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How to Write Songs

Let me start this post by saying that everyone is different when it comes to writing music. What works for someone else may or may not work for you but it certainly can’t hurt to increase your repertoire of tricks – particularly for those times you have writer’s block.

For me I usually try to find a riff, hook or chord progression that sticks out in my mind. I know a small amount of music theory and will sometimes work from a scale. That initial riff can sometimes make a song so it can be very rewarding when you come up with a good one.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a good riff or chord progression, you can try playing on a musical scale (search the web for them, there are plenty – if you’re still stuck, a popular one is “e minor”). Alternatively, you can look for inspiration elsewhere. Learning covers can heavily influence the style of originals that you write so you can try playing a few covers (or just the interesting bits) in the same genre as what you would like to write in.

Many popular songs will have a verse and chorus and will often have an intro and bridge. As always, this will vary genre to genre so when you’re starting out, you can look at other songs in the same genre and use a similar structure.

Let’s start with a riff. You might have already come up with a cool sounding riff but don’t let it stop you from experimenting. Often a short riff can be lengthened by repeating the riff with a different starting note each time. If you’ve already come up with some verse chords, try using the root notes of those chords. Often it can be easier to come up with the chords first and then move on to the riff.

When moving from the riff to the verse, you can try a few different tricks to make it flow from one to the other easily. If you haven’t come up with a verse yet, you can try recording the riff and playing over it until something works – try to pick out notes from the riff to use in the verse; Some will work better than others.

If you’re writing a chorus next (again, depending on the style) you’ll want it to stick out as the catchy part of the song. To do this, you may want to make the instrument parts simple so that the vocal melody has more options. Don’t be afraid to repeat a chorus twice if need be and it can help to limit the number of lyrics in the chorus. I’ll write more on lyrics in a later post. If you’re stuck writing your chorus, try playing your verse with a backing drum track and see where you feel like going from there.

The bridge of popular songs often contains a key change and can be a departure in style from the rest of the track. Be careful though, if it’s too different it may not flow from one part of the song to the next. A useful guide is to look at how many parts of your song have changed from one part to the next. There are many aspects including key/scale, tempo, time signature, tone, beat and melody. Change too many of these things and it will sound like a completely different song. Try changing two or three of these and see how it sounds.

Once you have those three parts down you’ll need to end your song. You don’t always need an outro as a lot of the time you can just end on a chorus or verse. Sometimes your outro can be the same as your intro or a modified version of your verse (perhaps with fewer instruments playing).

By now you should have all your parts and you just need to arrange them into a song. You probably have a pretty good idea of your song structure already but if you don’t, arrange them into a preliminary structure. If you haven’t written lyrics for your song, play it and sing along with some temporary lyrics (they don’t have to be any good) and see how the song flows with lyrics. If some sections feel too short or long, change their lengths.

Once you feel your song is somewhat complete, show it to some friends and get feedback. Be prepared to receive some constructive criticism and don’t be afraid to change your finished product. There are plenty of bands that change their songs years after recording and selling them.


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