How to Write a Good Song – A Complete Guide for Beginners

Here we take the most common questions from across the web on how to write a good song, and let our resident musical expert, Young Coconut (Fauxtown Records co-owner), answer them for you.

young-coconut-fauxtown-records

Use the table of contents below, which is in alphabetical order, to navigate this post.  Have fun and good luck!


Ok, ready to start writing some awesome songs?  Then let’s get into the nitty gritty!


How do you write a song that sounds good on acoustic guitar?

how to write a good song for acoustic guitar

The obvious thing to say here would be that if you want your song to sound good on acoustic guitar, you should probably write it on an acoustic guitar.

You might have heard of the “campfire test”, which means that in order for a song to be good, the person playing it should be able to play it on an acoustic guitar around a campfire and the song still sounds great.

So, think about that when you write your song.  There’s no point writing a song on a piano or electric guitar, and hoping that it sounds good on an acoustic guitar.  Just write it on an acoustic guitar from the get-go.

The point of writing a song on acoustic guitar is that it has everything it needs with just the acoustic guitar and you, the person singing it. 

One tip I’ll throw in is that power chords sound cooler on electric guitar, because they can be distorted.  With an acoustic, it is better to use a lot of open chords, meaning non-power chords, and techniques that sound particularly good on acoustic guitar, like certain picking or strumming patterns. 

Not to say that power chords sound bad on an acoustic, but they don’t sound as lush as, say, “open” chords.

At the end of the day, once your song is written, you should be able to play it on an acoustic by yourself and think to yourself, “I’ve written me a good song”. 

In other words, it’s not missing some major riff that you might overdub in a recording, or that someone else might play.  You should be able to play it and sing it comfortably yourself.

One of the great examples of a classic acoustic guitar track is “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley.  It’s just him and his guitar, and it’s a classic.

Ok, just getting warmed up here!  What’s next?


How to make your song the best song ever?

Wow, setting the bar quite high, aren’t we?  Ok, well if that’s your goal, I should probably stop you right here and say this: there is no “best” song ever to begin with.  Actually, yeah there is… I forgot about this one.

Yep, it’s called “Best Song Ever”, by One Direction.  

Besides that One Direction song, no one has ever agreed on what the “best” song ever is, and so how can you make yours better if there’s no agreement on that?

I guess what you need to do here is take your 5 favourite songs, and make sure that your song is better than all of them.  That’s a lot of pressure, so I hope you are ready for that. 

At the end of the day, however, if you think your song is the best song ever, out of all the songs ever written by anyone past or present, that’s really what matters here, isn’t it?

Personally, I think it’s a bit like thinking your baby is the cutest baby in the world.  It’s probably not, but you think it is so I’m not going to argue with you.  

Anyway, if you want to simply write a good song that’s really, really awesome, keep reading this article and you should get some good tips on how to make your song as high of quality as it can be!

For now, check your ego at the door!


How do you write a good break up song?

You might to need to tap in to some very sad and complicated emotions to write a good break up song, because break ups are usually really sad.  Hell, for some people, they’re thinking some dark thoughts after a break up.  Break ups can be devastating.

It might not be easy, but the song you get from doing this soul-searching might be well worth it. 

Usually, when it comes to break ups, someone has been betrayed, or let down, and they’re not happy about it.  Maybe that was you, if you’re the one writing the break-up song.  Maybe you NEED to write this song.

We can’t assume that your break-up song is going to come out all sad.  Maybe your break up song has more of a “I’m glad this person is gone” feeling, and so maybe it won’t be too sad, after all.

Something like “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor comes to mind as far as a song that’s a break up song but very hopeful and empowering, not so much wallowing in self-pity, as break up songs often do.

In any case, I recommend playing your chosen instrument, whether it be a guitar, piano, or what-have-you, and think about the break-up, and all of the emotions that go along with it.  In essence, you’re going to start feeling mad / sad or a combo of both.

This will come out in the music, and most likely the lyrics.  Anything you’re thinking, write it down.  Those intense thoughts about very specific things often make great lyrics for the song, so you might as well use them. 

If that person really royally screwed you over and betrayed you, you now have a chance to use it to make something great with it, that will help you and others.  It’s better than just letting those thoughts swim around in your head forever more.  That’s why I was saying, you possibly need to do this. 

My best break-up songs usually come to me when I’m in the mood to play music, but also thinking about a certain breakup. When that breakup is on my mind, that’s the best time to write.

Here’s an all time great break-up song to get you inspired – Careless Whisper by George Michael!

