So You Want to Write a Song. Part 1

The first of a series of articles meant to give you pointers on how to write a song. Part one focusses on the initial "setup" of writing lyrics.

Ultimate Guitar


Hello, and welcome to the first of a series of lessons that are designed to give you some pointers on how to write your first song. But before we start, I'd like to emphasize the word pointers in the above statement. There is no grand secret of song writing, and this series, as well as any other resource you can find, cannot simply tell you do this, than that, and you've got a song. So, if you are reading this article thinking you are going to leave with some magical secret of composition, you may as well stop reading now, as you will be disappointed. But if you are able to face the facts about composition, and realize it's probably going to be a long process, than you've already overcome one of the main obstacles of song writing (that was easy, wasn't it?). So, in that case, let's get start with part one of this series: the setup.

Misconceptions & Uncertainties

Now, one of the most important things to do when you first start song writing is to clear up any and all uncertainties and misconceptions. So, here is a list of things you should realize before you even think about writing a song.

There is no secret formula!

I already covered this in the intro section, but I'd just like to remind you that there is NO ONE FORMULA FOR SONG WRITING. It's pretty simple; there isn't just one way of writing a good song.

First draft isn't always final draft

Be prepared to comb over the same bars over and over again. Most of the time, the first draft of a song will not be the last, and changes in between drafts can be as little as a couple notes, and as large as an entire verse or chorus.

Don't expect perfection

This one's pretty simple: if you expect your song to be perfect, you will be disappointed, especially on your first attempt. And that's not because of your abilities as a song writer either; if you are trying to construct the perfect song, you will always be unsatisfied with some aspect of the song. Besides, some memorable moments have come out of imperfections in songs, so don't get overly stressed out!

Don't throw it away!

Another important thing: never throw away a first draft of a song if you're unhappy with it. When you write your first song, expect that the first draft will be far from perfect. Don't ditch a song because the rhythm guitar in the verse is iffy; this is where our second point about final drafts comes in. You may absolutely love the main melody of your composition, but be absolutely disgusted by the instrumentation in the chorus. But don't give up, simply try re-writing the chorus!

Feel free to experiment

One final point: experimentation isn't wrong. Don't feel like your song has to fit in a box with other songs of a certain style. Don't feel limited by instrumentation, song structure, or genre. Maybe you want to write a song that doesn't even have a chorus, or a song that's played on a touch-tone keypad, or a song that blends hip-hop and blues; do whatever! Practically all genres of music started with experimentation, so go for it!


Before writing a song, there are a few things you should consider prior to the writing process, before you even start. Now, we're going to start with the process of lyric writing first, simply because most people find it easier to write music to lyrics than to write lyrics to music. So, let's go through a pre-lyric writing checklist before we start:

What is the song about?

Try not to sit down when you're about to write a song and say I'm going to write a song about something. Try to have at least a vague idea for a song topic before you even start. Maybe you're really happy, and you want to write a song about skipping through a field of lilacs, or maybe you're really mad, and you want to write a song about breaking stuff; it doesn't really matter! You can write about a serious topic, or what you ate for dinner last night. The choice is yours; just make sure you have some ideas before you start!

What do you want it to sound like?

Now, although you might be able to get away with just writing lyrics, having no clue how they should be sung, it's best to having some idea of what you want the vocals to sound like. Will it be a man or a woman singing? Will it be mostly low or high pitched? Will the words be enunciated very well, or will they be growled? Maybe the singer goes into falsetto in the third verse, or maybe the singer speeds up for the chorus. If you consider some of these things before you start writing, it will make the writing process go that much smoother.

Find you comfort zone

Now that you've got some of the planning out of the way, it's time to find a good spot to actually start writing. Trust me, the more comfortable you are, the easier you will find it to write. So think about it for a while, where are you most comfortable? Maybe you feel most comfortable in your favourite chair, or outside on your front porch. Maybe you feel most comfortable in front of the computer, and you want to type up your lyrics on MS Word. Once you think you've found a good spot, get a pen and a couple pieces of paper (unless you're using your computer), and simply sit in that spot for a minute or two. Maybe you have a preferred method of doing things, like some sort of personal ritual. For example, Beethoven used to pour cold water over his head before composition, believing that it stimulated his brain's creative processes, and he was damn good at what he did. I personally tack pieces of paper onto my wall, and pace around the room, muttering under my breath and scribbling down lyrics when they come to me (now that I think about, I must seem schizophrenic when I write!) Once you think your prepared to start writing, than grab a firm hold of that pen (or keyboard) and brace yourself for the magical adventure that is about to bestow upon your mind (okay, slight exaggeration).

