This post was written by Jaelithe, a guest contributor. If you are interested in writing for Sound Called Music, feel free to contact me and let me know what you might be interested in writing about.

Writing songs is tough work. But whether you’ve been in music classes since your tricycle days or you’re just buying your first pack of picks, the more you write, the easier it gets. Sometimes your songs will be bad—really, really bad (take a bad songwriting lesson from Elf). But, if you approach songwriting with a plan, you’ll write more songs that people will actually want to listen to, and you’ll achieve priceless fame (at least among your friends and family).

The following songwriting guide was crafted, tested, and applied to hundreds of songs. Sure, some of them had ridiculous topics (my recent ballad about pleated pants may not be considered great) but many of them were liked by at least a dozen humans.

Step One: Decide How You Want Your Song to Make People Feel

When sitting down to write a song, you’ll probably be feeling something emotional. That “something” is pretty important because in just a few chords, it might become your latest and greatest song. Before you get too tangled up in emotions you need to decide how you want your song to make others feel.

Do you want them to laugh?

Do you want them to hate traffic?

Do you want them to feel sad?

Do you want them to feel related to?

Step Two: Brainstorm Key Song Phrases

There’s always an integral phrase that will reappear over and over when you’re songwriting. Don’t ignore it. Grab that phrase, write it down, and make it part of the refrain (refrain = chorus). To make your song even better, try writing songs that repeat a phrase from the listener’s perspective.

Award-winning examples:

“Tonight’s gonna be a good night”

“Celebrate good times, C’om on”

“We Are the Champions”

“Shots”

It’s the only reason why the Hokey Pokey and the birthday song are still around.

Step Three: Set the Scene to Fill in Blanks

After you’ve gathered some choice phrases, fill in the gaps by explaining every detail, and every detail of that detail.

Example:

Fact: We went on a picnic

The Details: In the sunny Sunday light we ate from baskets like we’d never seen a sandwich

Step Four: Find Good Chords that Make You Sound Great

Step Four: Find Good Chords that Make You Sound Great

It doesn’t take a ton of chords to write great songs—most of the musicians you hear on the radio can barely play more than four of them. Just find a few that you like singing, choose which order you like them in, and vary that order. Try writing one verse then flip the order of the chords for the chorus.

Step Five: Finish the Song Structure

After you’ve created a verse and a chorus, you need to make sure it repeats enough to hook people into loving your song forever. You may even try and spice it your song by adding a bridge (an interlude that connects two parts of the song) that varies slightly from the verse and chorus. Take a look at the example song structure below.

Example:

Verse

Em C D G (x4)

Chorus

G D C Em (x3)

Verse 2

Em C D G (x4)

Chorus

G D C Em (x3)

Bridge

C D G D

Chorus

G D C Em (x3)

Step Six: Step Back and Look at Your Progress

Take all of the pieces you’ve nailed down so far and identify what you’re missing. Maybe a line needs tweaking; maybe the second verse doesn’t quite go with the first. Try to polish whatever you can and then play it for someone who has a terrible poker face.

Jaelithe is a freelance writer with an affinity for song writing and a daily hankering to learn music. You can usually find her playing the piano or feverishly scribbling lyrics on napkins.

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