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Many people ask me the question: how do you write a song or start writing a song? Do you start with an instrument, the chords, the lyrics? Are you supposed to start out with an idea or words or a melody first?

There really is not just one way to write a song. Probably most songwriter have their own unique way of writing songs or starting a song.

This article should give you some ideas on how to start writing songs and give you some starting points the next time you feel the inspiration flowing through you. No matter what instrument you play, or even if you don't play an instrument at all.

The basic song

Lets start with a basic song. If you listen to pop music, rock music, punk music or any other form of music most styles of music have basic songs and song structures.

The best way of learning anything, and that includes songwriting, is to just do it and learn from others! So your first start should be to listen to the styles of music you like and the artists and bands you like. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Eminem, 3 Doors Down, Metallica, it really doesn't matter what, just listen to the songs they make. Now try to listen to the songs that seem the most basic and using the most basic structure of the songs.

What you will find is that most songs, no matter what style or music, have a few basic factors that make the song a song. I'll give you an example of a very basic song:

Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus (repeat)

As you can see now the three minutes and 34 seconds of music are just a few words. So if you can write each part and put them together, and find a way to get them to sound as a whole you have written your (first) song!

Lets go through each one by one.

The Intro

The song starts with something, either a guitar intro, a sound effect, a beat, a piano intro or even a little vocal part. So no matter what instrument you play, if any, you can write your own intro.

If you're not that creative yet no problem either just skip the intro. The most basic songs, and these include some great songs written by big artists, don't really have a real intro. Usually the rhythm or chord sequence of the first verse is played one or two times.

But if you feel that inspiration flowing you can probably come up with some basic variation on the verse and play that as an intro.

The basic idea or function of the intro is to have a start of the song that gives some kind of start out of nothing.

The verse

The verse is really what the song is about, it needs music but als lyrics that make a listener happy, sad, think about something or whatever you want.

Starting songwriting

If you start out writing songs, don't try too hard writing lyrics or music that you feel is perfect. Writing perfect lyrics or perfect music by your own standards is impossible. The moment you have created something, you just know you can do better next time.

The first times you write a song, and even later on, is more about exploring ideas, finding the ingredients and learning. You can't expect yourself to speak spanish without ever learning it, just as you probably have found out when you started learning to play an instrument. You have to learn, do exercises, understand some of the music theory, listen to artists and bands and anything else that helps you to grow as an artist.

Songwriting is no different! You can't expect to write a great song when starting out so don't aim for that yet. Try to focus on developing ideas, learning song structure and creativity. And have fun doing it! Who knows, you might by accident come up with something big..

The Structure of the verse

The most basic structure of a verse is the four chords, four line structure. Meaning you would sing the first sentence over four chords and sing four sentences in total. 4 is almost always the magic number in most types of music.

The music

When writing a song you might try to play a difficult guitar part, piano part or whatever instrument you play. But there's really no point in this yet. Just focus on the basic idea of the music. You can simply play the four basic chords of your difficult part and focus on the lyrics and other parts of the song. After you have the song ready you can always try to change little parts in the way you play the chords, notes and rhythm.

Songwriting is not about the musical composition but about song structure and the interaction between vocals, solo instruments and the rhyhtm instrument. Usually it's much easier to focus on the song as a whole than when you are trying too hard to play your instrument.

If you don't play an instrument, no problem either just try to come up with four sounding basic notes which will be the bass line for the song.

The lyrics

The lyrics of the song's first verse are somewhat of an introduction of the story you are singing about. If you have a real topic you should try to write the first and second verse of the song together. If you just want to sing about a general feeling you can write the lyrics of the first verse on it's own.

Just try to come up with four short or long sentences. Something like this:

....what to say
....me too

In this very simple example above the last words are a simple rhyme, but of course they don't have to be. But just starting out, this is the most easy one to start experimenting with. And also a great one when you're not that experienced in singing lyrics yet.

The Melody

The Melody can be a simple 'singing with the chords' exercise. Try to make the lyrics more interesting by changing the melody a few times. I won't go into great detail yet, try to focus on finishing a song.

So now you have your first verse and you need a chorus.

The Chorus

Just listen to some great music again and ask yourself what makes the song catchy. With most songs you will probably find the chorus makes it catchy, either because a word that is used, the way the words are sung or because the rhyming used in the chorus. A very simple example again:

Leave me, ...... rain
Love me, ..... far
Leave me, ..... train
Love me, ....... the star

Again it can be anything you want but keep in mind the chorus has to be a little more basic than the verse. The structure can be the same. Just sing it a few times and change it to whatever feels better. The main goal of your chorus is to have a melody with words that keep repeating in your head, even if you are not singing it anymore.

If you have made it this far with your song you are ready to put your song together.

Putting the song together

The Second Verse

The structure of the second verse of the song is just like the first one. There should be some balance between them and if possible the second verse should be a little different than the first one, just to make the song more interesting.

Now you are ready to put the song together: Intro
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus (repeat)

The second chorus of the song is usually followed by the repeated chorus, which is usually somewhat of a changed or more 'extreme' version of the main chorus. This last repeated chorus is a kind of outro of the song.

The Big Picture

I remember the first few times I tried to write a song. Some just worked when I had the lyrics ready others just didn't. Some were ready to be recorded or played by a band, others needed some work and a lot were ready to recycle.

But after time I learned a few things. Even if you think a song is not ready, or you think it's garbage, others might think the oposite. So when you put your song together don't try to judge it like it is ready. What if you would play it with a band, would it sound better? What if the music was more intense, could the song be great? What if there was a real strong beat and some synths in it, would you just want to jump up and dance?

Try to work on it instead with some other musicians, your band, or even record the song for yourself on a recorder or your PC.

Now here comes the really difficult part. Should you throw this song away and start a new one or just keep trying to improve it?

Here's your assignment for next week, try to write a basic song, don't be too hard on yourself. In next week's article we'll look at how to judge or improve your songs.