Tips And Tricks: Composing

Want to learn how to compose music? Having trouble with lyrics? Need a catchy melody? This is the place to look. With some simple content, a snazzy chord progression, and a little creativity, you could become the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear "songwriter"!

Ultimate Guitar
Writing songs. Everybody has tried it. Some people are good, whereas some people are bad. Either way, you can always write a good song. There are only a few things you need, and this article will go into great detail about how to get each one, and how to combine them to make a really cool song. 1) First, you need a chord progression. 3, actually, but they can be similar. The first one is for the chorus, the 2nd for the verses, and the 3rd for the bridge. The simplest songs have the same 4 chords (1, 4, 5, and 6) for all of the progressions, and just switch up the order. Chord progressions can seem impossible to get, seeing as all the good ones are already taken, but if you just slightly tweak a current one, it usually works. Even if you don't change it at all, a nice guitar lick or melody can hide the fact that your chord progression isn't original. If you actually want to come up with a good, original chord progression, go ahead, but it really isn't easy. Most of the time, it is more convenient to simply use one that already exists. And if you are making your own, just remember this: All songs are just a big mountain from 1 to 5 to 1. How you get from 1 to 5 or from 5 to 1 may be crazy, but you always go from 1 to 5 to 1. Just think about that if you are making your own progression. 2) Next, you need a tune. If you have a chord progression, just strum it out on guitar a few times until you get the hang of it. If you need to, change the key so you can sing it and play it on guitar. A melody is not hard if you have a frame to work with; that is why you come up with the chord progression first. To come up with a tune, you just need to have a few notes that correspond with the chord you are playing, and then you can change the rhythm so you have a song that isn't all quarter notes. After you come up with a melody for the bridge, chorus, and verse, it is time to put them all together and see how your song sounds. Simply play the chorus progression while humming the melody, then do the same with the verse, and so on until you get to the end. 3) Finally, it is time to add words. You may want to use a website to help you with rhyming, or you could do it on your own. Professional songwriters sometimes hire a lyricist to write the words so they don't have to, but it really isn't hard. Just choose what you want your song to be about (current pop songs are almost always about breakups or falling in love), and write a poem that matches the beat of the song. That is all you are doing. 4) After you have the three key components, it is time to mash it all together. First play and memorize the chord progression and different tunes in order, then try adding the words. This is where most of the tweaking and editing is done. After playing your song all the way through, go back and change the things you want to change. They may be anything from a different word here to a different note there. Anything that you think would make it sound better. 5) To finish up the tweaking of the song, call up a few friends and ask them what they think. It is best to do it in person, but a high-quality phone works as well. Try out all the suggestions they give you, even if they don't seem good, because you never know. You can ask anyone at all: Doing a simple, medium-quality recording and posting it on UG is another great way to get suggestions and exposure. 6) After all your hard work, you are finally ready to do a real recording! You may want to try doing a few to make it perfect, and then you can post your final on UG, iTunes, and wherever else you want! Congratulations, you did it!

