How to actually write good songs


Image of young woman writing a song with piano and computer

How to write a song from the heart

A good song can transform any situation. Music is meant to make us feel something, and that is exactly what you want a good song to do.

Maybe you’re struggling to come up with a chorus that grabs people’s attention, or you have a strong message but are having a hard time putting it into words.

There are many great techniques and tips to help you write the best song you’ve ever written!

  1. Create a good song structure to help keep listeners engaged and incorporate a good balance between tension and release to keep your song engaging.

2. Your song’s lyrics should carry passion and feeling, so they connect with your listener’s emotions.

3. Choose interesting chord progressions that suit your song to give your song something unique and intriguing. 

4. You can form your melody off of your lyrics using prosody and reverse prosody to make your lyrics more memorable. 

5. The right instrument for your song can go a long way. Choose an instrument you are good at or comfortable with to get the best out of your melodies.

6. To get started, set time aside regularly to write your song and come up with ideas. Reduce the number of distractions around you to help you stay focused and inspired. 

7. Decide whether you want to start with the lyrics or the music of your song and then simply get started!

Read on to find out how to get started with some simple songwriting steps and tips that will crank your songwriting skills up a notch.

What Are the Qualities of a Good Song?

We’ve outlined some key qualities that good songs have. Make sure your song has these important elements.

A Song Structure that is Defined and Makes Sense.

We can usually hear a song’s structure when listening to any good song. Here’s a common structure that works well. (Don’t be afraid to use this structure – it’s been tried and tested in many hit songs!)

  • Intro
  • Verse 1 
  • Pre-chorus 
  • Chorus
  • Verse 2
  • Pre-chorus
  • Chorus 
  • Bridge 
  • Chorus

Use repetition to engage your listeners and create memorable melody lines that keep recurring and become the ‘theme’. (Otherwise known as the ‘Hook’ – because it hooks your listeners in!)

Make sure that your song doesn’t leave listeners wondering where they’re going, keep them engaged. Good song structure leads a listener along while they are listening to your song.

Dynamics

A good song keeps a good balance between tension and release. Kind of like telling a story, you want to build listeners up to a moment of suspense and then give them the release and resolution they are hoping for.

You also want to create space in your song for the vocals to come through and good dynamics will allow that.

Your instruments and vocals both need to have their turn to be in the foreground. Finding a balance for the two instead of competing with each other is going to help your song sound good.  

As the song progresses towards the climax, build up the intensity of the musical elements to create energy. So the second chorus might have more energy

Sincere lyrics with clever rhyming

Any good song should have song lyrics that speak to the listener. 

There is no rule to whether you should write more poetically, cleverly, or conversationally. You can create a good creative mixture of all three to give you a truly engaging song.

When you write your lyrics, write from the heart, and find interesting ways to express what you want to say, in ways that suit your song.

Chord progressions that are interesting and fit the song

To start your song off on an interesting note, for the first two chord progressions, try something a little different and see where it takes you. 

There are many commonly used chord progressions you could try out. However, if you want your song to be more interesting, try adding in E7 chords to your progressions.

A very commonly used closing cadence is V7 and it works very well to create good harmonics within a song. There are other good cadences as well, experiment until you find one that works for your song.

Don’t be afraid to create something completely original. You may come up with something that really works and keeps your song unique.  

Memorable melodies that work with the lyrics

There are some general concepts to work with to get your lyrics fitting in nicely with your melodies.

Try to use prosody when coming up with your melodies. Prosody is when a melody follows the rhythm of how a word is said in speaking. So if you use a word with an upward or downward inflection, or as your note changes throughout a word, let the melody follow.

Good prosody makes a song more memorable. For an example of good prosody, including reverse prosody, listen to the song “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkle. 

You can also play around with chord progressions to help you create a good melody. Just experiment with dragging out some notes here and there until you find something that works for you.

Other qualities of a good song

There are many other things, some more subtle than others, that make a good song. 

Try to write a song that matches your skill level and vocal range. Preforming a song well can make all the difference to even the simplest of songs. A good song doesn’t have to be a complicated one.

Another factor that can improve the quality of your song, is a good choice of instruments. Think about the genre of music you are writing to help you decide what instruments you’d like to use. 

Adding in some interesting instruments, like a trumpet or flute, can change up your song and bring in a new element that could liven your song up and make it more intriguing. 

How To Get Started

Often getting started is the hardest part. Maybe you have great ideas but struggle putting pen to paper. There are things you can do to help you knuckle down and write a great song.

1. Schedule a Time

You won’t write a good song if you never get around to writing!

If you want to take your songwriting seriously, schedule a time that works for you where you will write each day. Even committing to 30 minutes a day can help you build up a really good song. 

2. Turn off Distractions

Having a clear mind can help if you’re struggling to get started. 

Turn off any distractions that might interrupt your concentration, like televisions, cellphones, and even music!

Once you get into a good creative flow, you don’t want to be broken out of it prematurely by distractions.

3. Decide Whether you prefer to Start with Lyrics or Music

Maybe you already have a melody in mind, or you’ve got some rough lyrics sketched down in an old notebook. Decide whether you want to start with the music or the lyrics to help you make progress.

It doesn’t matter which one you start with, just start somewhere and build up from there.

A good tip is to start with the one you are better at. For example;  if you’re new to writing lyrics, start with the music, and if you’re a little rusty on the guitar, start with the lyrics.

