As the late, great Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”. How true is that statement? Whether you’re feeling down, you want to spark some romance, you’re in an upbeat and lively mood – whatever kind of mood you’re in, there’s a song to match it. Music really does set your soul free.
Given how powerful music is, it comes as no surprise that people are always looking for captivating new songs to add to their playlists. If you’re looking to capitalize off of the music industry by pitching a song to artists or publishers, you’d like to record your very own album, or you want to share a melodic tune with catchy lyrics with your congregation, but you don’t know how to get started, here’s a look at some handy songwriting tips and techniques that you can use to help you grab the ears of listeners and communicate the message that you want to impart.
While not necessary, it is highly recommended that you have some basic home studio equipment to allow you to compose quickly and get your songwriting ideas/melodies recorded. We highly recommend at least having a portable audio recorder to jot songwriting ideas down on the go.
1. Pick a Theme
First and foremost, in order to write a great song, you need to decide what you want to write about. People like music that they can relate to and understand; lyrics that convey what they’re feeling and melodies that speak to their hearts. Examples of some topics that you might want to consider include:
- Love and relationships – beginnings, endings, hard times, etc.
- Family and friendship
- Dreams and ambitions
- Conflicts – personal and societal
These are just a handful of topics that would make great themes for a song, as they’re things that every single person faces at one point or another in their life. Don’t just pick a theme because you think that it’s something that will sell; make sure that you choose something that you actually want to write about.
If you aren’t feeling the topic, so to speak, it’s going to be heard in the song. By choosing a theme that you are actually interested in and that really speaks to you, you will be able to convey your message more clearly and will connect with listeners on an emotional level.
2. Choose a Catchy Song Title
Once you know what type of theme you want to base your song on, start working on a title. Choosing a title will help you remain focused on the basic idea of the song. A song title can be a single word or a phrase; ideally, it shouldn’t be longer than a few words. Either way, you want to make sure that it’s attention-grabbing and that it gives listeners a hint about the topic/theme of the song.
3. Describe the Song Theme
When you’ve decided on a topic for your song, grab a piece of paper and a pencil, and write down a few lines that explain the following:
- Individuals you’d like to include in the song (yourself and someone/people you know, a husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend, best friends, parent and child/ren, etc.)
- What’s happening to and/or between the characters in the song
- The setting
Really immerse yourself into the theme. Try to feel what the characters are feeling. Envision being in the setting and the situation. Picture the finer details, too, like what the setting looks like, the weather, the time of year and day, etc. Keep in mind that regardless of the genre and the theme, most songs are written in the first- or third-person point of view.
4. Select the Perfect Song Structure
Now it’s time to choose a structure or form for your song. Examples of some commonly used song structure forms include:
- AAA. This type of song form is comprised of different verses or sections (A) and lacks a chorus or bridge; however, the AAA song form does feature a refrain, which is typically a line (commonly the title) that is repeated in the same spot in each verse – typically at the end. Bridge Over Troubled Water is a great example of AAA song form.
- AABA. Commonly referred to as “American popular” or “ballad”, the AABA song form features two opening verses or sections (A), a lyrically or musically contrasting bridge (B), and a concluding A verse. A popular example of a song in AABA form is Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
- ABAC. This song form is often used in musicals. It starts with an A section that has 8 bars, which is followed by a B section, which also features 8 bars. The song then returns to the A section before it goes into a C section that has a somewhat varied melody than the prior B section. Moon River from the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a popular example of a song that is written in ABAC song.
- Verse/Chorus. Pop, love, country, and rock songs are often written in verse/chorus form. The verses vary, but the chorus is pretty much always the same, both musically and lyrically. A handy tip: get to the chorus as fast as you can by keeping the versus short and sweet. I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston is a popular example of verse/chorus form.
- Verse/Chorus/Bridge. This is an extended version of the verse/chorus form. The pattern this song form follows is usually verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. While it can be quite beautiful, this form can be quite difficult to write, as the songs often end up being quite lengthy, and as a general rule of thumb, a song shouldn’t be any longer than three minutes. James Ingram’s Just Once is an example of a song that was written in the verse/chorus/bridge form.
5. Pick a Question to Answer
While it may not always be written in question format, a great song does always answer a specific question; for example, how someone is feeling or thinking, or something that they’re wondering. A question should be answered in the chorus, as well as in each verse. Start by focusing on the chorus, as this is the most important part of the song.
Pick a question that you’d like to answer in the chorus and then jot down a catchy phrase that answers that question. Bring your answers to life by focusing on images and adjectives. What is it that the singer is trying to say, what are they feeling, or what is on their mind? What kinds of emotions is the singer feeling and how would you describe those feelings?
6. Start Working on the Melody and Chords
Set out to find the melody in your lyrics. Pick a phrase or two that you came up with previously. State those phrases verbally. State them again, but put a lot of emotion into it. Focus on exaggerating the emotion that you want those phrases to convey. Pay attention to the natural rhythm and melody in your voice as you speak. Use this to inspire the melody of your chorus. Play around until you fine-tune the melody and you’re satisfied with the way it sounds. This is when we recommend using a portable audio recorder to jot your songwriting ideas down so you can play them back and get a good feeling for how your song might sound.
7. Start Adding Chords
Next, work on adding chords to the melody of your chorus. The relation of the melody to the chords is what will keep the progression of the song interesting. A basic, repeated chord pattern is a great place to start. Examples of popular songwriting chords include:
- Three-chord progression: D/E/A – four beats on the D, followed by two beats on the E and A. Griffin House’s Live to Be Free is a great example of a song that follows a three-chord progression.
- Four-chord progressions: Am/F/C/G – This progression has a single chord per bar. Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) has the same four chords in the same order throughout the whole song, with the exception of the bridge.
- Full progression. An example of full progression is as follows:
- Verse: D/G/C/Em,D (repeat as you’d like)
- Pre-chorus: C/D/C/D
- Chorus: G/C/D/Em (repeat as you’d like
8. Start Working on Song Sections
Next up, start working on the sections of your song. Begin by working on the lyric in your first verse. Concentrate on the question that you decided to answer and make the first line of the song something that will really grab the attention of your listeners; something intriguing or a description of a setting or situation.
In the second line, you might want to think about restating the first line, but in a different way or by including more details. Avoid the temptation to move on too fast, otherwise, your listeners won’t be able to gain an understanding of what is going on in the song. In the first verse, offer enough details so that when you get to the chorus, listeners will understand what it means.
9. Connect the Verse and Chorus
Once you’ve developed a verse and chorus, create a transition between them, ensuring that they have a natural flow. You might want to raise or lower the verse melody or switch up the final line so that you can smoothly reach the chorus. Remember that chorus melodies are often in a higher note range than verses, as they tend to be more emotional and when emotions rise, voices rise.
10. Have Fun while Songwriting!
And there you go! By using the above-mentioned songwriting tips, you will be on your way to writing a song. Most important of all, don’t forget to have fun; after all, music is supposed to inspire and make you feel good.