What’s good songwriting and how do you get better at it? There are tons of content online explaining how to become a better songwriter and what you should do to create a hit song. From tutorials and formulaic templates on how to craft every component of a song to step-by-step guides about emulating the styles of famous songwriters, there are seemingly endless tips and advice on the topic. Some of the songwriting pointers and tricks even go as far as to border on the ridiculous.
While it is great for new and experienced songwriters to keep learning about the craft in order to continue improving, there is a point when it can all get confusing. For example, one piece of content might outline several core principles that must be followed when creating music in one genre, while another might suggest throwing caution to the wind and just experimenting if you are writing a song in another genre. If you are not careful, information overload could cause more damage to your songwriting growth than helping it.
With that said, there are a few basic fundamentals of good songwriting that apply across the board, regardless of genre, style, or preference. Once you become aware of these fundamentals, it is hard to get confused by anything else you come across. In addition, understanding the basic fundamentals of good songwriting will allow you to pick up on BS being passed off as songwriting advice when you see it. So, what are these basics you should keep in mind as a songwriter?
Regardless of genre, every modern song is based on one of several common song structures. These are:
In each case, the letter A represents a verse, the B represents the chorus, and C the bridge, except for the AABA, where the B becomes a bridge instead of a chorus. Of the four, the ABABCB (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus) and ABAB are the two most popular structures used in today’s music. On the other hand, the AAA option is one of the oldest song structures that is still practiced today. It uses a refrain (similar to a chorus) at the end of each verse to break up the pace and melody. There are other song structures apart from the above, but knowing these four and how to use them will allow you to format your songs in a logical manner and in line with the expectations of today’s listening audiences.
If you think about any of your favorite songs, there is usually a storyline in it that appeals to you. With that said, focus on telling a compelling story with your lyrics when writing a song. This ensures the listener remains interested from the beginning, because they want to hear how it all turns out, whether your song is talking about heartbreak, partying, or some other topic. How do you tell a story with your songwriting? A good starting point is employing the use of figurative language in your lyrics, especially metaphors and similes. Secondly, you want to make use of imagery so you can paint a strong picture for the listener. You also want to match the mood of your lyrics with that of the melody. If you are describing a sad event, the melody cannot be upbeat or vice versa. Rhyming is also useful in conveying your message, but the rhymes have to be impactful. Not every line has to rhyme; it should sound as natural as possible.
If you can learn to create memorable melodies, you are well on the way to being a songwriter who makes songs that people want to hear. It’s important to remember that the melody is what sticks inside the listener’s head and allows the hook/chorus of a song to truly shine. Spend time learning the best practices of creating melodies and you will definitely become a better songwriter for it.
Paying attention to structure, form, and technique is all great. But without consistency, it becomes difficult to grow as a songwriter. Those who become really good at songwriting are the ones who make it a duty to always be creating. They set themselves songwriting goals – whether per day, per week, or per month – and work towards meeting those goals. They automatically get better by constantly writing songs. On top of that, being productive as a songwriter comes with the benefit of having plenty material to work the music business. You can go after any number of opportunities that may arise when you have a large cache of songs under your belt. By contrast, having only a few songs because you are not consistent in writing will likely mean you can’t compete with other songwriters who are more productive than you.
Contrary to what you might think, good songwriting is not about developing an unheard of style or sound. Yes, it is great of you managed to come up with something groundbreaking like the Beatles did back in the 60s. But let’s face it, there are a limited number of chords to play with and only so many variations you can attempt. Instead of spending time trying to re-invent the wheel, most great songwriters simply look around at what’s available and create their own spin on what works. There is nothing wrong with listening to songs you like and borrowing from them, or even emulating (not copying) the writing styles of your favorite songwriters. These are especially good starting points if you are new to the songwriting business and wondering how to start growing your skills.
As a songwriter, it is natural for you to fantasize that your creations will light the world on fire. However, it takes time to learn how to build songs that catch the ears of listeners, so don’t be disappointed if you are yet to consistently produce songs that could be considered worth listening to. As long as you keep practicing the craft and putting the basics of good songwriting to work, you will eventually get better at being more prolific.
Songwriting mastery is not a destination ; it is more of a journey. Allowing yourself to be guided by the basic fundamentals of good songwriting will help you enjoy the journey while becoming the best you can be.