Tips for Songwriting

Easy tips to help writing a great single.

Ultimate Guitar
Three-ish rules for songwriting: Not everyone is great at figuring out how to do or start something. Some people like structure when attempting to do tasks. A direction to work to the ending. If you already know how to write a song, what are you doing here... go away. Unless you are looking to improve, in that case... welcome. For people who are looking for tips or help getting started, I am your guide. Here are some rules to songwriting. First rule of song writing:

Don't Follow The Rules!

I know what you're thinking: "How could I contradict myself in the FIRST rule?! The point is to not get trapped into doing this a certain way. Every artist and musician does things in their own style. Getting locked into a specific way of doing anything can only lead to heartbreak. Don't think that you HAVE TO go step by step, mix it up. See what works best for you. Because your band mate writes one way, don't think that you have to also. Second rule of songwriting:

Lyrics First

It tends to be easier to wrap a song around the meaning and feel of the words. It's much harder to try to squeeze fifteen words into that cool three second riff you came up with. Strong lyrics can turn an ordinary song into a radio single. Remember, the lyrics are your primary way to get whatever message you are trying to convey to the listener. Lyric Tips Flow A good way to keep the song sounding professional is to write the lyrics so that it flows smoothly. Each line should be just that, its own line. If you have to hold out a word longer then it would normally take to say it or if you can't say every syllable in given time, that word probably isn't the best word to choose. The words to your song should be able to be spoken without sounding awkward. Think of your favorite song's lyrics, could you say them out loud without actually singing them? Chances are, you can. Here's an example of flow: "Have a cigar - Pink Floyd" Come in here, Dear boy, have a cigar. You're gonna go far, You're gonna fly high, You're never gonna die, You're gonna make it, if you try; They're gonna love you. Well I've always had a deep respect, and I mean that most sincerely. The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think. Oh by the way, which one's Pink?" See how each line is it's own line, but still relates to the other lines to tell a story. You can say the words as if you were talking to a friend, or reading them in a book.


In today's music world, rhyming words are becoming less and less important. So don't FORCE a rhyme. Some songwriters feel that rhyming is a side effect of flow, and that it helps a song sound more smooth. I agree but it not as important as you think. The 1997 song "How Do I Live", written by Diane Warren, made popular by LeAnn Rimes had very little rhyming in it: There'd be no sun in my sky, There would be no love in my life, There'd be no world left for me. And I, Baby I don't know what I would do, I'd be lost if I lost you, If you ever leave, Baby you would take away everything real in my life, I see a "you" and "do" that rhyme, yet the song is noted by billboard charts as the most successful female single in USA history. It's because the song FLOWS... so don't force it to rhyme if you don't need to. However, if you decide that you need to me more traditional, there are a bunch of ways to create rhyming patterns. Some people rhyme the last word of every line, or every other line. Some rhyme the beginning of the lines or the last word of a line to the first of the next... see what flows for you.


This could easily be the hardest aspect of songwriting, but not necessarily the most important. The artists "Presidents of the United States of America" wrote a whole song about peaches and how they "could eat them everyday". Not the most meaningful song, but popular all the same. Meaning has to be something you feel passionately about. It's hard to say "I'm gonna write about nuclear physics today... " unless you know something about it. Look around you, figure out what YOU like. Maybe a child or a loved one... maybe your sofa. Whatever moves you. Inspiration can come from the most unlikely of sources. Third rule of songwriting:


Now-a-days, every song has music or a rhythm to accompany the lyrics. Be it a drum, or a full orchestra or a wall of guitars. The combination of music and lyrics is what draws a listener in. If you have the sound of a quarter in a dryer as music, it might be harder to get someone to stick around long enough for them to hear what you have to say. The music should be there to make the lyrics shine, not to cover them up. Even in the most unintelligible death metal, you can hear the screaming clearly over the music... it's the "singers" fault you can't understand it. I like to start simple. An easy chord progression or rhythm on the drums. Once I get how simple chords fit with the lyrics, I like to polish it up by adding fills and more dissonant chords. But, remember... keep it simple. What good is a song if you can't play it live? What good is a song that you can't nail your own riff every single time? Many bands write massivly popular songs never using more than three or four different chords. I know that you are saying that they are "No talent hacks", but who's the millionaire and who's reading about writing music? The last thing is to record the song or have someone else play the song to you after a week has passed. If time has passed, it's easier to find problem spots if you are "refreshed" to the song. People tend to hear what was meant and not what IS. Don't use your friends or family to critic the song, they like to be overly nice, or overly harsh. I wouldn't test a new song at a paying gig, people are there to hear what they like, not to rate you. Play it on the city street corner, the public is the best opinion!

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Imago Dei
    Helpful if confusing article. It might have been more helpful to keep the theme of recommending "tips" rather than using the term "rules". I like that you pointed out that every "rule" is made to be broken in music. Which leads me to my next point. Plenty of great songs have been written from a great chord progression or a melody rather than lyrics. John Lennon discovered this with "I Am The Walrus". The story is that he had a great melody for one song but no lyrics or chords. He had a chord progression for another song but no melody or lyrics. Then he heard about a high school english teacher having students study Beatles lyrics like they were poetry. Aparantly John combined the melody and chord progression from the two songs together with ridiculous meaningless lyrics as a sort of joke. When he got done he supposedly said, "let the *&#?@!'s figure that one out". Obviously this song example violates all the other rules in your articles except the first one. Some other song examples that do this also would include Bob Dylan's "Subterranian Homesick Blues" and INXS's "Mediate". Futhermore, hundreds of pop songs are written every year where it is the beat and the rhythm which drives the song and not necessarily the lyrics. Which is why rap is so popular. However, as tips these are all useful to songwriters out there and is a good reminder not to get too caught up in rules like rhyming. Thanks.
    Thanks for the article man, I use one of the tips in the third "rule" a lot... Just wanted to say it helps a lot to play the chords you want to be the base of the song cleanly, and see how you combine in singing.Afterwards you can move on to making a good riff still on the base of those chords and of course including other instruments. Helpes a lot in my songwriting process.
    i really enjoyed your article. it also helped me with inspiration in writing essays. keep up the good work