How to Write a Song: A Comprehensive Guide For 2023

The process of songwriting can be enjoyable and highly expressive. Yet, putting it all together can be difficult and even frustrating at times. Knowing how to perfectly create a song is very helpful and can make it more fulfilling. 

We encourage you to use the suggestions and guidelines in this article. They can lead you toward the most effective techniques to begin writing a song. It will also help you stay motivated to write, and inspired to finish! You’ll learn how to select a theme or subject that is important to you. Then, how to fine-tune and polish the lyrics and melodies.

We’ll cover the key steps involved in the songwriting process. So grab your guitar or sit down at the piano, and let’s get started on crafting your next hit song!

How To Write A Song

There are many different ways musicians approach writing a new song. Not all are the same among songwriters. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to do it. The most important thing is to find a method that works best for you.

Finding your unique process will begin to develop once you do it a few times. Here are a few common methods when getting started with a new song.

Starting with Lyrics

Some musicians prefer to begin by writing the lyrics of their song, then adding the melody later on. This approach allows them to focus on getting the words and message right before moving on to the music.

Begin with a Melody

Other songwriters prefer to start with the melody, and then add lyrics that fit the tune. This method allows them to get a feel for the overall vibe and direction of the song. All before committing to specific words.

Collaborating With Other

Some songwriters find it helpful to work with others. Either by co-writing or seeking input and feedback from others. Collaboration can bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to the process.

8 Step Process to Songwriting

Once you have decided how you want to get started, you can use these steps to put the song together.

1. Forming a Composition

There are several elements that need to be combined when writing a song. This way, an effective composition is created that is cohesive. This includes:

  • Lyrics: The words of your song that convey the theme or message you want to share.
  • Melody: The tune or series of notes that accompany the lyrics. They give the song its musical expression.
  • Rhythm: The pattern of strong and weak beats in a song that determines the flow and feel of the music.
  • Harmony: The combination of notes played or sung together in a chord. It adds depth and richness to the music.
  • Form: The song structure or layout. This should include elements like verses, choruses, and bridges.

Combine these elements effectively and smoothly. After that, you’ll have the best composition to write a catchy and unforgettable song.

Music notation and composition pages

2. Finding Your Theme or Idea

Before you start putting pen to paper or fingers on the keyboard, you must know what you want to write about. This will be the foundation of your song. It will guide the direction of the theme or story.

To find your theme or idea, you may want to ask yourself some questions. Things like, how am I feeling right now? Or, what do I want to convey throughout the song? Are there things that need to be touched on that can add excitement to the song?

Once you have a perception of the emotions or subject that you want to convey, you can start brainstorming ideas. Messages that might align with those feelings. This should be a free-form process, so don’t be afraid to jot down any and all ideas that come to mind. 

You can always narrow it down and refine your ideas later on. Remember, the topic or idea doesn’t have to be super specific. It can be something as broad as love or hope. The important thing is that it resonates with you and feels authentic. 

Then create the song title. This can help you direct the theme later on. It also has the potential to sculpt the message in the lyrics. Normally, the title is a basic word or short description. You can change it as the song evolves.

3. Choosing Your Structure and Format

Once you have a theme for your song, you should consider how you want to structure it. This will involve choosing the framework or format of your song. As well as elements like the length, key, and tempo.

There are a few standard formats that you might use when structuring. Verse-chorus-verse is used quite frequently. And verse-chorus-bridge-chorus is another popular structure. You can experiment with various song structures to see which suits you best.

It’s generally a good idea to aim for a song that is around 3 minutes in length. It’s possible to tell a tale or deliver a message within this window without going on for too long. Otherwise, you might lose the attention of the listener. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. So feel free to go shorter or longer if it makes sense for your song.

Next, consider the key and tempo of your song. The key refers to the pitch of the notes. While the tempo is the speed at which it’s played. Experiment with different keys and tempos to see what sounds and feels the best for your song.

4. Chords and Music

Your song will gain depth and dimension from the chords and music that you use. They are the backbone of your song. Of course, this is in addition to the lyrics and melody. Combinations of notes played together are the chords. You can also use them to create riffs. They help create a feeling of harmony and emotion in the music.

When it comes to choosing chords for your song, there are a few things to consider. Use this table as a reference.

InfluenceChord Choice Outcome
KeyDifferent keys have many sets of chords that work well with them.
MoodThe chords you choose can help set the vibe and emotion of your song.
StructureThis refers to the verse, chorus, and bridge. It will influence your chord choices.

Your song’s sound and emotion will also be shaped by the overall music. Whether you’re composing a full band arrangement or performing on an acoustic guitar. Your song’s emotional impact will be enhanced and brought to life by the music you select.

