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People make songs all the time. Babies make songs. Anyone can make a song.

It doesn’t need to be written down. You don’t need to know how to play an instrument (though it helps if you do). What’s the best way to make a song? Read on. In this post, I’ll take you through some of the steps and tell you everything you need to know about making songs, including how to make sure nobody steals your songs, which is something most songwriters worry about because it actually happens a lot.

Many of the most enduring and memorable songs that we know today had to be brought into being at some point. It can be fascinating to read about what the composer or songwriter was doing, thinking, and feeling when they “wrote” their songs. There’s plenty of interviews where songwriters share their secrets, but one gets the feeling that they are holding back, not sharing what they really do when they birth a song into this world.

Of course, the recording process adds another layer of mystery and complexity. Before we get to all that, let’s quickly look at what you should do to protect your songs so you can benefit from them down the road.

First: Protect Your Songs

From a copyright perspective, a song needs to be “fixed” in some medium in order to qualify for protection. In reality, this means it must be either written down or recorded, and preferably both. If you just sing and play the song in a room it doesn’t qualify for protection, so it is important to at least get a decent recording of it.

You can have a musician transcribe it if you want to have it written down, too. I realize this may not be your most urgent consideration when you start, but it is important and worth knowing from the beginning how you will protect your song once you’ve created it. Getting a recording and having it written down are key to that. Recordings can be made cheaply and easily today, and for the writing part, having the melody, lyrics, and chords notated is enough.

Can anyone write a song?

Tom Stein

Almost anyone can write a song, but that doesn’t mean it will be a good, or lasting one. Having a career as a Songwriter requires daily practice, study, and work. Professional Songwriters sometimes work in teams, or co-write with other musicians. To get a few successful songs, it might take writing a few hundred. It’s easy to see why not too many people can actually have lasting success as a songwriter.

Not everyone wants to write songs as a career, though, and it’s fair to say that you could make a good song when just starting out, provided you have a bit of talent, and good luck. If making music and songs interests you, then it’s time to get busy! Learn all you can about the process of song-making.

Fortunately, there’re excellent resources for this, as can be found on this website and others. You can learn a lot from reading the articles and then doing additional research on your own. And it might not hurt to take a few music lessons along the way. There are even some music teachers who specialize in teaching Songwriting techniques.

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Start Making Songs by Using Chords

If you play an instrument like guitar or piano, you could start your song creation with making a chord progression. It could be switching between just a few chords, or it might involve more complex chords like you find in a jazz piece. You don’t need to play these instruments at a performance level, you just need enough knowledge of theory and the ability to play the chords and hear what they sound like.

Finding an interesting combination of chords and forming them into a progression is a great start, because you can build your song melody and lyrics around that. You can also use chords to come up with a bass line. But first, you need a beat or a rhythm of some kind.

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Next, Get Some Rhythm

If you consider that there are only 12 different notes in (Western, European) music, it’s amazing to think of all the music that’s been created by using just those 12 notes. With modern music like pop, country, rock, R&B, soul, and hip-hop, what do you think makes all those styles different from each other? It may be slightly oversimplified to say so, but it’s mainly the rhythms used in each style. So, when you start writing a better song, it will be useful to consider the style, or genre that you want your song to be in, and to feel the rhythms in that style.

There are so many variations ranging from folk to grunge to hard rock to future-bass and more…if you have a style of music you listen to the most or really like, you might decide to make your new song in that style. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to make songs in styles you don’t really love, or aren’t that familiar with, after all. Do what you know and love. Again, if you play guitar or piano, you might start to strum and rhythmicize your chord progression at this point, to make a groove that fits with the style you’ve decided on.

Create A Melody or Hook

Some people write lyrics first, or they may be working together with another musician, maybe in a band setting, and putting some pre-written lyrics to music. Others will start by humming a melody along with the chord progression they started with. Some people write the melody and lyrics first and then add chords to it. There isn’t a right or wrong way to make a song! There’s only the way YOU do it.

Wherever you are in the process, and however you started, most songs have some kind of melody, although not all have lyrics. Prosody is a term (borrowed from poetry) that songwriters use to describe how the melody and lyrics work together. Often, the melody supports the lyric and vice-versa. It’s as if you almost can’t hear them separate from each other. Let’s just say that it’s a good thing when this happens.

A hook is a short phrase, with or without lyrics, that stands out in the memory after hearing it. Often, when people recall a song in their head, they hear the hook first. It could be a chorus or the refrain of the song (the difference is that a refrain is a shorter phrase which has the title of the song in it). Having a good hook is important if you want your song to stick in the memory of the listener. Hooks can be instrumental riffs (like the guitar riff from “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple) or they can be sung (like the outro to “Hey Jude” by the Beatles).

