Songwriter U: Songwriting for Beginners – American songwriter | Start Classified

Written by Katie Sanakai for Guitar Tricks and 30-Day Singer

Let’s say you want to explore songwriting and maybe have some ideas for lyrics. What is the next step? Here are the things you need to know to get started with songwriting.

1. A reference instrument

You may be an instrumentalist who already plays and would like to work on writing original songs. If so, you have a good foundation to start writing a vocal melody. If you’ve never played an instrument but want to get serious about songwriting, I recommend learning the basics of the guitar, piano, ukulele, or any other instrument that can play the chord progressions that form the basis of your form a song. Online guitar lessons are an easy, efficient and convenient way to get started.

Why use an instrument? The basis of most music lies in its harmonic structure. Even a song with no instruments (like a cappella music or a solo singer) still has harmony in it. Harmony is how we put chords together and a progression is a series of chords, whether it’s via piano chords or guitar chords. If this sounds intimidating, don’t let that put you off. Great songs can be written with just a few chords.

2. An understanding of song form

The next important thing you need when you start songwriting is knowing the song form. You can think of it like the anatomy of a song and compare it to a paragraph or stanza of a poem. Popular music is generally made up of the following parts:

Verse – a section that usually begins the song and advances the story. The melody of the verse will return later in the song with new lyrics

Chorus – the section of the song that is used repeatedly with the same lyrics. This can also be seen as the “hook” of the song. Because we hear the chorus multiple times during a song, it’s usually the part that we remember first and can easily sing back.

Pre-Chorus – an introduction to the chorus, usually shorter than the chorus. The texts often remain the same.

Intro or Outro – a section (usually instrumental only) that can start or end the song before the singer starts or after he’s finished. The intro starts the song and the outro ends it. Intro and outro can be the same.

Bridge – A contrasting middle section of the song, often involving a more drastic change in feel, harmony, style, or accompaniment. Bridges are usually not played more than once in a song.

Let’s do a quick analysis of two Imagine Dragon songs to demonstrate the song form. Imagine Dragons is great at writing catchy choruses – whether you listen to that genre or not, you can probably remember and remember these choruses easily.

“Thunder” by Imagine Dragons

Intro: sampled ambient sounds

Verse 1 – “Just a young tomboy”

“Thunder” spoken before the chorus with voice distortion

Chorus – “Thunder, feel the thunder”

Verse 2 – “Children laughed”

“Thunder” spoken before the chorus with voice distortion

Chorus – “Thunder, feel the thunder”

Bridge guitar solo only (this could also be considered just a solo break, but provides a contrast)

Chorus – “Thunder, feel the thunder”

Outro – Guitar riffs/percussion/electronic sounds to the end

“From Imagine Dragons, of course

Introduction: Buzz

Verse 1 – “Will you hold the line”

Pre-Chorus – “This is the price you pay”

Chorus – “Because you’re a natural”

Verse 2 – “Will anyone let me see the light”

Pre-Chorus – “This is the price you pay”

Chorus – “Because you’re a natural”

Bridge – “Deep Inside I’m Fading to Black”

Chorus – “Of course”

Outro instrumental mimicking the hum from the beginning

3. An understanding of chords

To form a chord you need to stack 3 notes vertically into a major or minor chord
(2 notes can also be used to form a chord, such as a power chord on guitar. You can use an online chord finder to learn more chords). However, most chords on piano or guitar would have at least 3 different notes, and then those notes would be doubled. When you learn guitar or ukulele, you learn the chords you need to build a song and the name of the chord. Try a guitar chord chart to learn chords faster.

When you learn piano, the chords are not always so clear. For example, you can learn to read music before you realize you’re playing C chords and F chords. There’s also a lot more variation that can happen on a piano – the 88 keys and many octaves give you lots of variation on how these chords can be played. But in order to write songs, you need to be able to form chords by stacking 3 notes on top of each other. This can easily be done with one hand, using your thumb, middle finger, and pinky to play the stack.

4. An evolution

Now that you can form chords on your chosen instrument (or app), the next thing you need is a progression to sing over. Remember that a progression is a series of chords. Regarding the song form above, there is usually a progression that lasts for the entire section. For example, you could have a four chord progression for the verse and a different four chord progression for the chorus. However, some songs use the same progression throughout.

On your chosen instrument, try switching between the chosen chords of your progression. If you’re not sure how to do this, try searching for a YouTube how-to video that shows you how to put these progressions together. Remember that musicians use Roman numerals to denote chords. There are only 7 chords in a given key to choose from, and this is how they are notated.

1=I, 2=II, 3=III, 4=IV, 5=V, 6=VI and 7=VII.

Chord VII is used very rarely and III is also used less frequently. That leaves us with I, II, IV, V, and VI as the best building blocks for your song. Let’s try a progression in the key of C:

Here are some examples:

A two-chord progression:

A three chord progression:
I-IV-vi (C, F, bin)
V-IV-I (G, F, C)

ii, IV, I (dm, F, C)

A four-chord progression:
I, ii, IV, V (C, dm, F, G)

I, vi, V, IV (C, am, F, G)


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