Basics Of Songwriting

A basic, easy to follow guide to songwriting.

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I've decided to write this article because I haven't seen a single article on UG that has really given you what you need to write a song. This is a quick and easy guide that can probably help anyone with writing a song, so if any of you reading this are unsatisfied with this, you can give your comments at the end of this page.

Song Structure

Alright, first up, is the type of stanzas or verses in a song:

Intro: This section starts off the song; it's usually an abbreviated instrumental version of the chorus, or the verse. It prepares us for the whole song. It usually comprises of 4 or 8 chords.

Verse: This is where you get to tell the story of your song, and it's where the song really starts moving, and it's probably where you get to express yourself the most in the song. The melody and chords of the verses throughout the song are usually the same, but the lyrics do differ. Most verses consists of four to six lines.

Pre-Chorus: This section prepares us for the chorus, giving a sort of rousing feeling. It's not compulsory to have this in a song, but it gives that extra oomph to it (unless your verse already has it). This part usually consists of no more than 8 bars.

Chorus: This is the main part of your song, and usually has the title of the song in it. It's also the catchiest part, like for example; it's usually the part where everyone in the audience sings along to. And most people will probably identify your song by its chorus. It can have the same chords as the verse, but the melody usually differs, and is more outstanding.

Bridge: This part is the climax of the song if you want to include it (otherwise the chorus is usually the climax of the song). In most pop songs, it comes after the second verse. Throughout the whole song, you have to follow the chords and melody of a certain key, but in this section, you can use chords from a different key, which will give something new and fresh for the ear as long as it sounds right. Most bridges in pop ballads have lyrics, and most bridges in rock songs are instrumental, and are usually where that really cool guitar solo comes in.

Coda: Or sometimes called the outro, is the ending of your song. It can be the same or similar to your intro. In a way, it's like the grand finale of your song.

The most basic song structure would be:

  • Intro
  • Verse 1
  • Chorus
  • Verse 2
  • Chorus
  • Bridge
  • Chorus
  • Outro

    You don't have to follow this strictly. In fact, you can mess around with the arrangements and add verses, as long as the intro is at the beginning, the outro at the ending, and the pre-chorus is always before the chorus.

    Rhyming

    I believe I can fly I believe I can touch the sky I think about it every night and day Spread my wings and fly away

    I believe I can soar I see me running through that open door I believe I can fly I believe I can fly I believe I can fly

    Rhyming makes your song more catchy. For example, the chorus of "I Believe I Can Fly" written and performed by R. Kelly, a song everyone knows the lyrics to (partially because of the rhyming). This form of rhyming is called AABB, where the last two words of every two lines rhyme. There are a lot of different types of rhyming you can try like ABAB, AABA, ABAA, ABCA, ABCB. Each alphebet (A, B and C) represent different sounds. But still, rhyming isn't compulsory, an example of a song without rhyming is "Can't Help Falling In Love" written by Luigi Creatore, Hugo Peretti and George David Weiss, performed by Elvis Presley.

    There are two kinds of rhyming:

    Perfect Rhyme: This is when two or more syllables have the same vowel, and the same consonant sounds at the end. But start with different consonant sounds. The spelling is the same except for the first consonant in the word. (eg. Place/Race, Try/Fry, Stupid/Cupid)

    Near Rhyme: This is an approximation of rhyme. The syllables don't have to have the exact rhyme and don't need to have the same spelling, but only have to sound similar. (eg. sooth/prove, young/song, go/road)

    Note: Words that sound exactly the same are not rhymes (night/knight, right/wright), and you can't use the exact same words as rhymes either.

    Song Concepts

    Obviously, every song needs a topic that inspires you. So here are just about all the topics I can think of that can be used in songwriting.

  • Love
  • Friendship
  • Achievements
  • Encouragement
  • Sports
  • Protest/Complaint
  • Fantasies
  • God/Faith/Hope/Belief
  • Life
  • States Of Mind
  • Loss/Heartbreak
  • Environment
  • Family
  • Fads
  • War/Peace
  • Memories
  • Or even nothing at all!

    There are probably a lot more topics out there, and these are only the most common ones. And you gotta explore everything around you for the inspiration you need to write a song.

    Well that's it! If I've missed out stuff, please tell me in the comment section and I might do a sequel to this article to satisfy you...

