Songwriting 101: Ready to Get Started?

Learning how to write a song can be a long and laborious process that takes days, weeks, months, or sometimes even years to accomplish. On the other hand, inspiration can rush in like a torrent and the words just pour out of your pen effortlessly in a matter of minutes or hours. There is no rhyme or reason as to how this happens.

That is the magic of songwriting and songs. They rarely present themselves in the same way twice. This is why songwriting can be a very frustrating, while at the same time, very rewarding passion to pursue. Since you are reading this right now, I believe that you have that passion inside of you.

Welcome to this mysterious journey that the songwriter travels. The first question I’d like to ask you is why do you want to learn how to write songs? There is a reason why you’re reading this right now, and it’s not because you were bored and figured you would find a way to pass some time.

I suspect that you find the idea of communicating your emotion or message through the power of music combined with words an intriguing one. That’s how I got started.

Why do Songwriters Write Songs?

There are as many reasons as there are songwriters. Some of us use songwriting as therapy. We have an emotion or experience that we need to deal with or want the world to know about.

Getting it out helps to lessen or remove the emotional weight we’ve been carrying around. In a sense, it allows us to compartmentalize that particular emotion or experience. Songwriting can be very cathartic.

We may want to simply bring out an emotion in people that we ourselves have not personally experienced. For example, I wrote a song about a little boy who loses his father to war.

Now, I have not personally experienced that pain, but I know the sympathy I felt whenever I heard particular stories of that happening. So, I wanted to craft the song in a way that resulted in bringing the listener to the same emotional state I found myself in.

We may just want to write songs to make money. There are many songwriters who make a living at commercial songwriting. They have studied the craft and have become masters at using the tools of the trade to write memorable songs that the public enjoys.

We may want to communicate our message in a special way to a loved one. Maybe we write a song that is only meant to be heard by that particular person in our lives. One so personal that we want them to be the only one to hear it.

As previously stated, there are a whole host of motivations for expressing our message. A song is an effective delivery system to accomplish this. Rather than just telling our story using simple conversation, we construct it in a way that captures the listener’s ear and parks itself in their memory. In order to be successful, we need to understand and practice the techniques involved in crafting a song.

Where to Begin Writing a Song?

It’s been said that there are no rules in songwriting. Or, you need to know the rules of songwriting before breaking them. I prefer to look at songwriting as having general guidelines. When I was learning something new like building kitchen cabinets, or pressure canning food, or working on my Ford Bronco, the very first thing I did was research the subject. I watched as many Youtube videos as I could find. I Googled as many articles about the subject as I could.

While I’m sifting through all of the information I’m keeping track of common points being made from the various sources. If I read or see multiple times throughout my research the instructors suggesting that I put a higher quality saw blade on my table saw in order to make a cleaner cut through the plywood, then I’m going to take note of that.

I assume that it’s good advice coming from someone who has learned through experience what works best. The same goes for fixing a particular problem on my Bronco. I go to the Bronco forum and learn how the more experienced people deal with it. They have already dealt with the problem and can offer great tips on how to proceed.

It’s no different with songwriting. Those “rules” that you hear about are there because they’ve been proven to help create great songs. Not that a great song can’t be written if you chose not to follow them, but I suggest learning these general guidelines first, then you can decide how you are going to approach your own songwriting. The more knowledge you gather about how to write a good song, the better off you’ll be when you’re ready to craft one.

Song Structure

It’s important to be familiar with basic song structure and the purpose of each section. You can read more extensively about these topics in articles I’ve written by following the links next to a listing.

  1. Hook: The song hook is the most important element of a song in my opinion. It is what connects with the listener and makes the song a memorable one. Songwriters who can come up with great hooks are more likely than not to succeed in their songwriting endeavors. Please read my article on How to Write a Hook for a Song and become familiar with how to craft effective song hooks of your own.

2. Intro: The length depends on who you’re writing for. If it’s for yourself, take all the time you need. If it’s to pitch to a publisher you’re better off keeping it as short as possible.

Unless the days of 52-second intros like Hotel California by the Eagles come back, you’re treading on dangerous ground keeping the listener waiting that long. They are not that patient. Present a nice, short, interesting intro, then get to the first verse.

3. Song Verse : The verse, especially the first one, leads to the subject matter of the song. It provides specific details like the who, what, when, and where. Start with a line that draws the listener in right away.I go more in-depth about song verses with my article…
What is a Song Verse

4. Pre-chorus or Climb: Usually a couple of lines that help build the transition from a verse to the chorus. The lyrics might be the same on all pre-choruses, or different, depending on what the song needs. Not all songs utilize a pre-chorus. It’s up to you to decide if the song you’re writing would benefit from one.

5. Chorus: The chorus is where the main theme or message of the song is revealed. This section is more of the “why” and “how” elements. The hook and/or title of the song is introduced here. The chorus is usually what people remember most because it’s repeated throughout the song. So make it catchy! Read more at
How to Write a Chorus

6. Bridge: The bridge is a unique section of a song. It usually (but not always) appears once, between choruses 2 and 3, and has a different melody and lyrical perspective than the rest of the song. Read more at
What is the Bridge of a Song?

7. Outro: The outro is usually an instrumental section that wraps up the song. It allows the listener a chance to let the message of the song sink in. Outros can also be abrupt. For example, the singer could hold out the last word of the chorus or cut it off quickly.

That’s the structure of a song at its basic level. There are many more elements that go into final completion including, lyric, melody, rhythm, rhyme scheme, prosody, and instrumentation.

8. Lyrics: These are the words you use to paint your story. You should choose words that result in an image being created in the listener’s mind. There are several factors that go into choosing your words.

9. Melody: The melody of a song is consistently the same in all verses. The chorus melody should be different than the verses but also be the same in all choruses. If the song has a bridge, it too has a unique melody.

10. Rhymes and Rhyme schemes: These are tools to help your listener remember your song once they’ve heard it. Rhymes are a vital part of crafting a great song. Read my article on song rhymes Types of Rhymes in Songs

These are the basic elements to become familiar with while you’re learning how to write a song. Become familiar with each one and its particular role. Don’t be overwhelmed with having to learn and master everything that was listed. You can take one section at a time and practice.

For example, in my article on lyric meter, I give you a song exercise to write your own lyrics to the tune of the Beatles song, “Yesterday”. I even give you some song title ideas to help get you started.

Once you understand basic songwriting 101, my next advice is to just have fun with it. Songwriting is a passion you have. I know because I suspect you would not have read this far if it wasn’t. Have fun and write as much and as often as you can. You will improve over time. Now go study!

Ronnie Lee Hurst

Hello! I've been a singer/songwriter for years and have a passion for crafting a new song. I also want to help teach the craft to new songwriters coming along.

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