For those who’ve spent their career as musicians playing with other artists, learning how to write a song can be a challenge. Many artists believe this isn’t something that can’t be taught but I disagree.
When I first started writing songs years ago, I had a hard time figuring out how to start. I worked at it though and over time found that writing music got easier and easier.
Below are some of my biggest tips and exercises I learned for those looking to learn the art of songwriting. With these in mind and a healthy amount of dedication you’ll be on the path to performing your own compositions in no time.
1. Start Writing
This may seem like a no-brainer but even seasoned songwriters can struggle with it. One of the biggest questions beginner songwriters ask is how to start or where to start.
Should you begin with the lyrics or the melody? Is better to find a good instrumental hook or chord progression instead? The simple answer to these questions is that there is no answer.
Everybody writes music in different ways and it’s up to you to figure out what works best. Try several different approaches to songwriting and you’ll soon discover a preference. The biggest part of it all is just sitting down to start writing or nothing will ever happen.
2. Listen to Lots of Music
The best lesson you can get in songwriting is through listening to other songwriters and trying to understand how they convey their works. This seems like an easy step but it’s not as simple as putting on background music while doing other work.
Try to attentively listen to the songs and make mental notes as you do. Figure out what works, what doesn’t and what you want to try in your own writing. You’ll soon discover new chord progressions, lyric forms and styles you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
3. Write a Song Every Day
As with any other learned skill, learning how to write a song takes a lot of practice. The best way to do this is to commit yourself to sitting down and writing a song every day. Once again, what you write doesn’t have to be anything too fantastic, it could just be a silly tune about what you ate for lunch.
The important thing is that you force yourself to write on a regular basis. Some songs won’t amount to much but periodically you’ll sit down and write something amazing. You’ll soon discover that the more you spend time on it the better your songwriting will become.
4. Carry Around a Journal
One of the most difficult aspects of learning how to write a song is finding the inspiration. Thankfully inspiration is everywhere if you open yourself up to it. So, carry around a small notebook with you and write down every little thing that incites creativity.
This doesn’t have to always be song lyrics or melodies either. It could be a phrase someone said, a reflection on your day or a sketch of something that looked inspiring. Writing things down will force the creative side of your brain to work overtime and find song ideas in everything you do.
5. Learn New Chords
If you’re new to playing an instrument your musical toolbox may be relatively small. Because of this it’s easy to get into the habit of using the same few chords for every song that you write. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the listener but it can start to make things dull for the songwriter.
After some time you may wonder why you don’t feel inspired in the same way as when you first began writing. This could be because what you’re playing doesn’t give you the same creative surge after hearing it over and over.
Learning some new chords or chord progressions is a quick way to challenge yourself as a songwriter and get your creative juices flowing again.
6. Record Your Ideas
The voice memos app on your phone is one of the most useful tools to the songwriter. I’ve made the mistake too many times of having an idea and not recording it then forgetting it shortly after. Sometimes this can happen in a matter of minutes of having an idea for a melody or chord progression.
Learn from my mistakes and always record your song ideas as soon as you have them. Leaving a recorder running while you come up with ideas is also a great way to write a song. It lets you focus on your spur of the stream of consciousness and not on writing down or perfecting things. After working this way for a while you can go back through your ideas and flesh them out further.
7. Use a Rhyming Dictionary
A rhyming dictionary is key to keeping form and structure when you’re learning about songwriting. One of the things that makes popular music so memorable are rhymes from one line to the next. This makes it catchy for a first time listener and it will stick with them for much longer.
Thinking in terms of rhyming schemes can be especially difficult to the amateur songwriter. Thankfully there are tools like RhymeZone.com or Rhymer.com that make it easy to find words that go well together.
You’ll probably discover rhymes in words you didn’t even know existed. No only that but the more you use a rhyming dictionary, the less you’ll need it as your brain becomes accustomed to thinking in this manner.
8. Use a Thesaurus
Many people may think of using a Rhyming Dictionary when first learning how to write a song. However, not everyone realizes the importance of a thesaurus. Often times you can come up to a brick wall with a phrase you want to say that doesn’t fit your form.