Now, how do you create a good melody? No, a GREAT melody? Ahhh…If I knew that I might not be writing this article. I do know those different songsmiths, in different styles, and in different times, have all done this differently. It’s worth going back and listening to the songs you’ve loved most for the longest, and trying to figure out why they affect you the way they do. While you’re doing your listening, you could also try to analyze the melody and see if you can find out how it was created originally. This might be hard to do with some songs, but even if you can’t figure it out, you can use your listening sessions to get inspired to create your own songs.

To say a bit more about creating melodies: we might try to create a focal point for our melody, using a high or a low note. We could use a repetitive snippet to create more rhythm-based melodies. We might separate our songs into different sections (verse, chorus, bridge, pre-chorus, etc.) and work on the melody and chords for those separately. We can find a theme and develop it. We can use a mix of stepwise motion and leaps between notes in our melody. There’s a lot we can do. We might ignore all these techniques and just see what comes out.

Is writing a song hard?

Tom Stein

Doing anything at a high level is almost never “easy,” but it depends on how you define “hard.” For example, learning to ski well (or do any sport) might involve really hard work, and athleticism, but for most people would seem like a lot of fun. The secret is that when something is fun, it doesn’t seem quite as hard. And make no mistake about it: music is Fun with a capital F! And the better you get at it, the more fun it is. Getting started is really the key.

You could read some books on songwriting to get inspired. Maybe you can find some Songwriters and Musicians you could hang out with (in-person or online) and let some of their talent and ability rub off on you. Listening to a lot of music is also a good way to go about it. Try to analyze what you hear and relate it to what you know about music. Learning the basics of music theory will also be helpful and isn’t particularly difficult.

Come Up With A Form

Music has sections, which are made up of musical phrases. Most contemporary music, but not all, is in 4/4, meaning there are four quarter-notes of one beat each in a single measure. Most musical phrases are two or four bars in length, and usually a section is made up of a few phrases, most often two. Understanding music theory, which is how we analyze music, actually starts here, with the rhythm, note values, and song form. There’s nothing difficult about any of this.

When making your song, you don’t need to know how to count the bars as I just described, as long as you can feel the rhythms you’re playing and get a sense of where each section begins and ends. For your song, you will probably have more than a few sections, and some might repeat. For instance, there’s a verse and a chorus, which repeat. The verse might have different lyrics, but the chorus stays the same each time (more on lyrics next). You might want a little break between the chorus and the next verse, so maybe you create an interlude of several bars.

Later, you might decide you want to add an intro, an instrumental solo, and create an ending to the song. You can even have more than one solo. Maybe you want to stick a pre-chorus between the verse and the chorus. Take the time to listen to great songs to get an idea what others have done. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, it’s fine to copy ideas from others about the form, as long as your melody and lyrics aren’t copied. Chord progressions and song form cannot be copyrighted, so no worries there.

Most Songwriters will work on each song section separately from the others, and then figure out the form they want for the song by experimenting with combining the sections. Sometimes it’s obvious what the form should be, because it flows very naturally. Other times, you might need to take your song through numerous iterations to see what you like best.

Lyrics, Lyrics, Lyrics

This might be the most challenging part, which is why so many Songwriters choose to write with a Lyricist. Putting words to melody, or vice-versa, requires real creativity and attention to detail.

As mentioned previously, the way lyrics and melody (in the case of poetry, intonation and inflection) work together to create something unique is called prosody, and may require some experimentation to get it right. (Consider that the famous Beatles song “Yesterday” had the first words “scrambled eggs” when it was first written by Paul McCartney – he later claimed that he knew that lyric wasn’t going to stay.)

Since the different types of prosody are considered useful to analyzing song lyrics and how they work with melodies, it’s probably worth studying this to get a basic understanding of how it works.

Pulling It All Together

Make sure to record yourself as you go, so that you can return to versions later. It’s easy to forget what you did yesterday, or a week ago. Most Songwriters keep a journal or a notebook where they write down their ideas for lyrics, song titles, and chord progressions. Ideas can come at any time, so it’s smart to have your journal with you wherever you go, and to write in it frequently. You never know when there’s something you will want to use later on.

Of course, making music and writing songs is a journey, and the more you do it the better you will become at it. The Songwriters we know as household names may be famous for only a handful of songs, but they’ve actually written hundreds, or even thousands of songs in some cases. It makes sense that the more you do something, the better you get at it. So, get out there and start making new songs as soon as you can.

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