How to Write a Song | 10 Simple Steps


Are you a singer wanting to venture into songwriting? Or, you’re already a songwriter, but you’ve been feeling like your process has just been uninspired lately. Maybe you’re someone just looking for a new hobby?!

Whatever the reason may be, I am so So SO glad you are here!

I love songwriting. Like it’s probably my absolute favorite thing to do! Unfortunately, as a full-time teacher, I rarely have the time to just “wait” for a song to come to mind. However, forcing myself to write is never fun either. Thus, I needed a go to process!

Obviously, there are many ways to write a song. I’ve written them in very organized ways and I’ve also been a very disorganized songwriter. It’s art! You’re always right.

However, to help me stay focused and organized, I’ve put together what I believe to be a very universal way of writing a song. Even my elementary students were able to utilize this process during a summer school guitar class activity!

To help illustrate the process, I will be using one of my own original songs, “Where do I go?” You obviously don’t have to know my song, but I wanted to be able to tell you how I went about writing one of my own songs instead of “guessing” how someone famous wrote their song. 

Just a heads up, my original music tends to lean towards the country-singer/songwriter style, however this process can be used for just about ANY music genre.

I hope you find this 10 step process helpful in any way! Take what works for you and leave behind what doesn’t 🙂 it’s your art!

If you’d like to listen to my original song, “Where do I go?” beforehand here is a video! Don’t mind the thumbnail facial expression… :-p

For more original music click here!

1. Choose a Theme

What do you want to write about? What is the overall feeling or message you want to get across? Come up with the theme and write it down. List as many words that come to mind when you think “The Theme”. Those listed words and phrases can also branch into ideas as well!

I call this my “Theme Constellation”. Using scratch paper, I basically start with my theme and then jot down related words/phrases that branch out on the page. This typically ends up looking like a constellation literally and metaphorically. All thoughts and points connect as an overall “picture”. Just like a constellation. (yay, stars!)

What’s a good theme?!

The theme can be vague like “love” & “heartbreak”. Or, it can be a little more specific. “Empowering people and telling them that they are perfect the way they are” (Katy Perry’s Firework) or “Forgetting all of the haters and just being myself.” (Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off)

The theme can be your EXACT feelings or it can be a made up scenario! Don’t worry about your theme sounding fancy or poetic. That’s the lyrics’ job!

My Theme in “Where do I Go?” – {I need to move on, but it’s way easier said than done}

I’ve created a FREE Songwriting Constellation printable for you, if it helps! 🙂 Here is how I usually use it…  Click here for a printable version. 

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2. Brainstorm Possible Lyrics

Come up with as many creative metaphors, conversational phrases and references (to the theme) as possible while using the words/phrases that you came up with in step 1.

This part is fun! Since this is not the final song, there seems to be less pressure when writing. I find that I just keep going despite how “good” I feel each line is.

I’ve created another visual aid to help you change your brainstormed words into deeper ideas and metaphors. Click here for the free printable. 

For example: “Moving On” turned into –> I run, I hide, Where do I go?

3. Decide on Structure

Choosing a structure is like collecting ingredients for a recipe. You need somewhat of an organization to the madness of songwriting!  Rather than “digging in the pantry” over and over, having a structure will set you up for success in the beginning.

This will enable you to see the outline of your final product. Rather than writing without any direction (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) you will know exactly where to go with your lyrics!

I’ve created this infographic to give you a visual map of what your structure may look like.

Songwriting Cheat Sheet

4. Come up with your Chord Progression

Like I mentioned earlier, this method isn’t the only songwriting method out there. You could have started with your chord progression first or you could have waited. 

However, this method is what I find to be the easiest and most successful. With that being said, this is where the magic usually happens for me! Once I have my chord progression I can easily pick out some melody snippets which helps me fill in the lyrics.

The Chord Progression is essentially your song’s canvas in which you will soon add your lyrics & melody.

Think about your song’s theme and mood. Is your song a little vengeful? Maybe use a chord progression with dark, minor chords. Is your song sweet and loving? Try major chords! Even better, use major and minor!

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If you are ever having trouble coming up with chord progressions (I always catch myself using the same one over and over again… good ‘ole G major and friends!) Check out my Printer Friendly Chord Progression Cheat Sheets! Choose one, try it and write on!

Note: If you do not play an instrument like piano or guitar, songwriting is still possible for you! You could find someone who does play piano or guitar, find free chord progression loops online to use or you can always learn how to play! 

5. Come up with a Chorus

To me, drafting out a chorus right away helps the song take off! Chorus’ are generally less wordy than verses, so they seem so much more achievable in the first place. That, and you can ALWAYS change it later.

Your chorus should be catchy, memorable, state the main theme and usually house the title of your song.

Using your “Theme Constellation” come up with possible lyrics. Generally these are metaphors that enable your listener to relate to you.

My song’s main theme was “I need to move on, but it’s easier said than done” narrowed down to “Where do I go?” That simple question stood out to me, so I tried it in my chorus:

Chorus

Where do I go?
I’m lost in a black hole   (metaphor 1. Describes feeling of unknown & being stuck)
and it’s pushing me in
and pulling me way down low
won’t somebody please
lend me a rope   (metaphor 2. Describes character wanting out.)
I’m lost in a black hole
I’m gonna find a way
to let you go, I know
but where do I go?

Metaphor 1: A black hole. I tried to describe the feeling of moving on when you are so heartbroken. Not to get dramatic on y’all, but break-ups can feel like you’ve fallen in this black hole of emotions and you just want out.