Dig that sax solo!  What’s next?


How do you make a song super catchy?

Catchy, huh?  You want catchy?  

There’s two ways to think about something being catchy, in my opinion.  You can either repeat something a lot, which is something a lot of people do now. 

Take “Pumped up Kicks” for example.

How many times do they repeat the same thing here?  Only about a billion times.  But you probably won’t forget it, will you?

I don’t prefer this method.  I think for something to be catchy, it has to be fairly unique, and memorable for a good reason, other than it being repeated 80 x. 

Whatever you do, don’t assume that just by repeating something, you’re making it catchy.  What you might be doing is making it annoying.  Catchiness happens whenever something is well constructed, musically.   And remember, any part of the entire song can be catchy.  Bass, for instance, has a way of catching people off guard because it’s on such a low frequency it’s almost subliminal sometimes.

Check this out.  Here’s Give it Away by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, which has a super catchy bassline.

Now here’s the same song with bass isolated.  You can hear even better now how catchy just the bassline is.

Another thing to consider is that for something to be catchy to you, you have to first be interested in the genre of music as well.

For instance, if you like rap, you’re going to find rap hooks catchier (weird synths and drum loops) than country music hooks (slide guitars and harmonicas), or house music hooks (certain types of synths).  All genres have different types of hooks, is my point here.

The genre you are writing for is important to both you and the listener, so think in terms of the genre of the song you’re writing in, and who your listener might be.

If you listen to a lot of rap, think about what’s catchy in rap songs.  Maybe it’s some part of the beat, or a synth line.  It’s probably some lyrical hook. If the listener likes rap, they’re going to share the same appreciation for the types of hooks you’ll find in rap music. 

Check out some of the hooks in this song by Eric B. & Rakim.  I’m talkin’ lyrics, bass, drums – everything is basically a hook.

My advice is study the genre of music you are going to be writing in, and think about what other artists do that’s super catchy.  Then try to work that into your song. 

Then, most importantly, play your song for someone.  Someone who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about what they think, but also someone who’s not a jerk that will admit it if they actually like it. 

Then, ask them if any part of the song stuck out to them.  If they say “oh, that super catchy part in the chorus, for sure!”  Then you’ve done your job, and written something catchy.


How do you write a song using chord progressions?

If you’re writing any kind of song, it’s going to have chords.  If you’re playing on piano, or guitar, the music that sits beneath your vocals are going to be the chords.

Chords are just playing more than one note at the same time, and almost every song ever written in the past 50 years that we consider popular is based on chords.  Every style of music is based on chords.  There’s no getting away from chords!

But then, there are different types of chord progressions as well.  First of all, you’re going to need to know some chords in order to write a song using chords.

My suggestion is to use the chords you know now to write a song, and if it has more than two chords, that’s considered a progression and that’s a good start. 

If you know 8 different chords, choose a few and put them in an order that sounds good to you, and to try write a song with it. 

If you’re one of those people who can come up with a melody without the chords first, then do that, and then try to find chords that fit with your melody after you write that melody. 

So, if you’re walking around humming a little melody, maybe record it so you don’t forget it, and then play around with some chords until that melody starts to sound right with those chords.

Or, if you have no melody, just come up with a pleasing progression of 2 or more chords, and then try to write around the chords.  Let the chords guide you, basically!


How to write a good chorus?

how to write a good chorus

If you ask me, writing a good chorus involves having a bit of a surprise.  If you’re listening to a song, and you’re getting into the verse, eventually you get tired of the verse and you want a change.  That’s when the chorus hits.

But sometimes, the chorus in some songs isn’t a very big payoff.  The listener has heard the intro (if there is one), and then the verse, and now the chorus comes along and it’s not that exciting.  

What can be wrong with a chorus?  It can be boring, for one thing.  I can be predictable, for another.  It can be less catchy than the verse, for another thing.  

A good chorus needs to be one of those moments the listener is like, “Wow, yippee!” when the chorus arrives.  Otherwise, it’s not really a chorus.  Some songs don’t have choruses, and that’s fine.  Some songs have pre-choruses, which get you prepared for the chorus, and get you hyped.  

This is why, if the chorus is stupid, or boring, people get mad.  They’ve been waiting for it.  It had better be good.  

Back in the old days, like say the 1950’s or 1960’s, songwriters were true craftspeople and could really craft an awesome chorus.  Most choruses explode and really catch you off guard for a moment when they change things up in the song.  

