howtowriteagoodsongMusic, they say, is the only universal language, and songs are its words and alphabets. We’ve been writing songs since our ancestors first learned to speak and tap rhythmically on blocks of wood. Singing comes naturally to us as barking to a dog or meowing to a cat.

Writing a good song, however, isn’t easy. You have to create lyrics, melodies, and harmonies. But with the right training and enough practice, anyone can be a songwriter. Try taking this college-grade course on writing songs with great lyrics, melody and form to get started.

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the five things you need to know to write good songs:

1. Listen to Good Songs

I’m going to lay it straight: if your iTunes playlist is filled with Justin Bieber and Katy Perry (no offense to their fans), you’re going to have a hard time writing good songs. To write great music, you must listen to great music.

Here’s a helpful guide to starting your musical education, sorted by genre:

Rock

Pop

Blues and R&B

Hip-Hop

There are hundreds of other songs from different many, many different genres. But these forty should give you a good idea of what makes a song great – a combination of profound lyrics, storytelling, solid music and powerful vocals.

To explore more, try going through lists such as the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and Pitchfork’s Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s.

2. Learn a Musical Instrument

To write lyrics, you need a pen and a paper. To write songs, you need a musical instrument.

The piano or electric keyboard and the guitar are two instruments favored by songwriters. They’re relatively easy to pick-up and can accommodate a wide range of styles and genres. The electric keyboard is better than its acoustic counterpart as it can create drum loops and complex harmonies from a single instrument.

Some tips for learning a musical instrument:

3. Pick up Some Basic Music Theory

Music theory isn’t necessary to writing good songs – a lot of great songwriters started out without knowing their scales from their chords – but it will come in handy when you want to write more something more complicated. Of course, mastering music theory can take you years, but picking up the basics is relatively easy:

Music theory is a vast subject. Start off by learning basic music concepts in this course.

4. Analyze Great Songs

When you become a student of songwriting, you’ll realize just how similar most songs are. Certain patterns, themes, motifs and chord structures are repeated across artists and genres. As a songwriter, analyzing songs should become a habit, a reaction as natural as pulling your finger away from a hot stove.

Song Structure

Most pop songs follow a simple structure: Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus or similar variations.

Let’s take a look at the classic Backstreet Boys pop song, “I Want it That Way” as an example:

Try doing the same for other popular songs. You’ll soon realize how common such song structures really are.

Chord Progressions

Most pop and rock songs follow simple chord progressions. As mentioned above, I, IV, and V chords in any scale are called its primary chords. Combining these chords in various permutations is the basis of thousands of songs.

Let’s see some examples:

Throw in a minor chord – Vi – and you get the most popular chord progression in music (I-IV-V-Vi). This is often called the pop-punk progression and has been used in thousands of songs. In fact, it is so popular that there’s even a Wikipedia entry with a huge list of songs based on it. You’ll recognize some of these – “Not Afraid” by Eminem, “Someone Like You” by Adele, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, etc.

You can use this tool to generate chord progressions automatically.

5. Writing Lyrics

For many people, writing lyrics is the easiest part of songwriting. For others, it is the hardest. Whichever side of the divide you may fall on, you can benefit from these lyric-writing tips:

So there you have it – a complete guide to writing a good song. For homework, analyze your favorite songs and see what kind of chord progression and lyric structure they use. For more insight on songwriting, try taking this course on how to create a song in GarageBand in 1 hour.

What are your favorite songs and lyrics? Let us know in the comments below!

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