By Ben Blakesley
We live in an age when making and recording music has never been easier. Heck, you can do both on the phone in your pocket right now!
But despite the ease of doing those activities, knowing how to write a song is still as important as ever.
As with anything, it's a good idea to learn the rules before you break them (a necessity in songwriting!), so here are the basics.
Traditionally, pop songs have 3 basic parts: Verse, Chorus, and Bridge.
Verse- This is the informational part of the song. This is where you'll tell the story and introduce the themes of the song. Lyrically, you entice your listener in this section and provide details to draw them in.
Chorus- The 'end all, be all' of popular songwriting, the Chorus (or hook as we call it in the studio) is, to paraphrase Blues Traveler, what brings you back. It's the catchy part of the song. Presumably, it's what you're left humming after the song is over. It's a good idea for the Chorus to be an uplifting experience for the listener, be memorable, and be the high point of the song.
Bridge- A bridge will not always be present in a song but is usually needed even when it's not :-). It's a way to break up the monotony of Verse/Chorus, Verse/Chorus and provide a new, albeit usually short, musical idea to the song just when the listener might start losing interest.
This is usually where beginning songwriters get lost and discouraged. How do I write a good bridge?? Although there is no concrete formula, I usually start by moving to a relative chord of the starting Chorus chord. As an example, if my song is in the key of G major and my Chorus starts with a G chord, I would likely start my Bridge with a D chord (the V in the scale) or an Em chord (the vi of the scale). The whole point of the bridge is to change things up, so focus on providing a new musical idea without distracting from your main point.
The form of popular songs is pretty cut and dry and tried and true:
Once you write a few songs like that and get used to that format, start mixing up the sections. Maybe you want to start with a chorus (the Beatles' "She Loves You"), or maybe you need two Verses to set the scene before getting to the Chorus. Whatever is going to keep the listener engaged and send the message that you want to send. That's why songwriting is an art and not a science.
Without going to deep into music theory, there are sets of chords and notes that sound good together and those that maybe don't so much. In any key, you're pretty safe putting the I, IV, V, vi chords together to make your song.
For example, in the key of G major, the I, IV, V, vi chords are: G, C, D, Em
Mix them around in any order you want and you're likely to come up with something pleasing to the ear.
Songwriting is an art and a craft that you hone like any skill. Now that you know the basic pieces, study your favorite songs to find out what makes them so great. What rules do they adhere to? What rules do they break?
Now take what you've learned and practice, practice, practice! The more you do it, the better your songs will get. And don't forget to break the rules!
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Ben Blakesley is in charge of Marketing and Technology at George's Music and writes and records music in many styles. His work can be heard on MTV, MTV2, BET, and all across the internet.