Metaphor 2: Lend me a rope. While writing this, I analyzed what my character was going through at the time . I envisioned her feeling as if she was swallowed by this black hole (80’s sci-fi graphics included) and reaching for a way out. What could she be reaching for that may rhyme with hole? A rope! (sometimes songwriting words just really need the vowel to rhyme). She wasn’t dwelling in the black hole, but she was wanting and trying to get out and move on.

Analyzing this “feeling” really helped me finish the chorus. I didn’t want to tell the audience “I’m never getting over him! clinger level 5” I wanted to say, “I know I have to move on, and I will, but for now I just need a little bit of guidance. Where do I go?” Always over analyze your character’s feelings.

6. Create your Verses 

The verse is where you will set the stage with all the verbiage that you can fit! Since your Chorus will typically stay pretty repetitive, catchy and feeling-based you can get everything else out into your verses.

You may tell us:

  • the setting
  • the characters
  • the background story
  • the causes of your feelings
  • the past, the present, the future… anything!

We want all the details! Enchant the listener with a scenario that they can relate to.

You can use your theme constellation, metaphors or any other lyric sketches you came up with.

Verse 1
Welcome to a brand new day   (created a setting, I need a clean slate)
gonna let the covers just fall away    (letting go of the past)
and I’m not gonna ever think of you
I tell the mirror it’ll be OK    (I still need to convince myself)
turn my head, I look away    (I can’t hide from this)
I’d do anything but face the truth

Verse 2
I drive around when nobody’s home   (what can I do to distract myself?)
do anything not to feel alone
’cause that’s when I always think of you
I turned off that radio
don’t wanna hear, another note   (everything reminds me of this)
on broken hearts and lovers feeling used

7. Create your Pre-Chorus’ (optional)

I love a good pre-chorus! I just feel like they just add extra emotion and detail. Melodically they just drive the verse into the chorus in a way that makes the listener expect and WANT the chorus.

However, writing them is another story.

Melody wise, your Pre-Chorus should begin to rise and propel itself into the chorus. However, the lyrics don’t have to to be anything more than “an addition to” the verse. They could even state new feelings, new details or the cause of the feelings in the chorus.

Pre-Chorus’ can be identical or they can vary in lyrics. Likewise, you can keep the same chord progression, or you can switch up the order.

Pre-Chorus 1

I run, I hide
Can’t escape your memory inside me
move on, I tried
I just need to know…

Pre-Chorus 2

Be strong, be brave
Just chase you’re memory away
move on, with my day
I just need to know…

8. Create your Bridge (optional)

Oh the bridge. They can be quite a doozy to all songwriters. Nah, doozy is too nice of a word… they can just flat out be a nightmare. Maybe it’s just me? (I swear I have dozens of unfinished songs waiting for a bridge!)

On the other hand, sometimes the bridge just MAKES the song. Goosebumps included!

Think of the bridge like an actual bridge that leads you from your current song to a new, unknown part of your song. It could be an “aha moment”, a statement of present feelings, or even a catchy and repetitive phrase. It just needs to sound totally different, but fit in at the same time.

Typically, the bridge has a different melody, lyrics and chord order. I like to shuffle my chord progression around, so I am using the same chords, but I start with the relative minor instead.

Example: G – D/F#- Em – Cadd9 turns into —> Em – D/F# – G – Cadd9

My Bridge:

In a way I’m glad you’re gone
What doesn’t kill the pain is gonna make me strong
I’ve found the beauty in moving on
I’m moving on. I’m moving on.

9. Create your Melody (if it hasn’t happened already)

In my experience, melodies happen pretty organically once I have a good chord progression and begin writing my lyrics. My style of music, being country/singer-songwriter, is naturally conversational. Sometimes coming up with a melody is as easy as speaking the phrases with my chords and then singing whatever naturally comes out first.

If you are having trouble, I would suggest taking a note within your chord progression as your starting note and try different melodies.

Example: G major chord houses the pitches G B & D. You don’t have to ONLY sing G B or D, but those are strong starting points.

The best tip I could give is to just play the chords/recording of chords and just sing what comes out naturally. Record, listen back and edit. Come up with as many variations until you find one that just fits.

Being any type of musician (or even just a fan of good music) allows you to have an ear for music! You will know when the melody sounds a bit off.

Melody mastering is definitely a skill to be built, but the more you do it the more natural it will become! I promise 🙂

9. Record, Listen, Revise, Repeat. Finish. 

Woo-hoo! The final step! By now, you should have a rough draft of your song. Empty gaps within the lyrics can be filled and iffy parts that you aren’t really diggin’ can be revised.

This is one of my favorite parts of writing a song. Nothing is better than that high you feel when you’ve created a song. Now, all I have to do is edit and revise!

Brew some more coffee and edit away!

If a word or phrase seems out of place, try different variations. Record your song on your smartphone and take a listen. (I know, I HATE listening to myself sing, but it helps me hear the finished product and which parts are a little odd.)

Revising can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 years or more. It all depends on whether you are happy with your art or not. Don’t be too hard on yourself, though! You just put yourself out there and wrote a song for Pete’s sake!

Once you are finished, make sure you write it down and record it! Countless times I go back to practice a new song and I forget what some lyrics were! All I feel is regret for not writing them down.

Once you have your finished song record it, show it off, do whatever you wan’t! Be proud! You literally created a song out of thin air. Isn’t it somewhat magical?

I hope this post helped you out in songwriting! Stay encouraged and inspired. Songwriting is definitely a skill to be built, but the more you work at it the easier it will become.

Let me know if you have an questions, need help or just want to show me your songwriting constellations & finished songs!

Best wishes!

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