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  • Zoe Lim

A Guide to Songwriting for Beginners

a person writing music and songs

Writing a song may seem like a daunting task but it can be really fun once you get into it.

Most people think that you need to understand complex chords and music theory to write a song, but

some of the greatest songs written are made up of really simple chords. Just as Bob Dylan once said, “All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth”.

Once you’re ready, read on to begin writing your first song!

  1. Have a theme in mind

Before worrying about what chords or lyrics to choose, have a general idea of what your song is going to be about. It could be anything, ranging from your own life experiences to an inspiration from a movie you just watched. You might also want to ask yourself questions, using these ideas:

  • How did you feel about this experience?

  • Why did it happen?

  • How do you relate to it?

  • How is it going to impact others?

While thinking about these questions, write down some phrases or words that come to mind. It will help form a theme around your song and make it easier to transform them into your song title and lyrics.

2. Develop a title

The title of a song is one the most important parts of songwriting as it tells the audience what they are going to be listening to. For instance, the reason why most songs are centred around the theme of “Love” is because it is a universal experience, generally felt by every human which makes it easier to relate to.

We also know that in most songs, the song title appears in the song lyrics often. This helps to solidify the theme of the song, which in turn, enable the listeners to have an easier grasp on what they’re listening to. You don’t have to follow this general rule, but it would be a good step in creating your first song.

3. Develop your song structure

There are many types of structure that a song that can follow. Typically, a song will consist of verses (A), choruses (B) and a bridge (C). The most common structure would be A-B-A-B-C-B.

To get a feel of this song structure, listen to Radiohead’s High and Dry.

However, you should also explore other types of song structures to see which suits you best. Try listening to various artists and how they structure their songs. Some of the most unusual song structures include The Smith’s How Soon is Now & Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Have a listen and try to pick out the differences from a typical song structure as we just discussed.

4. Find your chords and rhythm

This and the next step can be interchangeable, depending on which you find easier to work with first. Some start with the lyrics while others like to begin with the melody. If you would like to work on lyrics first, you can read the next step and then come back here again.

Finding the right chords and melody might be the most frustrating part of songwriting, but don’t fret! We can start with simple chords to get your creative juices flowing. You might want to consider which key you want your song in. Typically, if your song is going to be an upbeat and lively song, major chords are the way to go. On the other hand, if your song is emotional and melancholy, you may want to start with minor chords instead.

A chord progression doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, finding the right rhythm to your song, in my opinion, is going to be more difficult than choosing your chords. So, think about the pace and speed of your song carefully, and how you are going to construct them so that your chords and rhythm go hand-in-hand. You don’t have to think too hard, start playing around with your instrument and you might hear something you like!

5. Find your lyrics and melody

The melody is going to be part of the song’s lyrics. You have already thought of the theme of your song from the first step. Now, you are going to transfer those phrases and words you thought of into your lyrics.

Play your chord progression and experiment with melodies over it. Utilise repetition! As you play a chord, adjust the key of your melody to see if it fits with the chord progression. You may want to learn some scales to play over each chord.

This step is a trial and error! Don’t beat yourself up for not getting it on the first try. Sometimes, the most beautiful and memorable melodies are the simplest. For example, listen to The American Beauty soundtrack.

6. Make use of technology!

Don’t be afraid to use songwriting softwares such as GarageBand. Many famous modern songs are created solely on GarageBand. For instance, Gorillaz’s The Fall album was recorded entirely on an iPad. You might also want to explore some samples in the library of your music-writing software. Making use of such technologies helps to remove some of the frustration that comes along with songwriting!


Zoe is an avid fan of all kinds of music. Her primary instrument is the guitar but she is always passionately learning how to play other instruments such as the drums and keyboard. She is currently playing the bass guitar in a band and has been routinely involved in music since she was a child.

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