A Template for Songwriting

There are endless ways to write a great song, but sometimes it’s useful to have a simple songwriting template to follow. In this post, we’ll look at one way to write a complete song from scratch.

Don’t feel bound by the order of these sections. Not only can you write a song by following them in different orders, but you can also revisit sections as you progress.

I highly recommend going back to each section once you have more of the song written, since the larger context will help you refine your parts.

What is the song about?

Try to discover what the song is about as you go. Keep a list of words in a notebook that express the main ideas, images, and feelings that come to you as you write the music.

Be willing to revise your understanding, and don’t be afraid to rewrite! It’s often tempting to keep whatever you happen to come up with first, but you should resist this temptation.

Once you’ve finished a chord progression and/or a melody, listen to it over and over and see what images or scenes come to mind. Add these to your list.

This list can be used for lyrics, for a title, and for searching for connections that you might not have immediately noticed.

Chord progressions

When you first sit down to write a chord progression, you don’t need to know which part you’re writing. Just start exploring possibilities.

There are many ways to write a chord progression. Let’s use X, Y, Z, and Q to represent different chords, whatever they are. Here are some common structures for a progression (with an example of each):

2 Chords

    | X | Y | X | Y |
Ex: | C | F | C | F |
    | X | X | Y | Y |
Ex: | C | C | F | F |

3 Chords

    | X | Y  | Z | X |
Ex: | C | Am | G | C |
    | X | X | Y  | Z |
Ex: | C | C | Am | G |
    | X | Y | Z | Z |
Ex: | C | F | G | G |

4 Chords

    | X | Y | Z  | Q |
Ex: | C | F | Am | G |

Plug different chords into these structures and see what you can come up with.

These are just some of the many ways to structure a chord progression, though you can write a lot of songs sticking with just these.

Verse

The verse is where the main narrative of the song takes place. The melody of a verse is often closer to speaking, since this is where you’re telling the story.

Choose a chord progression and start singing random notes over it until you find something that sounds good. Build on that while trying to tell a story. You can throw away all of these lyrics, but they can help you structure your melody. Allow for breathing space in your verse, even if you’re saying a lot.

Record your ideas as you try them out. Later, you can combine the best ones together.

Chorus

The chorus is often where you repeat the central idea in a relatively simple form. The meaning of the chorus is framed by the verses, both musically and lyrically. See if you can write your verses in such a way that the chorus takes on a new or deeper meaning each time you come back to it.

A chorus is normally higher energy than a verse. The harmonic tempo is normally different as well. For example, you might change chords twice as fast or half as fast.

For example, imagine your verse has two chords:

| Am | Am | F | F |

Then maybe your chorus will have four, changing twice as frequently:

| C | F | Dm | G |

It can go the other way as well, with four chords in the verse and two in the chorus, for example.

This kind of contrast creates interest and allows the chorus to stand out. But there are also songs that use the same chord progression for both verse and chorus.

Bridge

The bridge is normally a single, non-repeated part where you leave behind the normal context of the song. Lyrically, a bridge presents a different perspective (e.g. it describes how things used to be, looks at things from someone else’s point of view, etc.). It is often noticeably different musically as well to support this change in perspective.

Start the bridge with a chord that stands out. That could be one from the key you haven’t used yet. Or it could be borrowed from another key. Or the bridge could be in a different key altogether.

Song Structure

There are many ways to structure a song, but let’s look at one common one you can use as a starting point. Note that the choruses (C) are simply repeated, but the verses (V1, V2, and V3) have distinct lyrics. The bridge (B) happens once, and should stand out.

| V1 | V2 | C | V3 | C | B | C | C |

Songs often have an intro and less frequently an outro, but these aren’t necessary, particularly for your first draft. I’ve also left out instrumental sections. All of these can be added once you have the core parts of your song written. If you are going to add them, unsurprisingly the intro comes first and the outro last. A common place for an instrumental/solo is before or after (or instead of) the bridge.

Next Steps

This post has presented one template for songwriting. Of course, we are only scratching the surface here. If you want to further explore writing chord progressions, you can try out my series of Practical Chord Progression exercises that will take you chord by chord through writing progressions in a major key. Or you can check out my Chord Progressions Cheat Sheet for ideas for practice and experimentation as well as standard chord progressions and useful tables of chords by key and mode.

Write better chord progressions.

Chord Progressions Cheatsheet

Quickly get started writing chord progressions, or adding variety to your current approach. Techniques, tables, and sample progressions.

    We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.