Songwriting is a powerful way to express your thoughts and emotions. Just like journaling or keeping a diary, writing a song memorializes an event or conveys the feelings you have about a particular subject. Sometimes the music and lyrics will flow easily and naturally, but you may also struggle to write music. No matter where you’re starting from, a few basic principles will help you avoid frustration and help you create an authentic song.
Starting With the Basics
There’s no right or wrong way to start, so you can begin with lyrics or music. But whichever you choose, you’ll need a solid foundation. Be sure you know some basic elements of music theory, such as chords and chord progression. You’ll also want to get familiar with song structure, which typically uses verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. It’s a good idea to listen to great music from any genre, and pay attention to the type you want to write. Listening to classics will help you pick up patterns in song structure and inspire you with powerful storytelling.
Writing the Lyrics
A great song can come from a catchy title or lyrical hook. Other times, it’s a concept, such as a life situation or experience, that forms the basis for your lyrics. If you start with a title, you can build from it by answering a series of questions surrounding the main words or phrase. For example, what feelings or emotions do you get from the title? What caused it? What would happen next? Does the title have a deeper meaning? Use your verses to answer some of these questions. Take time to write down, in paragraph form, the main idea you want to get across with your lyrics. Then, go back and start arranging the ideas into more poetic phrases.
Writing the Music
Start with a simple process when you're creating the melody. Keep the chords easy because you can always go back and add additional elements like drums or strings later. If the lyrics are ready, use them to inspire the music by speaking the song aloud, exaggerating the inflection you use based on the emotion in the song. This may lead to an organic melody from the natural rhythm that the spoken words produce.
Inspiration and Other Necessities
Ultimately, a great song starts with authentic inspiration. Whether it’s a personal tragedy or triumph, drawing upon emotionally powerful events in your life will create better storytelling. If you feel stuck, take a break. This is a better approach than forcing it or overthinking it, if the inspiration isn’t flowing. Partner with other musicians to generate more ideas and to get an objective perspective. Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism because you want the song to be better and that requires honesty during the collaboration process.