Lessons From Your Favorite Songwriters

There are no rules in songwriting, no songwriting police are going to throw you in songwriters jail or give you a ticket for an illegal left turn in your song’s plot. You can be as creative as you want.

However, if you’re trying to gain fans and sell CDs or get played on the radio, then some rules apply. For example, in the old days when radio was king, everybody knew songs had to be under three minutes long to get played on pop radio. I guess that could be considered a songwriting rule.

Rather than learning a set of rules, it’s more instructive to examine a song’s elements and common structures. Some examples of common structures are verse – chorus – verse – chorus. There’s also verse – verse – chorus – verse – verse – chorus. And then there’s the familiar verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus. Often an additional chorus or choruses are tacked onto the end of any of these.

The easiest way to see this verse/chorus stuff in action is to listen to your favorite songs. Go through the exercise of dissecting a few of your favorite songs to discover the underlying patterns.

After you’ve done that, listen to the other elements of a song, one element at a time. For example, when listening for melody, ignore the lyrics, the chords, the rhythms. This isn’t necessarily easy to do, but when you do it, when you take apart a song like this, you will discover hidden beauty in the songs, and learn about songwriting.

  • Listen for rhyme scheme. It will help you to write out the lyrics (or print them from the web) and jot down the rhyme scheme. Pay attention to which rhyme schemes work for you and which don’t (if any).
  • Listen to melody only. Where does it go up, where does it go down, where does it stay the same? How does a line begin, how does it end? Where does it repeat? How does the verse begin/end? How is that different from the melody in the chorus?
  • Listen for changes, both abrupt and subtle changes – chord changes, changes in loudness, speed, intensity, instrumentation, etc.
  • Listen for how the music supports the lyrics and the lyrics support the music, or lack thereof.
  • Listen for the overall feel. Do the music calm you or stir you up? Does it make you want to dance, laugh, cry or sing? Does it leave you feeling sad, happy, powerful, weak, angry, grateful, inspired? What feeling do you want your listeners to experience when hearing your song?
  • By doing this type of study, it will be like getting lessons from your favorite songwriters.


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