  • 66 comments sorted by best / new / date

      surfturkey
      very basic article,the R. Kelly reference made me slightly suicidal though! I think the posted comments helped me more, cheers you lot!!
      Rock_mad_chic
      is should b called definition o already written songs. there are no rules to writing a good song. if there were theyd all sound similar. other than that an ok article. 3 stars outta 5.
      thedankle
      how can you write an article telling what a song should be like, or have in it? There are so many different types of music that its absolutely impossoible to tell people what a song should have in it. I recommend that people stop reading and writing these stupid articles.
      crawlingfaster
      haha, now remember kids, if any of your songs dont fit this format, you must start over and keep trying until you perfect the art of writing the exact same song over and over and over and over...
      RockerX275
      I would happen to say this was very well written. And you are right there are alot of other things that were left out but you said that so i like it. I believe people over estimate the whole song writing thing and say its completely easy which is a bold faced lie. So looking here basically says it. But as you know there are alot of other sites that say this exactly but don't point out the points you do. Good work.
      sadistic_monkey
      You can't necessarily find inspiration, it just hits you. If you go around thinking "Oooh, I feel strongly about this. I'll go write a song about it" it'll probably end crap.
      Rubin Remus
      Very nice... I can't find my socks. I think Connor Oberst stole them to use as windguards on his microphones for his next album... could call them "WINDSOCKS!"
      fynsta
      [sadistic_monkey: You can't necessarily find inspiration, it just hits you. If you go around thinking "Oooh, I feel strongly about this. I'll go write a song about it" it'll probably end crap.] so right and don't think u really need a formula to write gud song, just check bob dylan's (or Jimi's) all along the watchtower, one of the best rock song ever with no chorus.
      Gumbi89
      it's good and all, but i find that there are no set things to writing a song, just whatever floats your boat.
      jforestj1203
      ummm, i agree that songwriting is more of an individual thing, but i guess if i were a loser that doesnt know how to write words about what i feel, then i would love this article
      bootyguard
      Alright you said that you hadn't seen any articles that had given useful information in songwriting, but personally there wasn't really any useful information on here. The only thing I actually learned was that knight and night weren't rhymes, but hell I wouldn't do that in the first place so this article didn't really bring me anywhere in life. Not only that but you have to also include that most songs don't even play chords but either fingerpick notes on the guitar as a beautiful lick or arpeggio or something from a scale. Very few famous songs play many chords in their songs (well except for Power chords, but thats cause they're just so gosh darned popular). Also, many songs (especially Hendrix songs) do not have any format or system. For example, Who Knows and Machine Gun both don't really have a chorus or verse, just crazy hendrix singing everynow and then and playing his awesome guitar, yet everyone still loves it. Oh yah, and you should recomend writing songs when one person is feeling most emotional or from a dream, because that's usually when the best feelings or most insightful depictions come out of that person and if they put it into words or lyrics it will probably be beautiful.
      BrianApocalypse
      I am going to use this article to write a song in the "standard song layout mold" you described and it will be all about how great is it to be straight edge.
      monkeyspks
      OK guys. I know we've seen this before (about a thousand to a billion times), but it really wasn't TOTAL crap. Actually, I enjoyed this one a lot compared to some of the other songwriting articles.
      5:15_Whofan
      i guess this is a good jumping-off point for a beginner, but i feel like the truly interesting songs tend to deviate from such a strict form, and that is an element of their greatness. Plus, writing an article like this seems a tad pretentious (is that spelled right?). but otherwise- 3 stars
      steph101
      I was expecting a little more. But anyway, yes ignore everyone - because some people may need basics. And about following a format you did say "You don't have to follow this strictly" - maybe you should have just made it a little clearer - you obviously don't mean that songs should follow a strict format. you also said "In most pop songs". So he is talking in general. Most songs follow a pattern. Oh and "bootyguard" ("Very few famous songs play many chords in their songs") what are you on about? and songs which do not have a clear structure always have some sort of structure. otherwise it would be one big mess. Structure is incredibly important in songwriting - and this guy pointed it out. Otherwise you were a bit cliche man e.g "Most bridges in pop ballads have lyrics, and most bridges in rock songs are instrumental". You need to make it clearer about the general rules and where you can change them. A good book to read is "songwriting for dummies". seriously, its great. You missed really important words like "hook" Anyway, most important point - just cos this guy got the article a little wrong in places and it was a little short - doesn't mean you have to call him names thinking you know better than him. e.g "its called a middle 8 dumbass" First of all, no one really calls it a middle 8, (like saying 'moderato' at your dummer or something' and second of all you didn't have to call him anything. Why is everyone on this website so dam insensitive?
