No matter what anyone else tells you, songwriting is a talent which you develop over time. No one picks up a guitar and pens a top 40 hit on their first try. Everyone’s first attempts at songwriting are necessary but generally very bad, so you’ve got to keep at it. Of course it helps having the proper method when it comes to songwriting, as well, so let’s talk about how to write a song if you’ve never done it before.
First, come up with a creative name for your song. Ideally it will be a unique name which reads like an interesting spoken phrase which has a story behind it. An interesting title can establish a great deal about a song lyrically and musically before you’ve written anything else. For example, a title like “Our Last Night” stirs up visions of a couple’s last night together. But why is it their last night? A title like that offers some questions which beg answering by way of your lyrics.
You can also establish your melody (in part) for your chorus with a nice title. Something which will really help you in terms of how to write a song is to have some experience with some kind of chorded instrument before you begin songwriting. You can choose a key for your song and then try playing different chord progressions over various melodies you come up with to find what works best for that particular hook and song as a whole.
This brings me to another point. Literally any line of melody, any collection of notes, can make for a HUGE hook which instantly sticks in people’s minds. The focus is all in the presentation, and a great deal of that lies in the chords which surround that hook. If you don’t believe me, try playing different chord progressions over any pop song’s chorus right now and you’ll find that 9 times out of 10 it’s not as good.
The perfect chord progression and accompaniment around a hook can literally make or break that hook and have a greater impact rather than if you just tried to work your butt off to come up with the “perfect” line of melody to make up that hook.
In getting back to how to write hooks, try singing different notes over the various syllables of your song’s title. Try giving each syllable its very own note and then alternatively try stretching and spreading the notes out over multiple syllables and words. Go up and down the scale or jump around it until you find something which you like while playing different chords underneath each melodic variation.
I always preach music before lyrics because, one it’s much easier to fit lyrics to music, and two, great music inspires great lyrics whereas I don’t find that it works the other way around as easily. If you have a great vocal melody to deliver the lyrics for a verse or chorus, you’ll find yourself having floods of lyrical possibilities jumping into your head to fit in that melody.
Remember that the most difficult part in how to write a song is to get that initial section of your song down. Once you have something like a verse or a chorus solidified, you’ll find it much easier to come up with the adjoining sections because you’ll know what musical environment you’ll be coming out of or going into in the previous or next sections, respectively.
We’ve only scratched the surface. There are dozens of tips and tricks when it comes to kickstarting song ideas, bolstering and improving existing parts and ideas, and finishing songs/overcoming writers block. These are just a few of the topics which make up my complete songwriting eBook: “How to Write a Song – The No ‘BS’ Songwriter’s Bible”. Take a look at the table of contents and check out what people are saying about it by clicking on the link in this paragraph.