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How to write a song (crash course)

Blog > How to write a song (crash course)

Jan. 28, 2017


Modified: 05/16/19

Writing a song is possibly the most abstract and subjective process there is, as is most art. The key is to find what works best for you and attack the process as often and as consistently as possible. I will outline what works best for me.

1. Find or create an instrumental that moves you.

I can always tell within the first 30 seconds if an instrumental is going to invoke a feeling that will fuel enough emotion to create a song. YouTube is a great place to start if you aren’t capable, experienced, or interested in creating your own instrumentals. There are MILLIONS of instrumentals to play, and if you want go the semi-legal route, you can use sites like to download the instrumentals as MP3 files and save your data. Search using some keywords like “hard,” “emotional,” and “jazzy” to help to sort through the different types of beats available to fit your needs. Using digital audio workstations like FL Studio, Reason, Ableton, or Logic is a great way to compose your own instrumental. Zanderjaz has great FL Studio tutorials if you would like to learn how to create your own beats.

2. Once you write the first line, you’re halfway done.

I used to spend an enormous amount of time on the first bar of the song. I always wanted to create an impact and get the attention of the audience right away. I was essentially trying to write the perfect line. I learned this was somewhat a waste of time since I have continued and perfected my writing process. While it is important to get the attention of your audience, you have at least 16 bars to do that. People usually judge the song by about the first 30 seconds of rapping or singing. A 16 bar verse is around 40 seconds typically, so you have about 12 bars to prove yourself. MAKE SURE YOU DO! I always recommend using your best verse first if you are writing a song with several verses.

3. Standard song format

Song format varies greatly, so keep that in mind. The standard verse is 16 bars and the hook or chorus is 4-8 bars. A bar is usually 2 snare drum hits. This also varies depending on the format of the beat, so a 4 count will suffice as well. That’s a “one and two and three and four” counted out loud or silently. The typical snare hits on beat 2 and 4. You can always play with this format, but if you’re completely new to song writing, this is a good place to start.

4. Say things in an interesting way (objective)

I always prefer to say things in a way that is not the most direct or typical. For example, rather than saying, “I got into the car,” you can say, “I jumped in the whip.” Slang, descriptive words, and a thesaurus are your best friend. Find your own unique way to say things! The more you stand out among the saturated music market, the better.

5. When is your song done?

This is also completely objective, but I do have a specific rule. I usually write a song once and try not to nitpick too much, or go back and completely change things. You will constantly progress, and each song represents a piece of your journey and emotions from a certain time period, so embrace that and then move on. You will always have a chance to write a new song as long as you’re breathing. It’s better to write 5 different songs than to rewrite a song 5 times – ALWAYS!

These are just a few tips to create a song. A cliff notes guide, if you will. The best way to learn is by doing it yourself. Anytime you create you are awakening a part of your brain that typically lays dormant, so not only is it fun but also beneficial. Play with your formula and find what works best for you. Enjoy!