Guide to writing music the correct way as a professional songwriter
When you listen to songs all you hear is the final product. It sounds good. It’s appealing to your ears. Therefore you like it. For the most part you don’t think about the structure of the song. It may have never crossed your mind that all songs have a particular structure they follow. However, this is true All songs have a structure and rules they follow. Songs aren’t just random sentences and phrases that rhythm. If you’re an aspiring artist or songwriter yourself, you may be wondering “how do I write music.” Well now you have the guide to writing music the correct way as a professional songwriter.
Choose your key
In order to master your skills as a professional songwriter you have to know the process to writing a song. Yes it’s good to know music theory. But it goes deeper than that. You have to know more than just reading and writing music. To become a true professional songwriter, you have to know how to apply your knowledge of music theory. This means you have to understand what music chords are and how they work in a song. Understanding what a music phrase is, how choruses are orchestrated and more all enables you to become a great songwriter. The 1st step to achieving this goal when writing songs is to choose your song key. A song key is a particular music scale that the song revolves around. Meaning if your song is written in C major, all the keys in that song will revolve around the C major scale. The best way to decide what key your song will be written in is to start humming your desired tune. The more you hum and play around with the sound, the easier you’ll be able to pick the key you want your song in.
Choose a melody
The next task on our list of steps to becoming a professional songwriter is to select a melody. A melody are musical pitches grouped together in a song that makes up a single entity. It’s the most recognized element of the song. It tends to be what captures the listener’s attention. Melody consists of pitch and rhythm. This is why it’s important to select your song key first before you go to the melody. Some great ideas for developing a melody to a song are:
- downloading and using some of the best songwriting apps such as Simple Songwriter, Song-writer lite and FourTrack.
- getting inspiration from some of your own favorite melodies
- coming up with 1 or 2 catchy lines and repeating those lines for the next day or so until it develops into a full melody.
- coming up with a rhythm pattern that your entire song will follow.
Choose a harmony
After you select a melody, it’s now time to choose a harmony. Your harmony is what accompanies and supports your melody. Most of the time your chorus/hook will be built around the harmony. In music theory, your harmony are built with chords and chord progressions. In order to complete this step as a professional songwriter you have to know how chord progressions work. In order to know how chord progressions work, you have to know how chords work.
Chords are 3 notes or more played simultaneously (harmonic chords) or one at a time (arpeggios). The chords are built on notes in a scale. Meaning if you have the C major scale > C D E F G A B C, each note in that scale has a chord that’s built on it. For example, the C in the C major scale has a chord built on it which is > C E G. This is because the triad chords follow a sequence of every other note > C E G. Below shows the chords built on each note in the C major scale.
C – C E G > 1st tone (major chord)
D – D F A > 2nd tone (minor chord)
E – E G B > 3rd tone (minor chord)
F – F A C > 4th tone (major chord)
G – G B D > 5th tone (major chord)
A – A C E > 6th tone (minor chord)
B – B D F > 7th tone (diminished chord)
C – C E G > 8th tone (major chord)
*Even if you don’t understand this entire process it’s still a good start to learn.
Now that you have you see how chords work, you can learn chord progressions. Chord progressions are how chords relate and interact with each other. If you have a song, one phrase may be built around one chord. Then your next phrase may be built around another chord. When you move from one chord to the next this is called a chord progression. The most common chords that interact with each other in a song are the I, IV and V chords. These are chords built on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of a scale. This means if you have a C major scale you would use:
- I chord – built on the 1st tone of a C major scale > C E G
- IV chord – built on the 4th tone of a C major scale > F A C
- V chord – built on the 5th tone of a C major scale > G B D
*However, these aren’t the only chords you use when constructing a song. There are just the most popular ones. They’re also major chords when working with a major scale. But you can add minor chords, diminished and augmented chords in a major scale song. The more you understand about chord progressions and how they work, the better you’ll become as a professional songwriter.
I Chord/ Tonic Chord
The I chord also known as the tonic chord is how most songs start with. You may think a song just randomly starts with any note. However, as a professional songwriter, whatever key you’re writing the song with, the 1st note should be the tonic key of that scale. This means if you write a song in C major. The 1st note of the song should be C. There are some exceptions. The 1st note may be one of the tones in the C major chord (C E G). This means the 1st note may be a C, E or G. But a lot of the times it’s going to be the 1st note of the scale. A lot of songs end with the tonic key/ chord as well. However, this doesn’t always have to be the case. Starting with the tonic chord as a professional songwriter also helps the artist you’re righting for. If he or she is a professional singer they’ll be able to catch the key of the song right away.
Another important aspect to becoming a professional songwriter is knowing how verses work. Verses tell the story of a song. This is where the listener connect with the meaning of the song. So verses are very important. Just like every other element of a song, verses have a specific design as well. A song verse should be no more than 8 bars. This means if you’re writing a song in 4/4 time, each bar should have 4 beats and it should be 8 of those bars that have 4 beats. Anything after 8 bars is considered the bridge or the chorus. If you’re wondering what 4/4 time is, it’s the rhythm pattern to how a song is written. It’s also the most common time signature in contemporary music. However, it’s not the only time signature.
- 4/4 = means each bar in the song gets 4 beats/counts (1 2 3 4).
- 3/4 = means each bar in a song gets 3 beats/counts (1 2 3).
In order to complete your verse, you should have 4-8 bars and each of those bars should have the appropriate count. Of course the appropriate count depends on what your time signature is.
The chorus summarizes the song and what it’s selling. It’s basically the story of the song in a nutshell. Choruses are also the catchiest part of the song. This is where you as the songwriter should instantly catch the listener’s attention. If you want to know how to become a songwriter for a record label, writing amazing chorus aka hooks is the key. Most artists and music executives are looking for catchy, hot hooks. This is because they all know this is what makes or breaks the song. Chorus are usually short and sweet. With that being said a chorus is usually 4 bars. If it is 4 bars it’s more likely to get repeated twice. A chorus can also be 8 bars. If it is 8 bars, then the chorus is only said once. There are some exceptions where the chorus is simply 1 statement. These type of choruses usually have a bridge before it.
You’ll be amazed and impressed at how knowing these particulars will enhance your skills as a professional songwriter. They may seem small. You may think they’re not a big deal. But executing these tips can make or break your song. It’s the difference between a good song and a great hit. If you’re a beginner songwriter, start off small utilizing these structured tips. In no time you’ll be writing major, professional hits.