Songwriting Techniques & Ideas

Writing music requires a certain basic knowledge of the fundamentals.

Songwriting is a difficult process that demands talent, strong work ethic and an ability to understand basic musical concepts. While not all songwriters write the music entirely by themselves, it is useful to have a basic understanding of how music works. This will improve your working relationship with composers, as you will be able to effectively communicate your ideas and even participate in the composing process.


Songwriters must excel at writing lyrics that are memorable and represent the type of music written. Songwriters must often coordinate their writing with a composer to create a particular mood. When writing lyrics, think about something that motivates you. Whether this is nature, art, exercise, personal relationships or political ideals. By writing about things you truly care about you are more likely to be successful with your lyrics. Remember that songwriting should always be a process that is fulfilling and enjoyable to you. Before writing lyrics, make sure you have a good theme or even create a title. This will help you focus your efforts. Separate your lyrics into different sections and follow some of the guidelines from the next section.

Musical Form

Form is extremely important for a songwriter. There are many types of forms used in songs including through-composed, strophic and the most commonly used AABA form. In through-composed music, none of the sections repeat. The piece continually develops from beginning to the end. These songs have no refrains, or catchy hooks to bring the listener back to a previous section. Strophic music is the antithesis of through-composed music. In strophic music, each section and melody repeats exactly but will usually use different lyrics each time. Finally, AABA form has an introduction, two sections that use the same melody with different lyrics in the A sections, a new B section and then finally a return to the original melody for the final A section.

Voice Types and Registers

Another important aspect of songwriting is knowing what voice type you are writing for and where the easiest, most common part of the range is. For vocalists, the middle of their range is the easiest part to sing in. Writing in their high or low range for the entire duration of the piece will cause them to strain their voice. Good songs do not go outside of the middle of the range unless there is a specific reason to do so. The general voice classifications are soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. Each voice has about an octave and a fifth for the total range. Writing the music a fourth below the highest and above the lowest pitch the vocalists can sing will make it easier for them to sing.

Song Cycles

One method of creating songs often overlooked is the song cycle. In an age where people tend to choose the songs they like to listen to, a song cycle can bring extra depth and sophistication to an album. Consider using a technique from classical music to write a series of songs that relate in some way. Connect these songs by theme, mood, melodic elements or even the musical structure. Songs typically have a I-IV-V-I chord progression between the melodies but it is possible to apply that to the entire cycle as well. The first movement could be in C, the second could be in F, the third G and the fourth comes back to I. This is a great way to add some sophistication to your music.

Music Theory

Music theory should be something that all songwriters strive to learn. If you have very little knowledge of theory, start with a simple music theory course and spend 15 to 30 minutes per day studying. The basic information that all songwriters should know is key signatures, scales, chords and chord progressions. By learning these basic concepts, you will improve your communication skills and be able to discuss your song more fluently with a composer.


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