting.

Every songwriter would be earning millions otherwise.

But you also shouldn’t measure your success by how many people like your song.

The popularity of your music will depend on many factors, including your exposure, marketing strategies, and so on.

Nevertheless, if you want to become good at songwriting, you should keep practicing. 

Every beginner songwriter has to go through a few (or more) bad songs to write something great. 

That’s the only way to make progress and eventually become a skilled songwriter. 

How to Write a Song – Final Thoughts 

Writing a song from start to finish has many phases, including choosing a title, rhythm, and structure, writing lyrics and melodies, and recording a demo.

And although there are many ways you can learn how to write a good song, there’s no right way to do it. 

Every professional songwriter has their approach and preferred methods. 

That said, you should explore different songwriting techniques and find what works for you. 

And with enough practice, you’ll develop your unique songwriting style. 

You may also like: How to Become a Songwriter

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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