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Composition =/= chords + 'tune' + words. It's an intricate journey through the mind of the composer. It involves "inspiration". Also, what's this thing about calling up a few friends? Friends will most of the time tell you its good, because they're 'friends'. Why would any serious composer depend on the opinions of other people to feel good about their work?
    Songwriting just takes time and patience. Most of the tips in here are a bit... I don't know what the kindest word would be. If you are just starting out, my advice would be to try to write anything. A riff, a lyric, a vocal melody or chords. Don't sit down and expect a whole song to just appear. If you struggle writing songs, take a different approach. Play E, A and D (or whatever) over and over again and set yourself the challenge of coming up with several different melody lines. Or try to write a song that you expect to throw away just to warm yourself up. Once you take away any pressure of if its good or not it can sometimes be easier to make something you might want to keep. The only solid tip that i have ever really heard and remembered was to write something everyday - and record it. You will find eventually that you have a big list of ideas that you can work with when you want to do songwriting but dont have any inspiration. I always used to get nervous just thinking about songwriting. I started to improve in when I would sit and sing about anything that was in the room and make it up as I went along. Eventually I knew how all the chords sounded so could start singing improvised songs at my friends about how gay they are, or whatever I could think of, just to annoy them. Then when I took it seriously, I found I had freed up that part of my mind and started actual writing songs. Theres no sure fire route to songwriting, its creation after all.
    Best trick there is is to remember that there ain't a trick to it or everyone would have a hit song.
    Forget about 1 to 5 to 1. That's strictly tradtional and no fun at all. There are no good or bad chord progressions. Also, another very important component that is overlooked here, is the rythm! This is often what makes the different sections belong together. And don't always settle for 1, 4, 5 and 6! I highly recommend experimenting with chords outside the key you're playing in. If you don't want to write the most boring song ever, you need to think about your structure. Put the most powerful lines at the end of a section. Make sure the rythm of your accompanying instrument doesn't collide with your vocals. They have to sound like they belong together! Also consider this: what timbre does your song need? Make sue you pick the right instrument when you perform your song. You can use nything to write it, but if you keep playing that rock song on your ukelele it won't work out. And last but no least: the hook! Make sure there's a catchy line, groove, sound or melody that stands out. Grab attention with your hook, or your listeners will get distracted and eventually forget about the song.
    90% of the music I listen to have no chord progression. They could have, but they don't use it or need it. Anyway, chords are a way to compose music "technically", you know, without putting your soul into it. You just think of a key, come up with the chords that fit and you're done with the rhythm. You should've at least mentioned that improvising or simply jamming with riffs and melodies will make the most unique and extraordinary compositions, something that truly comes from your soul. Coming up with the chords or lyrics first is a way to do it, but I prefer improvising the melody first. This is still a good way to get a hang of it, but it lacks a load of information.
    i am curious what music do you listen to that has no harmony
    -.- did you even read the comment properly? And well, take a Slayer song for example, they have a load of songs based completely on chromatic scale and fifths. I am sure that they could make a chord progression for, let's say Angel of Death for example, but the song doesn't need it. And I am pretty sure that they did not write the song using one. And I'm pretty sure that harmony =/= chords, harmony includes chords but I think it's not the other way around.
    In the case of songwriting, riffs and chords play the same purpose. Whats the difference between a series of notes played at the same time or a series of notes played one after the other when you look at it rationally. Riffs are often based off scales and take just as much effort and forethought as a well written chord sequence. Your ignorance is staggering - I'm sure your music is fantastic. And no, I am not saying that chords are better. They are both the same. I can play random chords just as easily as random notes to write a song. "chords are a way to compose music "technically", you know, without putting your soul into it. You just think of a key, come up with the chords that fit and you're done with the rhythm. You should've at least mentioned that improvising or simply jamming with riffs and melodies will make the most unique and extraordinary compositions, something that truly comes from your soul."
    What if you already have the lyrics down on paper, but no clue what to do with it melody wise?
    If you've got a chord progression, try humming different melodies over it. If you're starting from no music at all, try to hum a melody that "fits" the theme of the lyrics (i.e., upbeat and happy, dark and moody, etc.). But don't get too frustrated trying to fit existing lyrics to a progression or melody; that's one of the hardest ways to write! The words will somewhat limit the type of melody you come up with due to the syllables. It's much easier to some up with a chord progression, then a melody, then lyrics.
    Don't get stressed about it, but be willing to get a little bored trying various things. If it really doesn't come to you then keep it to the side and write other stuff till you have your eureka moment.
    I'm not exactly an expert on songwriting. In fact I've never really written a song before. I do write a lot of poetry though. True poetry is basically a "silent" song but as mentioned earlier it is a lot harder to put a melody into lyrics. Me and my friends are currently working on a group song. We started first with the chorus, built a riff around that, and worked backward/forwards. Maybe not a recommended way but it did start us off with the main idea of what the song would be composed of. There really isn't no right or wrong way to write a song. You just gotta be patient and keep working on it. With great patience comes great rewards my friends.
    I think the best thing to do is come up with a riff, chord progression, or whatever and get with other people; a few guitarist, a couple singers, and have everyone cone up with little parts here and there.
    Actually,some stuff that the guy says is no bullshit at all. But the article is not perfect anyway.
    Like it, good man for putting your process out there! =) you did well explaining chords and structure