How To Start a Song
There are so many options available to you if you’re wondering how to start a song that you want to write. Sitting down in front of that blank sheet of paper can be a frustrating experience. The good news is you don’t have to begin there.
How to start a song. To begin writing a song, follow these 9 steps.
- Begin With a Theme
- Start With a Title/Hook
- Start by Playing an Instrument
- Start With a Melody
- Find a Co-Writer
- Start With the Chorus
- Start With a Spoken Intro
- Start With Acapella
- Start With Percussion
1. Begin With a Theme
One way to start a song idea is to begin by picking a general theme for your song. Do you want to write about love, breakup, joy, faith, friendship, sadness, sorrow, family,… ? There are so many topics to choose from. What are you feeling inside on this particular day? Tap into that emotion and pick that topic.
Then brainstorm some ideas for the verses and chorus. Don’t be concerned about rhyming words at this point. Write down the idea of each verse and chorus. Get the outline in place then you can fill in the picture later. Use sensory images to describe each scene.
Don’t just tell me it’s hot outside, give me some details like “black tar bubbles on the street were popping as the cars drove over them”. Right there you have color, sound, and motion. Not a particularly singable lyric, but it could be the start for a general outline.
Maybe you narrow it down to, “Blacktop boilin’ in the August sun”. Do you see how I went from a general statement that could have been written for a book to a singable lyric line? Paint a picture so that the listener has the image in their mind, not just the words in their ears.
2. Start With a Title/Hook
Did you hear a phrase that caught your attention? Hopefully, you are writing these down as you do. Look through your notes and pick one of these that jump out at you at the moment. What are some directions you can take with this title? I stated in another article that I misheard a phrase and I came up with “Why Can’t Toys Breathe”.
Look at that and think about how you could proceed. Is this a question asked by a toy? Is it asked by a child? What if you replaced “toys” with “I”? “Why can’t I breath” or, change it again, “Why I Breathe”. That’s how you can start with a title or phrase and come up with the name for your song. Once you have the name you can map out the rest of the sections with the storyline.
3. Start by Playing an Instrument
If you know how to play an instrument just start playing around with different chords and patterns. Inspiration can come via the harmonies produced by those chords and chord patterns. Let your mind wander freely along with the music and take note of any particular emotion or words that may pop up.
If you don’t play an instrument, listen to instrumental songs on Youtube and let that music inspire some lyrics. As you’re playing start singing a word or phrase. Experiment by stretching some words out more than others. I did that with the word “you” in the first verse of a song I co-wrote called, “With You”. You can listen here.
This technique is especially useful if you have a lyric that does not yet have a melody to carry it. When I first saw the lyric for “With You” I noticed the lines were pretty short…
You got me goin’
And you send my mind
Cause you have me knowin’
That love, that love takes time
By playing around with my guitar and trying different phrasings I came up with the melody.
4. Start With the Melody
If you have a melodic idea that just seems to come out of nowhere record it right away. Record it into your phone if you have to. I’ve had and then lost many melody ideas over the years by not following this advice. Learn from my mistake!
Some may think you’re a little strange humming along to yourself while you fumble for your phone. Then humming it over again into your phone. That’s OK, they can thank you later when you come up with that killer song.
5. Find a Co-writer
Working with two pens can be an advantage if you can find a co-writer you’re comfortable working with. Bouncing ideas of one another can bring out many ideas on how to start a song. Look up songwriting forums and join one that seems like a good fit. Start commenting on other writer’s lyrics then eventually post one of your own. I recommend commenting on many lyrics before you post your own. People will be more apt to comment on yours if they see you are participating yourself.
6. Start With the Chorus
Although most songs start with a verse there have been hits that started out by singing the chorus of the song. Journey’s “Any Way You Want It”, “Crawling” by Lincoln Park, “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles, “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, and “Jolene” by Dolly Parton are just a few examples of songs leading off with the chorus.
7. Start With a Spoken Intro
Songs like Tom Petty’s “Here Comes My Girl“, “Leader of The Pack” by the Shangri-Las, Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around“, and Alice Cooper’s “The Black Widow” all begin with a spoken intro.
8. Start With Acapella
The Little River Band’s song “Lonesome Loser“, “Ain’t Got You” by Bruce Springsteen, “Big Generator” by Yes, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are some examples of songs starting out with acapella voices.
9. Start With Percussion
I wrote in my article on hooks how some songs use percussion as a hook. Well, that is applicable to this article too. Songs like “Wipeout“, “Superstition“, and the theme to “Hawaii Five-O” television program all start out with percussion.
Those are my songwriting tips for how to start a song. Once you actually get started, map it out. Write down the main ideas for each verse and the overall message in the chorus. Don’t be too concerned with the rhymes just yet. Get the ideas separated then you can go back and keep piecing it together. I gave you the example above with the, “It’s hot outside” idea.
Approach this the same way you would while working on a puzzle. You don’t just grab a piece and lay it down where you think it goes. First, you spread out all of the pieces then separate the outside border pieces to one side, blue sky pieces to another side, and so forth. Then you focus in on the pieces of each section and eventually find the ones that fit together perfectly.
With patience and diligence, your song will come together to display a beautiful picture just as a puzzle does. Just keep writing songs, you’ll get better, I promise.