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Music

Simple Songwriting Guide: How to Write a Song in 5 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 29, 2020 • 2 min read

The songwriting process varies from artist to artist, but if you approach it with a plan, it won't take you long to produce your very first song.

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5 Elements of a Good Song

A well-written song generally has five major elements:

  1. Melody: A melody is a tune that defines a vocal line or instrumental riff. If you want your song to be catchy, you'll need a memorable melody.
  2. Harmony: In songwriting, harmony generally takes the form of a chord progression. A song's melody and chords play off of each other, each supporting the other. A good songwriter knows how to balance both melody and harmony.
  3. Rhythm: Rhythm can be the most memorable part of a hit song. Rhythm isn't just about drum patterns; each band member, from a lead singer to a guitarist to a saxophone player, must incorporate rhythm into their playing.
  4. Lyrics: Well-written song lyrics can turn a decent pop song into a smash hit. Some songwriters make lyric writing the focal point of their songwriting process. Others consider lyrics less integral to their own songs.
  5. Structure: Most song structures alternate between verses and choruses. One of the most common structures is intro / verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / chorus, but you can write a great song using a variety of formats.

How to Write a Song in 5 Steps

To write your own song, start simply and layer in complexity as you go.

  1. Improvise a chorus melody. You don’t need to know advanced music theory to generate great song ideas. In fact, many songwriters start by improvising. Try improvising a chorus melody. You can either pick out the notes on an instrument or you can sing a vocal melody into a smartphone recorder. You'll use this melody as the foundation for your new song.
  2. Find the appropriate chords. Once you have a melody, you'll need to support it with chords. Experiment with different chords under the melody you've improvised. If you know a little theory, this process is fairly easy. If not, you can find your way to a satisfying sound through trial and error.
  3. Write each section. Once you have your chorus melody and chords, you'll need to move on to the rest of the song. Writing verses tends to be the next step. Note that sometimes a first verse leads directly into a chorus, but some songwriters delay the chorus and instead go from the first chorus to a pre-chorus or even the second verse.
  4. Add lyrics. Once you have the melodies and chord progressions for each section of your song, you're ready to write lyrics. Be flexible—not every pair of lines has to end in a rhyming couplet. The most effective lyrics have unified themes and clear images; the rhymes are secondary.
  5. Pick a song title. Most singer-songwriters don't name their compositions until the very end of the process. You might pull the song title from a memorable lyric, but there's no wrong way to name a song.

After you’ve written your first song, you can move on to recording a demo on your phone or computer. Once you’re ready to get serious, record a polished version of the song in your home recording studio or a professional recording studio.

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