If You Prefer to Start With Lyrics, Follow These Steps

If you’re starting your song with writing the lyrics, these guidelines will help you get started.

4. Start with the Title

A title tells you a lot about what a song is going to be about. You can start off your lyrics by forming a good title first and then basing the lyrics off of that title. 

This is where you decide more or less what you want your song to be about, or the direction you would like your song to go. 

Create a short phrase of up to about six words using keywords that you think sound nice and that explains something about the topic of your song. For example; “A Good Day for Love”

5. Form the Lyrics off of the Title

The next step is to look at your title and see what thoughts and questions come to mind when you read it. 

Ask yourself the questions that come to mind when you read the title, and then answer them to help form lyrics.

For example; If your song title is “A Good Day for Love”, maybe you will ask, “What is a good day for love?” or “What does a good day for love look like?”.

6. Choose a Good Song Structure

Any good song follows some sort of song structure. Not all are the same but a good structure will help you have a plan for how to write your lyrics. 

A common song structure for many popular songs generally looks like this: Verse; Chorus; Verse; Chorus; Bridge; Chorus

The general consensus is that the chorus should answer the main question of your song. For example: “What does a good day for love feel like?”

7. Make a List of Related Words You can Use

To make your song more exciting and help it tie together very nicely, you want to make a list of words that fit the title.

You can use these words throughout your lyrics to help them make sense and keep listeners more engaged.

In the case of our example, words like “love”, “romance”, “sunset”, “Champagne” will work. Any words that you can think of that relate to your topic can work.

If You Prefer to Start With the Music, Follow These Steps

If you’re starting your song with writing the music, these guidelines will help you get started.

8. Choose your Favourite Instrument

A good place to start, if you are starting your song with the music, is to choose the main instrument that you will use to form your song.

Often choosing the instrument you are best at is a good place to start. You want to feel comfortable with your instrument so that you can be creative without getting too stuck or held back by your skill level. 

9. Start Jamming with no Agenda

In the period of time that you set aside for writing your song, pick up your instrument, and just play without thinking too much about it. 

Often, while experimenting or playing with chords, you will hear a melody that grabs your attention. 

Go along with your creativity and don’t hold yourself back too much by thinking about what the melody should sound like, just play!

10. Find Your Main Idea

Try to form your main idea for the song while you play around with chords you like. You can start practically anywhere in your song, it will give you something to work off of. 

You could start with the melody, a simple chord that you like, a bass line, a hook, a rhythm, a drum beat, or any combination of these that you like.

11. Build Your Song Up in Sections

Once you have something to work with or some idea of what chords you are liking, start building up the sections of your song.

You need to build a section for the verses and the chorus, which will generally just be a repeat, possibly with some small differences.

12. Form Transitions

Once you have created sections of your song for your lyrics, you can start to experiment with transitions to smoothly flow between the sections.

13. Build Your Bridge

Your bridge is the most climatic section of your song. You want to think about how you use your chord progressions here to build up to this big moment, or turning point, in your song.

You can really change things up for the bridge to keep your song interesting. You can speed things up and raise the intensity here before you break away into your final verse.

Roughly Record Your Song 

Record your song on a recording device or cellphone if you can. This will give you something to work with when writing your lyrics. 

It also helps to record your song, even if it sounds quite rough, so that you don’t forget certain parts or chords that you like. 

Songwriting Tips from Famous Songwriters

To gain inspiration on your songwriting journey, you can look at famous songwriters for advice.

It is good to note that everyone is different, you can be a good songwriter even if you do things your own way.

Here are some great quotes by famous songwriters to show you just how unique you can be:

  • “Don’t force it. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try to write a song. You know,  go mow the lawn…My songs speak for themselves.” – Neil Young
  • “For me, songwriting is something I have to do ritually. I don’t just wait for inspiration; I try to write a little bit every day.” – Sean Lennon
  • “My experience with songwriting is usually so confessional, it’s so drawn from my own life and my own stories.” – Taylor Swift
  • “You wind up creating from silence, like painting a picture on a blank canvas that could bring tears to somebody’s eyes. As songwriters, our blank canvas is silence.” – Rodney Atkins

Frequently Asked Questions

Why I can’t write songs?

Everybody can write songs, and most people are bad at it when starting out.

The more you write, the better your songs will become. There is a rule about becoming a master at something, you have to spend 10 000 hours on the skill you want to master. 

What is the process of writing a song?

You can decide whether you want to start with the lyrics or with the music when writing your song.

Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Schedule out a time to write
  • Choose a topic or idea
  • Write your title
  • Form questions around that title
  • Answer the questions to help form lyrics
  • Choose related words to use
  • Form a good song structure
  • Write your verses, chorus, and bridge
  • Roughly record your song 

What do you call a song with no lyrics?

A song without lyrics is called an instrumental and they come in every genre.

Some of the most common uses for instrumental songs are for studying or working, background music, film scores, advertising, and even for vocalists to make use of for lyric writing.

Top Apps for Songwriters

There are apps designed to help with your songwriting process. 

Here are some of the top free apps for songwriters:

  • Song-writer Lite
  • SoundCloud Pulse
  • Rhymers Block
  • Suggester
  • Evernote

Conclusion

Every songwriter struggles at some point to get the creative juices flowing, just keep trying, and sooner or later you’ll catch a spark of inspiration.

If you’re still feeling stuck, take a step back and remind yourself why you’re writing your song in the first place. Find that emotion, roll with it, and watch the magic unfold! 

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