The songwriting process is one that varies from songwriter to songwriter. Some write songs by crafting the lyrics first while others come up with a melody and then fit the words to that melody.
Other songwriters, like myself, usually write the words and melody at the same time. One songwriter might use a guitar or keyboard during the songwriting process and another may just be walking around writing the song in his or her head. There is no one way to write a song, there are multiple paths that can be taken.
How to Write a Song (Lyrics First)
This is a perfectly valid way to start writing a song. I have never used this particular method but I know plenty of songwriters who have and they have written great song lyrics.
If you use this songwriting technique it’s important to pay attention to the meter or rhythm of your lyric. Read it out loud and sense the flow of the syllables as you read them.
Is the emphasis on the word or syllable correct as you read through each line? Does the flow feel natural as you hear the lyric being read back? Are the points of emphasis appearing at the same place on the same line of different verses, for example?
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. The first line in my song, “Memories to Spare” reads, “I wonder if you wonder if I ever think of you”. The first line of the second verse reads, “Our picture on the nightstand by this king sized queenless bed.”
Each line has 14 syllables (notice I said syllables, not words. This is important). When you read through each line without knowing the melody you will see that the emphasis placed on every syllable happens at exactly the same syllable in each line.
I WONder if you WONder if I EVer think of YOU
Our PICture on the NIGHTstand by this KING sized queenless BED.
The emphasis in each line is on syllables 2, 6, 10, and 14.
If your approach to songwriting is lyrics first, focus on making them read naturally and similarly as compared to the other sections of the song, like verse to verse.
This will help to make the process of adding a melody to those lyrics much smoother. I have co-written with many lyric writers and when I have a lyric to work with that has been crafted taking the previous points into consideration I found it fairly easy to come up with a melody that paired nicely with the lyrics.
One other point, and this is vital, is to be sure to repeat the hook of the song several times throughout the song, especially in the chorus. If you’re not sure what a “hook” is then read my article, “What is a Hook in a Song“.
How to Write a Song (Melody First)
Like I mentioned above, my particular approach to songwriting is creating lyrics and melody at the same time. However, just yesterday I had this melody and rhythm running through my head. That’s unusual for me and kind of exciting, actually. Now I have the challenge of adding lyrics to that melody.
That melody seemed to just come out of nowhere, which is often the case. It’s actually your creative sub-conscience poking its head through the door and saying, “hello”. Invite it into the room!
If you play an instrument, another tactic is to just start playing notes, Try to play short phrases of notes with different rhythms and spacing. When you find a combination you like, repeat that “motif” throughout the song. Make it the base of your tune that you can build around.
The melody for the chorus generally rises higher than the verse melody. So, if your motif sounds like it sits well in the verse pocket then try going up a 3rd, or 5th above those notes when the chorus comes.
You can also write a song without playing any instruments. Just use your voice and hum the tune to yourself. I can attest this works even though I play multiple instruments.
I wrote the majority of my songs while I was at work. I delivered mail for 31 years and as I would be walking my mail route I would write songs in my head then figure out the chords when I got home that night.
If you have a melody that you’re working with, the first thing you should do is listen closely and take note of how it makes you feel. What, if any, emotions are bubbling to the surface when you listen to it? Is it an upbeat tune that brings you a feeling of joy, or happiness? Or are you getting a melancholy vibe that makes you feel a little sad?
This is important to consider. If you plan on writing the lyrics yourself you don’t want to write a sad story to a melody that feels positive, and vice versa. If you plan on working with a co-writer then communicate what emotions the song brings out in you so the co-writer has a heads up on what your expectations are for the lyric message. If you need suggestions on how to find a co-writer check out my article, “How to Find a Songwriting Collaborator”.
How to Write a Song (Lyrics and Melody Together)
This is how I write my songs. I didn’t choose to write this way it just feels the most natural to me. If you’re a songwriter who likes this approach as well, the same tips apply that I’ve shared earlier in this article. It’s just that you’re applying the lyric tips and the melody tips at the same time.
Be flexible and allow yourself to tweak either the lyric or the melody so both compliment each other. You’ll often find that you like a particular line but it doesn’t match up well with the same line of a different verse. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same but if you need to find a different word here or there for one or the other line then do that.
These are just a few possibilities on how to approach the songwriting process. They are not rules set in stone. Songwriting is a creative process that’s personal to each writer.
If you work on applying these tips they will help you on your journey. The most important thing is to keep writing and trying new things. Trust your ear to know whether the song is right or not. Enjoy the process! Thanks for reading.