Instead of trying to force lyrics that fit awkwardly, try to find alternatives for what you’re trying to say. A quick Google search of “synonyms for ____” will quickly show you a bunch of options you could use.
You may even discover a brand new direction to take your song that you would have never have thought of otherwise.
Many of history’s greatest songs were written by more than one person and there’s a good reason for that. Collaboration is a great way to come up with ideas you normally wouldn’t have and it will help a song reach its full potential.
Finding one or two friends you can bounce ideas around with can be a great learning experience. You’ll discover new tricks and techniques and will create new music in a fraction of time it takes to do it alone.
10. Use Garageband
Songwriting in a DAW such as Garageband, Ableton or Pro Tools can be a great way to quickly put together an idea. The instruments and loops in DAWs are all tools for inspiration and experimenting with new sounds can cure help writer’s block.
One word of caution however is not to get caught up perfecting your arrangement while writing. This can ultimately slow you down, when the point of writing in this style is to compose quickly. Remind yourself that you’re not producing a finished track for release. You can always go back to flesh out ideas or fix the production after an idea is complete.
11. Understand That Nothing’s Perfect
To make it easier for you to start, remind yourself that nothing you write is ever going to be absolutely perfect. This is especially true in the beginning when you’re just starting to learn how to properly write a song.
It’s easy to be overly critical of your work and this can be a good thing at times. However, it can also be your biggest enemy. Taking time to go through your writing with a fine-toothed comb can cause you to lose momentum. I don’t think any great songwriter was ever 100% satisfied with their work. The important thing is that they never let that stop them from creating.
12. Share Your Music
For many people, this is one of the most difficult parts of learning how to write a song. Sharing your work can be a scary experience, but it’s an important step in all creative industries.
When you are ready to show someone a song for the first time find a close friend that you trust. You don’t have to do so in a way that asks for feedback, especially your first few times. However, once you’re comfortable with playing your songs for a friend start to ask for constructive criticism.
Being able to ask for and take this criticism is a principle quality when learning how write a song. You also don’t have to take every suggestion to heart. However, getting an outside perspective on something will shed light on areas where you can improve.
13. Finish Your Songs
A major problem all songwriters struggle with is actually taking a song from the idea to a finished product. Coming up with an idea for a verse or melody is easy but making it a finished composition takes hard work.
The more ideas that you have and leave unfinished, the more you’re teaching your brain how to write parts of songs but not the whole thing. Instead, try to come up with the entire shell of a song as soon as you have the concept. Not every aspect has to be amazing as long as you create an initial rough draft while you’re feeling inspired.
Once you’re able to finish even the worst of ideas, you’ll be more prepared when a great one comes along.
#14. Combine Ideas
If you can’t finish a song no matter how much you write, try to combine it with another incomplete idea. This may take some reconfiguring of lyrics or melody, so keep an open mind and don’t box your ideas in.
Something that you thought was the perfect chorus for a song may actually be the much needed bridge for another. Or, try taking a melody from one idea and using it with lyrics from another.
By “frankensteining” your best parts of multiple ideas together you can finally have some shelved ideas see the light of day.
15. Just Start Writing
This point is so important that I want to conclude by mentioning it one more time. The best way to learn how to write a song is through trial and error. Don’t expect everything you write in the beginning to be awe-inspiring or groundbreaking. Most likely, it won’t and that’s entirely okay.
The important thing is that you begin writing and don’t stop or be discouraged. As with anything, the more you do it the easier it will become and before you know it writing music will become second nature. Eventually you’ll wonder why you ever had trouble songwriting in the first place.
Got a great song, what’s next?
Once you have a great song and are ready to share it with the world, it’s time to record it. Our blog has plenty of tips and tricks for home recording. If you don’t want to record songs yourself, no problem! Sundown Sessions online recording studio also offers plenty of affordable solutions for all types of musicians who want to record their music without all the hassle.
Once you have a song recorded and want to start making some money from it, head over to SyncSongwriter.com. There you’ll find plenty of tips on how to get your music licensed to TV and film to start making a strong, viable income from your work.