Here’s a big chorus from Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels”.  Notice how the song definitely experiences a welcome change once the chorus arrives.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good epic chorus, but I also like a subtle chorus.  Take this song “No Return” by the Kinks.  One of my favorites, but the chorus doesn’t exactly “explode”.

Still, I think this song has a nice change up at the chorus, which I might add, is also quite short.  In fact, with this song, it’s hard to tell where you are in the song precisely.  The song just sort of drifts around, but you can figure out what’s going on if you examine it closer.  

My point here is this – it’s up to you if you want your chorus to really pop out at the listener, or be subtle.  Add a pre-chorus if you think the change is too sudden.

I should also mention, that choruses sometimes stay in the same key, or they change key.  Changing the key makes the change more obvious and sometimes highlights the chorus better. 

When I make a chorus, I’m mostly listening to whether I like the transition.  I don’t base it on musical theory, I base it on feeling.  That said often there is a musical relationship between the verse and the chorus, in that many of the same chords are used.  This, again, is up to you.  If you do use totally different chords between verse and chorus, you’re not going to be hauled off to jail.  Some music snobs might point it out to you, but you can tell them I told you it was fine.

Here’s one more chorus to examine.  It’s Bjork’s “Human Behaviour”.

For Human Behavior, the chorus just kind of drifts in mid-song, with a bunch of verse sections that hint at the chorus prior to that.  It’s an interesting arrangement, and her odd voice just makes it that much more unique.


How to make a song seem deep

If you are deep as a person, and a thinker, than your song is probably going to reflect that.  It’s hard to make a song with deep meaning if the writer of that song is not like that. 

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a certain songwriter is a deep thinker, or…not.

Take this song, by the band Live, called “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)”.  

To this day, I don’t really know what to make of Ed Kowalczyk.  Is he a guru, or just one of those pretentious types of musicians who likes to use big words sometimes.  In any case, I do like the band and I also like that song, so what can I say?  Tyranny of Tradition – sure, fine.

Anyway, if the true question is, “How do I make my song seem deep?”, because you know you’re not deep but maybe you’re trying to sound smart or impress someone, then get out the old thesaurus and try to come up with some words you don’t usually use.

Here’s a sample of some lyrics from the song, Cassandra Gemini I, by The Mars Volta.

“There was a frail syrup dripping off 
His lap danced lapel, punctuated by her 
Decrepit prowl she washed down the hatching 
Gizzard soft as a mane of needles 
His orifice icicles hemorrhaged 
By combing her torso to a pile 
Perspired the trophy shelves made room for his collapse 
She was a mink hand job in sarcophagus heels”

Now, I don’t want to call these lyrics pretentious, because they’re actually kind of cool, but you will notice more than a few strange words in this verse by The Mars Volta.  In their case, the musical is about equal to the lyrics in terms of weirdness, so at least they match.

If you are deciding to write deep lyrics, which these may or may not be, you’re going to have to start digging into the depths of your skull to pull out some “deeper” thoughts than maybe you’re used to thinking about.

It all comes back to why you’re trying to be deep in the first place.  If you are just interested in experimenting with songwriting, and trying to write some “deeper” lyrics for fun, then go ahead and have fun with it.  See what kind of revelatory insights you can conjure up.  

But, if your vocabulary lacks dynamism (see what I’m doing here?), then you should definitely start learning some new words and maybe even…gasp…reading a book by an actual philosopher or something.

You should be cautious, though.  You don’t want to end up like Lionel Richie, inventing a new language in his song “All Night Long”, which features the lyrics: 

“Tom bo li de say de moi ya, yeah, jambo jumbo
Way to parti’ o we goin’ oh, jambali
Tom bo li de say de moi ya, yeah, jumbo jumbo”

Which apparently he made up because he didn’t have time to learn how to speak in an African dialect.

Nice…


How to make a song super depressing

If you want to make a song sound depressing, make sure you throw in a lot of minor chords.  If you don’t know there are both major and minor chords, where major chords sounds happy and minor chords sound sad.

I doubt you’ll be able to write a depressing song without having at least 1 minor chord in it.  Otherwise, it’s going to be a happy song, if you just use major chords.

Also, you can make the song slower and that will make it sound more depressing, because then it just drags on and on.  Here’s a couple of examples of really depressing sounding songs.  The first is by a band from Quebec called Godspeed You Black Emperor.  Notice how long it is.

Wow, isn’t that song depressing?  It’s slow, it’s long, and it’s got nothing but minor chords.  Oh, another trick to make the song depressing is to call it something depressing.