It's time

Now, you've cleared up any uncertainties surrounding song writing, and you've prepared yourself for the process of lyric writing that lies ahead. And as you slowly move the pen closer towards the page, you know the time is right the time is now. And if you want tips on the actual process of writing lyrics, you will have to hold the pose until the release of part two of So You Want to Write a Song. (How's that for a cliff-hanger ending!)


17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    when you walked down the hall,our hands brushed,ever since then i've had a crush,i dont expect you to forget but maybe we could move on? face tomorrow with a smile erase the image you've drawn,trust me when i say that i really do care please,*name*, just listen you're the answer to my prayers chorus: wish you didnt find out this way i'm begging for a new start of a whole new day i believe in my heart that what i feel is true *insert name here*, i think i love you you cant understand how it makes my heart break to watch you walk away because of my mistake,i want to prove my love please, let me hold your hand *reach for her hand* i feel like i get you, like i understand, but chorus bridge: i dont expect you to fall for me the way i fell for you but please, just give me a chance its the least you can do *look up at her* please, name, just one chance to let me tell you that i CHORUS (tell me guys is it nice or not?) i hope you like it ....(-_
    I've always tried to write music at the same time as the lyrics. I find this works particularly well when you're trying to convey a strong feeling or emotion. Then again, sometimes you just get a badass riff in your head and you just gotta go with it.
    pineaple expres
    my band jams for a bit and when we get an idea we work on it. i hav to go bak thru and rewrite all the drum tracks but for the most part the guitars come out rly good. after we feel we hav a good song then we record it on my pc and listen to it ovr and ovr until we get it down.
    i just listen to songs and put together words that jump out at me (I've gone hours without writing a single word before)
    god i hate when people say this is what the song means geez just make something up it's a song not shakespeare.i can write a song make sheet music for it in like 5 minutes i jsut get a guitar keyboard play some chords and write words on a piece of paper before i had a computer i'd write 5 a day i hate computers wish i never got one
    I would like to add that when you have an idea for only a chorus or a verse and it's great but you can't think of the rest... Don't throw it away, but keep it in a scrapbook or something. Often you'll write matching verses later on.
    I'll second that. I have a binder full of orphaned couplets, verses, choruses etc... I have found half-forgotten song fragments in that binder and later formed them into complete songs or used them as inspiration for new lyrics. I make it a point never to discard something I write, as it may be useful later, even as a way to see how much I have progressed.
    My band works mainly on improvisation but sometimes we write by sitting in a room listening to A7X and slipknot to try some inspiration
    von gelb
    I would like to add that when you have an idea for only a chorus or a verse and it's great but you can't think of the rest... Don't throw it away, but keep it in a scrapbook or something. Often you'll write matching verses later on.
    Hey, I'm composer and I just read this for curiosity, But It's Very useful for beginers! Really great job. Another thing I would like to contribute, maybe you write a lyric and you realize "at this point I have more lyrics than music!" (and will happen often) but, don't give up! It's easy to fix, when you begin to write a lyric, try to have a song in your head and write having the melody of that song. This will ensure that the lyric fits into another melody as it complies with the metric. Forgive my english, I'm not so good writting,(I speak spanish), but I hope this help to someone. Good luck!
    ^ Cool. I'm in a duo, so our writing process is pretty simple. I write the lyrics (as the drummer has no lyrical talent ) and since my drummers room is right down the hall (step bro) I knock and the door and say "hey check this out". And then we go through a similar process.
    most people find it easier to write music to lyrics than to write lyrics to music.
    Huh...Its always been the exact opposite for myself, and my band. But, then again, we aren't most people. What we do though, is run our PA into my computer and record any new jams - similar to the mic thing said above. Then sift through and see what's cool. Also, any time I've got a riff/song idea, I'll record a quick and dirty version, and give it to all the guys for them to soak in. Then they can be like "I have something that would go good with this," or "what if we changed this to this," etc. Its helped with the song writing process phenomenally.
    cire7 wrote: i just sit and listen to my band play, and when i hear something i like, i jump up to the mic, and sing the first thing that comes to mind, and go from that. its fun and works well.
    While we're all sharing, I tape a mic to the ceiling when we jam, and just record. Out of two or so hours of jam time, there might be 10 of 15 minutes I like, and mold it into a song.
    i just sit and listen to my band play, and when i hear something i like, i jump up to the mic, and sing the first thing that comes to mind, and go from that. its fun and works well.
    we have lyrics prewritten and just try and match them up to music when we jam,we find that easier and have had good success doing it.
    Ummm everybody I've ever met or talked to or heard about has always found it easier to write music then put lyrics to it. Its just common sense actually; its more natural to work with words than musical arrangements and melodies.