Beginning Songwriting

How to Construct a Good Song

As a music lover, you may have become inspired to begin writing music. If that is what is going on in your mind, you may also find yourself wondering if you can do it. But you need not worry. Most songwriters start out with no more knowledge of songcraft than you have. By learning certain things they were able to become accomplished, and so can you. Don’t be afraid to give it a try.

Song Analysis

It is often said that a good writer does a lot of reading. The same principle applies to music. You must become a critical listener.

Listen to a few of your favorite songs, but this time, do so with a critical and analytical ear. Listen for the all-important elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, lyrics, and form (or structure). These are the most important aspects of a song. Do this every time you hear a song you like. It may be counterintuitive at first. Don’t worry; you will still love the song when you’re done.

The Next Step

In most Western music, songs are made up of chords. The progression of chords typically goes as follows:

The first chord in a song is called the root chord, or the 1 chord. It sets the harmonic center of a song. The next chord is called the subdominant or 4 chord. It is the first detour we take from the root chord, although it is not typically a drastic departure. The next chord is called the 5 chord, or dominant chord. It typically takes us the furthest away from the root, and signifies an imminent return to the root. This 1-4-5 structure is by far the most common construction of music.


Go back to your critical listening. If you are advanced enough in your musical knowledge to know which chords and progressions are being used on a song, make note of them. Listen to the melody. If it’s a verse-chorus-verse structure, break down the individual parts. For example, does an individual singer sing the chorus the first time, and do other singers join in the next time? Does the tempo change at all? Is there an unexpected change in the chord progression partway into the song? Break it down as much as you can.

You may wonder why this is being emphasized so much. It’s simple. By deconstructing and analyzing song structure, you will be able to then use these concepts to construct new songs of your own.

You may also wonder why this article doesn’t go into theory or notation. The fact is, when you are starting out, you don’t need to know it! You would be surprised how few modern songwriters even know this much. This is simply an opportunity for you to get started. Learning more advanced songcraft is recommended, but don’t put the cart ahead of the horse.

This just scratches the surface of songwriting. If there is one takeaway from the lesson, it is the importance of understanding how a song is crafted before you can craft your own.