      Mispeled
      Started out as a good article, but didn't tell much about instrumental songwriting... nothing about chord progression, which is the core of any song. Should have been more in depth. 3 stars
      danno89
      i can see what your tryin to do n i like i, but, all you're really doing, is telling us what a chorus or verse is, now, no offense, but that dosn't take a genius, also i dont reall ylike sticking to rules for songs, or rules for music, if u no wat i mean. if in doubt, use backspin. bye.
      drowninggeek
      well black sabbath do it in war pigs. 'generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses' i kno sabbath aren't exactly known for their awesomely rhyming and meaningful lyrics etc, but i disagree with the "can't" your saying. other than that, good.
      The word masses is used in two different senses. Masses with General is used to describe a general populous, whereas masses with the witches is used in the ecclesiastical sense. So even though the words are the same, they mean different things. I think that's what Justin meant. On another topic. I do like the article, but maybe you should have named it something like "suggested format for songwriting" so you wouldn't get *******s coming on and criticising you for your efforts. Wording is important. Remember that...
      madi_smith
      [/I?ve decided to write this article because I haven?t seen a single article on UG that has really given you what you need to write a song.] I don't agree with bootyguards response: [/Alright you said that you hadn't seen any articles that had given useful information in songwriting, but personally there wasn't really any useful information on here. The only thing I actually learned was that knight and night weren't rhymes, but hell I wouldn't do that in the first place so this article didn't really bring me anywhere in life.] ..Just because it didn't help you, "Bootyguard" (wtf?) doesn't meen it isn't useful. Nothing in life is written in everybody's skill level- that isn't even possible. Maybe this is a weak,v'old news' article for [you], but you aren't everybody.
      SaLvAdOrOcK
      Ok this article was a complete loss of valuavle seconds its crapy too basic and gives tips to make formula crapy pre-made pop songs.
      Ryan N.
      True, i love writing songs but the drummer of my band tries(im singer) and hes a little, well he sucks and this is gonna help him its pretty much what i tried to tell him...-joey miller
      BenitoBandito
      I can't believe it's another stupid, boring, pointless article on this website. Am I missing something? Is this forum for primary school children? Since when were there such rigid rules for songwriting? What gives Justinyap any sort of authority? Idiot.
      Sugar man
      you put Verse : probably where you get to express yourself the most in the song. i think you express yourself more in the chorus, other than that great article
      travislausch
      ...or you could ignore all the rules of "decent, bland, boring songwriting" and make the kind of music you REALLY want to make.
      Xx_led_hed_xX
      IT's pretty good, but we HAVE seen a ton of articles like this before. Not much new subject matter here. But it seems to be thoughfully written.....eh, four stars.
      strider_hein
      you could also just sit down and try it because writing comes from the soul, not from a book. or in most cases, the penis.
      Tedrick
      Yeah, this is pretty basic stuff. Most people know this. Whatever, its good to once in a while review the basics...
      Biggs
      ^ Did you ever hear the Anfield rap? On second thoughts... I actually thought this was a fairly good article, covers plenty, if not all, of the basics, however, I'm sure it isn't AABB for the 'I believe I Can Fly' chorus. I'm pretty sure they're known as rhyming couplets. Overall, a good article. 3 stars.
      Pyro128
      I thought it was going to be about the musical part of writing as opposed to the lyrical part of writing
      shiverking
      a little too formulaic for me. song writing doesn't have to be so structured.....its just a feel. i suppose it is good to lay the basics down for novice songwriters, but please don't ever use r. kelly in any examples of songwriting.....ever.....
      ohmyglod
      you do realise there are THREE types of rhyme (with out going onto internal rhyme): perfect (or pure) rhyme: occurs when the final sounds of two words are exactly alike Slant (or half) rhyme: occurs when the final sounds if two words are very similar but not exactly alike eye rhyme: is a similarity in spelling between words that are pronounced differently and, hence, not an auditory rhyme. Some examples are slaughter and laughter. Many older English poems, particularly those written in Middle English or written in The Renaissance, contain rhymes that were originally true or full rhymes, but as read by modern readers they are now eye rhymes because of shifts in pronunciation. An example is prove and love. just thought you'd like to know
      Design4Life
      "Note: Words that sound exactly the same are not rhymes (night/knight, right/wright), and you can't use the exact same words as rhymes either." well black sabbath do it in war pigs. 'generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses' i kno sabbath aren't exactly known for their awesomely rhyming and meaningful lyrics etc, but i disagree with the "can't" your saying. other than that, good.
      zeppelinengage
      this article was nothing special cause i know everythign here already and u don't have to go in that format u can always have many contrasts and completely rearrange verses or chorus to catch even more attention, there isn't a certain way to write, you are either talented and good at writing and have your own original way or your not too talented in that area