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Step by Step Song Writing Guide

Writing a tune - Sorry it took so long. Finally I'm going to talk about the actual writing process.

First of all, what exactly is a song? A song basically consists of two main components; chords and notes. You may prefer to think of them as harmony and melody. Sometimes the melody is sung using lyrics, other times it is played on a musical instrument. The idea is really rather simple. You either have to find a chord for your melody note or a melody note for your chord.

Let's say we're going to write a song in the key of C and our melody note is a C note. What chord do we chose as its partner? The important thing to remember is this: the melody note should be included in the chord somewhere. The trick here is to find the chord or chords that contain a C note, our melody note. Look at the example below:

These three chords are the only ones that contain a C note (in red) so they are (for now) our only choices. Our melody note, C is the root of a C major chord, the 3rd of an A minor chord and the 5th of a F major chord. Try to sing the C note and play each of the chords. Although you may prefer one over the others, you should find that all three chords are all pretty good matches.


Melodic Analysis - I need to have you do a different type of analysis, melodic analysis. In the last exercise we tried to determine what chords we were looking at. In this exercise we will try to determine what chord tone the melody note is. The rules for triads are as follows:

Analysis 2: Try to figure out what chord tone each melody note is. Check your answers at the bottom of the lesson.


Getting started - Writing a song is just a series of decisions, choosing the right chord for each note of your melody is the objective. Let's try it out on a super simple melody. The melody below is as simple as they come, a descending C major scale.

Let's try to pick some chords for our melody. As I said earlier, this is more of an art than a science so there are no real rules that you have to worry about breaking but there are a few guidelines that you might want to keep in mind: Try to think of the diatonic chord family as a neighborhood.

I've written out all the possible chord choices above each melody note. The Roman numerals are also written below the staff. Try each chord and try to come up with a chord progression that you like. I would also suggest that you sing the melody note while you try out each of the three chords choices.

Harmonization 1- I've written a pretty standard chord progression for the same melody. This chord progression is similar to the one *Pachelbel used for "Pachelbel's Canon" written about three hundred years ago. Remember, there is no correct or incorrect here, what ever pleases your ear is the right choice.

*Pachelbel was this German Cat who made is debut in the late 1600s. He used to hang around with Bach's father, Ambrosius who asked him to teach one of his sons, Johann Christoph how to write and play music. Johann Christoph would later teach his younger brother Johann Sebastian (the famous Bach) music. It's funny how the whole thing fits together.


Song writing time: You should be ready to compose your own song now. Granted, a simple diatonic song but never the less a song. There are a ton of songs written within the exact same parameters that have sold millions. "Stand by me" (I - vi - IV - V), "Let It Be" (I -V - vi - IV - I - V - IV - I), just to name a few.

I usually come up with the first few melody notes and then find the chords that please my ears. Work a measure or two at a time. I find that using this method, the song seems to write its self. Go on, get out some staff paper and get to work. After you get the hang of it, I'll move on to some more complex compositional techniques. Take a day, week, however much time you need. Bookmark this page and come back when you're ready....

Expanding Harmony >>