Where do you start to write a song? For me, I start with a thought and expand on the thought. However, it does not always happen like that, I recently wrote a song based on the music and not so much on the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics were pretty good but the guitar riff in the music is what held it all together. Below are ten steps that might help you write a great song.
1. Start with the title. Starting with a title will help you stay focused on a single idea in your song. Create a phrase of one to six words that sums up the heart of what you want to say. Or look for an interesting phrase that suggests a situation or emotion to you. Try using an image in your title to give it more interest or an action word to give it energy.
2. Make a list of questions suggested by the title. Start by asking yourself what you want to say about your title and what you think your listeners might want to know. Make a list of questions. Your list might include: What does the title mean? How do you feel about it? What happened to cause this? What do you think or hope will happen next?
3. Choose a song structure. Many of today’s biggest hits rely on a song structure like this: Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus. Some add a short section called a “pre-chorus” or “lift” between the verse and chorus to build anticipation. The verse, pre-chorus, and chorus each have an identifiable melody, one that the listener can recognize when it comes around.
4. Choose one question to answer in the chorus and one for each verse. We’ll focus on the chorus first since it’s the most important part of your song. Select the question you want to answer in your chorus. Write down a short phrase that expresses your answer. Look for images and action words to bring your answers to life. What is the singer feeling, thinking, or saying?
5. Find the melody in your lyrics. Choose one or two of the phrases you came up with in Step 4. Say them out loud. Now say them again with LOTS of emotion. Exaggerate the emotion in the lines. Notice the natural rhythm and melody of your speech when you say the lines with lots of feeling. This is the beginning of your chorus melody.
6. Begin to add chords to your chorus melody. Try a simple, repeated chord pattern. If you are more advanced, this is why we teach you chords and you play the scales over and over again.
7. Work on the lyrics in your first verse. Focus on the question you chose in Step 4. Make your first line something that will get listeners interested: an intriguing statement, a question, or a description of the situation. In your second line, consider restating the first line in a different way or adding more information. Don’t move on too quickly; your listeners need time to understand what’s happening in the song. In Verse 1, be sure to give listeners enough information so they can understand the chorus when you get there. Go through Steps 5 and 6 with your verse melody and chords.
8. Connect your verse and chorus. After you have a verse and chorus, create a transition between them so that they flow naturally. You may need to raise or lower your verse melody or change the last line to get to your chorus smoothly.
9. Build your second verse and bridge. Choose another of your questions to answer in your second verse. Use Step 7 to work through the lyrics. The bridge section adds a peak emotional moment to your song, a realization, or an “aha!” moment. A bridge isn’t a requirement but it can add a lot of strength to your song.
10. Record your song. A simple piano/vocal or guitar/vocal can often be the most effective emotional statement of your song. Try singing it as if you are speaking it to someone.
~Matt Etter from the The Voice And Piano Team