5. Writing the Lyrics

Now that you have a structure in place, it’s time to start writing the song lyrics. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to communicate your thoughts and feelings using the words you decide upon.

We have some advice to get you started:

  1. To communicate your idea, make use of concrete imagery and descriptive words. Rather than using unclear or mysterious language. Be detailed and use words that will help the listener visualize what you are trying to convey.
  2. Experiment with different rhyme schemes and word choices. Rhymes can add interest to your lyrics and make them catchy. But don’t feel like you have to force a rhyme if it doesn’t feel natural. Play around with different word choices to find the best fit.
  3. Pay attention to the rhythm and flow of the lyrics. The way the words sound, when they’re sung, is just as important as what they mean. Make sure the lyrics flow smoothly and fit the melody you’ve chosen.

Writing the lyrics might be the most challenging but rewarding part of songwriting. Take your time, and don’t be afraid to revise and experiment until you find the right words for your song.

6. Adding the Melody

Now that you have the lyrics of your song written, it’s time to add the melody. Here is where you get to make your words come to life and give your theme or idea a musical interpretation.
Here are some pointers to get you going.

Test a Tune

Hum or sing a melody to fit the lyrics. As you read through your lyrics, try humming or singing a melody that feels natural and fits the words. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Just get a rough idea of one you want to use.

Experiment

Experiment with melodies. Once you have a rough melody in mind, try playing around with different variations. See what works best. You may find that a slightly different melody enhances the emotion or message of your song.

Keep it Simple

Keep the melody simple and catchy. This is often more effective than anything too complex. Aim for a melody that is easy to remember and sticks in the listener’s head.

The process of writing a song includes the exciting stage of adding the melody. You’ll begin to hear your song come to life here. Don’t be scared to play around with different melodies and experiment.
Until you discover one that seems right, at least.

Pad of paper on a guitar ready for songwriting

7. Fine-Tuning and Revising

Now that you have the lyrics and melody of your song written, it’s time to fine-tune and revise. This stage of the process is important! You’ll check if everything is functional and harmonious here.
These are pointers that have previously worked for me.

Review

Review the lyrics and melody for cohesiveness and effectiveness. Does the melody support and enhance the emotion or message of the lyrics? Are there any lines that feel awkward or out of place? Make any necessary revisions to improve the overall flow of the song.

Revise

Make revisions to improve the song. This could involve changing a word or phrase. Maybe even altering the melody, or reworking the structure of the song. Don’t be afraid to make changes! The goal here is to create the best possible version of your song.

Fine-tuning and revising can take time, but it’s worth it in the end. Your song’s chances of being successful will increase if you put forth the effort to make it the best it can be. After all, it must strike a chord with the audience.

8. Collaboration and Feedback

You can definitely compose a song on your own. However, working with others and asking for input can significantly improve your work. This has the potential to enhance it in ways you may not have realized. Here are a few advantages of teamwork and input during the songwriting process:

  • Fresh perspectives: Working with others can help you come up with fresh concepts. It might make it easier for you to hear your song differently.
  • Constructive criticism: Receiving feedback from others can help you identify areas for improvement. It can make your song stronger. Look for constructive criticism that offers specific suggestions for improvement. Not just general praise or evaluation.
  • Collaborative energy: Working with others is a fun and stimulating experience! It will help keep you motivated and focused on your songwriting goals.

There are numerous ways to include criticism and collaboration in your songwriting process. You might collaborate with another songwriter. Or go get suggestions from a workshop or songwriting group. There are plenty of them out there!

You could also get the opinions of close relatives or friends. Whatever you do, keep in mind that feedback and collaboration can be useful tools. Especially when it comes to kicking up the impact of your work.

FAQs

How do I know what structure to use?

The structure of your song should support and enhance the theme or message you want to convey. A common structure that you can use is verse-chorus-bridge-chorus.

Consider how long the song will be, this will also help determine the right structure. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what feels right for your song 

How do I combine music and instrumentation?

The instruments you want to use plus how they are to be used and where must be decided.
Some lyricists choose a straightforward guitar or piano accompaniment to start. Then, proceed to build from this point.

Remember that a great song doesn’t need to have a complicated arrangement or a lot of instruments. There are moments when simplicity can be just as powerful as complexity.

How do I choose the right chords?

A song’s depth can be enhanced by selecting the appropriate chords. The chords should be in the key you intend to use for the song, though, so make sure this is the case.

This way, the transitions between the elements of your structure will be smooth. Always use chords that seem good, but don’t overthink them.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!