Songwriting For Beginners: How To Starting Writing Those Magical Melodies
- Author Alex Belsey
- Published July 11, 2022
- Word count 1,470
If you’ve never written a song before, or if you are struggling with a case of ‘songwriter’s block’, it can be diﬃcult to make progress.
For a song to be a hit, it has to be unique, yet catchy enough to be memorable. This may pose a challenge when trying to come up with a riﬀ that hasn’t been used before.
To remedy this, some songs use samples of older tracks, which allows them to cash in on an existing hit with established memories and connections. For example, Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust was sampled on Hollaback Girl by Gwen Stefani, which was in turn sampled by Dua Lipa on her hit Hallucinate.
For greater originality, you can come up with your own musical riﬀs from your own inspiration, or by adapting riﬀs from other songs that you like.
Now you know from where to mine your melodies, let’s take a look at how to turn the raw materials into chart hits.
- Find Your Process
Some artists prefer to write their lyrics first then fit the melody around the words. Others prefer to write the melody first and choose lyrics that fit with the tune and beat. If you’ve written songs before, you may already have a good idea of which process works best for you.
If you’re new to songwriting, consider your natural abilities and talents. What aspect of it do you find most natural?
If you’re inclined towards music, and can easily visualise the atmosphere you want to create, you may prefer to write your music first. But if you're more of a wordsmith, it may feel easiest to write your lyrics first and then fit the melody around them.
- Get Inspired
There are many ways that artists get inspired to write their songs. Consider what interests you, and the things you are passionate about.
If you feel inspired by nature, for example, try taking a walk. The pace of your feet will set a steady 2/4 rhythm, which it is easy to construct a melody around.
Look for shapes, textures, and colours around you and describe what you see in prose. Then, consider how you would change the format and add elements of repetition, such as a chorus, to translate it to song format. Or if nature isn’t your thing, try reading some poetry, or even experimenting with visual cues such as fridge magnets.
If you prefer to work melody-first, listen to some other artists you find inspiring, or take cues from your environment.
Are there any sounds you would like to replicate? Perhaps you like the sound of the birds, or hear the sound of a vehicle or other common objects that might integrate well.
Some of Pink Floyd’s greatest hits feature noises like animal sounds, clocks, and cash registers. What gets your imagination going?
Remember to write down inspiration as it strikes you. Many sources of creativity can be found in day-to-day life, and can be easily forgotten if you put them oﬀ until later. Try carrying a small writer's notebook in your pocket or bag, and see what comes to you.
- Get Jamming!
Some of the best sources of inspiration come from collaborating with other artists, and coming up with musical themes on the spur of the moment. A lot of the best original jazz was composed on the spot as a result of the creative fusion between a group of artists.
Collaboration allows you to draw on the experience of other musicians, and you may well find that the process flows more easily by just going where the mood takes you.
- Find Your ‘Hook’
Your song’s ‘hook’ is the part of the melody which grabs your listener’s attention and stays with them. It should be catchy, memorable, and ideally involve an element of repetition, which makes it accessible to a new audience.
Your hook can be the chorus, but it can also be a repeating riﬀ, or even the intro/outro of the song. Once you’ve got your riﬀ, you can build the rest of your track around it.
You may prefer to come up with the main melody later, and work from the beginning of the song to the end, or even work from the end to the beginning.
This is very much a case of ‘do what works for you’. But however you decide to do it, remember to identify which part of your song you want to be the most impactful, and place emphasis on that chorus, riﬀ, or verse.
- Work On Your Lyrics
Once you’ve found your musical ‘hook’, you can fit your lyrics around it. If you have a riﬀ or chorus, remember to use repetition here for impact and to make it easily accessible to new listeners. Your lyrics and melody should both be original and memorable to keep your song from getting confused with others in the same genre.
Make sure you go into songwriting with a clear image of what you want to write about. If it helps you find your flow, you can try writing out your story first, and then play with the words, structure, and tempo until you discover a catchy melody.
- Use Your Lived Experience
The most eﬀective songs have a strong emotional component that listeners can relate to. This ‘relatable’ factor can be sourced from personal
experiences that are common to a lot of people, which is why songs about romantic relationships (and breakups) are often popular.
Listen to a few of your favourite songs - can you identify any common themes? How do these themes relate to your life, and how can you use your experiences to engage with your audience on an emotional level?
- Don’t Complicate Matters
Always remember that for your song to be a hit with new listeners it has to be memorable. For most people, this means that new songs should be fairly simple, with repeated riﬀs, choruses, and uncomplicated lyrics.
As a general rule, it also means that your song should not be too long. Songs are becoming shorter overall, as they are more suitable for a mass market, are more easily remembered, and prevent listeners from becoming bored or disengaged.
When determining the length and structure of your song, keep your audience in mind, and consider their tastes and attention span. If you are writing a pop song, for example, your song should ideally be no more than 4 minutes.
If you are writing a classic rock-style hit, you may find that your audience is more familiar with longer tracks, so you can aﬀord to add a couple more verses.
This also goes for the styling and genre: for example, if you are writing a punk hit, it’s unlikely that your audience will want to listen to a long classical bridge.
- Take A Break And Come Back
If you spend too long staring at a single page, you may find that you end up overcomplicating your song, and your creative process may begin to stagnate.
Coming back to your track with a fresh pair of eyes can put a whole new perspective on your songwriting.
Take a break to do something that inspires you: go outside, listen to some other music, or take on some other creative work such as painting. This will help to keep your mind focused, while doing something diﬀerent to mix things up.
- Stop Adding!
Once you’ve reached a point where you’ve created a track that is memorable, catchy, and original, stop adding to it. Overcomplicating your track with too many additional elements can take away from its eﬀectiveness, and make it harder for your listeners to remember.
If you’re still not sure about your new creation, take a break and come back to it. You may find that it is more eﬀective than you think it is in the moment.
- Get Feedback
Getting feedback from other musicians or listeners can give you a great insight into the impact of your work on a new audience. Don't take feedback personally - it's all part of the process, and it allows you to get a new look on your piece.
Make sure you pick somebody whose opinion you trust - it doesn't have to be a professional musician, just someone whose input you may find helpful. Alternatively, simply choose a listener who aligns with your target audience and has experience with your genre.
The feedback process also gives you one last chance to listen again to your creation. Are there any final changes you would make? And does your listener agree with your choices?
By following these steps and getting the constructive feedback you need, maybe you can write the next chart-topping classic!
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