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The Art of Songwriting – how to write a great song in one hour

Songwriting can be a wonderful and cathartic experience.  A songwriter gets to craft something completely original that includes both lyrics and music.  Like any other craft, writing good songs takes practice and hard work for anyone who wants to excel.  For many aspiring writers just the idea of creating a new original song can intimidating and instill a sense of fear because it can seem like a huge endeavor.  Here’s a step-by-step process to write a great song in less than one hour.

1.  Create a chord progression.

For songwriters just getting started, establishing a solid chord progression is the first thing to tackle.  Take three chords and create a simple rhythm.  For the sake of simplicity we are going to take three chords in the key of C.  We’ll use the I, IV and V chords – which are C, F and G.  The I, IV and V chords are the foundation of most contemporary pop songs, so we’ll start there.  Play the chord progression on your instrument over and over until you have a smooth and consistent rhythm track to play while you create a melody.

2.  Create a melody.

First of all – let’s define the word melody:  a succession of notes forming a distinctive sequence.  This is the tune you hum after you hear a very catchy song.  The easiest way for songwriters to create a melody is to record the chord progression you’ve created on a small tape player and then play it back while you create your melody.  As a songwriter you can create your melody by improvising with your voice – or you can also actually play a couple of notes out of a scale on your piano or guitar while you’re playing back the chords on the tape player.  Experiment until you feel confident that you like what you’re playing.  Sing or play the melody over the recording until you’re comfortable and you can repeat the same thing over and over without making mistakes.

3.   Lyrics

For lyrics it’s best if you have written some random thoughts, poems or ideas on paper prior to settling on final lyrics.  If you bring no previously written ideas free association is the best way to come up with new lyric ideas.  Take 5 minutes and simply write everything that comes to your mind.  Play back the chord progression you recorded and sing your melody and see if anything fits with what you’ve written.  Don’t over-think this step, as you can always go back and edit the lyrics at a later time.  The key to effective songwriting is to come up with a finished song – editing will come later.

4.  Arranging & Editing Your New Song

After you’ve created the chord progression, melody and lyrics – the next step is arranging the song.  There an infinite number of ways for songwriters to arrange a song, but here is a common way to begin:

Instrumental solo or bridge
Chorus x 2

Keep in mind that your melody for the verse should be different for the verse and chorus.  A verse is often wordier and tells a story.  A chorus typically is simple melody and shorter phrase that is repeated over and over so that it catches the listeners ear.  The music behind the chorus and verse can be exactly the same as long as the melody is different.

Record your song on a simple tape recorder and you’ve just finished writing your first song!  If you work hard and keep honing your craft perhaps you’ll be up for a Grammy someday – keep writing and keep the faith!

By Kirk Nebel, School Director