Even though “East Hastings” has not much in the way of lyrics or voices, the title itself is about a depressing location in Vancouver, Canada.  Look it up.

Or how about this song by The Cure.  It also features minor chords and is rather slow and long.

In this case, the title is depressing because it’s about drowning and the lyrics are depressing as well. 

If you want to make a song depressing, add some moans or screams in the background.  That should help as well.

Leave a comment if you followed this advice and it worked.  Thanks!


How to make your song charged with lots of emotion

To be fair, all songs contain some emotion or another.  That said, there are songs which are clearly more “emotional” than others. 

If you’re trying to make your song more “emotional”, remember this – if you play your song and don’t feel very emotional about it, then no one else will, either.  It needs to make YOU feel strong emotions, and then other people can feel them too. 

It really depends on which emotion you’re going for.  Some people associate the word “emotional” with a song being epic, but not all emotions sound like this:

This song is indeed emotional, but it’s a bit over the top too.  You don’t have to do that in order to feel like your song is “emotional”.

Listen to this song by Nick Drake, and notice how it contains emotion, but it’s not the same as the Michael Bolton song.

This song has some nice chord changes, and a great melody, capturing a different type of emotion.

If you’re trying to make your song extremely romantic, for example, you need to perhaps add some different chords, other than the usual major or minor that 95% of songwriters use.  Something different to make it sound more exotic.  This means adding extra notes to your chords.  A major 7th, a major 2nd, and so on.

You can, of course, make a highly emotional song with just major and minor chords, and then it’s going to depend on things like the melody, the words, and exactly what the song is about. 

For instance, chances are if you write a song about your driveway, it’s not going to make you feel like crying. 

On the other hand, if you write a song about the time your mom got really sick, or the time something else really emotional happened like you fell in love, then the song will start to take on those emotions.  You literally have to put emotions into a song, from your soul. 

Emotions aren’t just about happy or sad all the time, either.  There’s also being angry, or fed up, or disgusted, or feeling helpless.  Try to think about the full range of emotions that you can tap into before writing a song.

For instance, take a listen to this song where the emotion is clearly more about anger than it is about love.

Bottom line – writing about boring things is not the way to go here.  Just keep in mind that you can keep working on a song until it is as emotional as you want it to be. 

If you think it’s boring, then it probably needs more work.  Change the topic, change the chords, change the rhythm, change the way you sing it – until you feel the emotions you want to feel.


How to make a song that comes from the heart

Ok, I have a theory about this.  Most people do things for money, right?  It’s all about the benjamins, isn’t it?  People write songs, and they do it sometimes (often times) because they want to be rich and famous.

Well…how about writing a song that isn’t motivated by money and power.  Just write a song that is about something you really believe in. 

Try to imagine yourself writing a song that is great, and stands for something, but you’ll never make a penny from.  Can you even think that way, or are you really actually doing it all so you can have people worship you like Jesus.

If your answer is, “Honestly, it’s not all about the power and glory, I’m just a fun-loving musician and my heart has yet to be corrupted by greedy and envy”, well then, sounds like you haven’t sold out just yet.  If you really mean whatever you’re saying, you’re going to write it regardless of the outcome (wealth vs. no wealth).

At the same time, it is possible for a song to be heartfelt and still rake in tons of cash because it happens to please the audience a whole lot. 

Seems a bit paradoxical, doesn’t it?  Such a humble song, but also such a mega blockbuster hit.  What are the chances?

I suppose some people are just able to write epic songs, and mean what they’re saying, from the bottom of their heart, and still get filthy rich.  It’s rare, though.

Ask yourself again – what is it you actually care about in life?  What is it that happened to you recently that means something to you, that you want to sing about?  That’s how you get in touch with your heart.

Sometimes it’s really hard to tell what’s genuine and what isn’t.  Take this song, for example.  Do you get the sense that this was written “from the heart”, as they say?  Or was it just an attempt to cash in by writing some generic power ballad.  Tell me what you think in the comments!

The point is, choose something you actually care about, that doesn’t relate to popularity or wealth, and make that your topic.  Things should flow from there.


How to write a hit song

This is an interesting question.  In fact, it’s the true “million dollar” question, because record execs now are even trying to use computers to figure this out, because the answer is worth money to them. 

To my understanding, I think that in order to write a “hit” song, and do so deliberately, you’ll need to take some notes on why other songs are hit songs.  From now, and from previous years, keeping in mind that the magic that makes a song a hit will depend on the genre as well.

What are some other characteristics of a hit?  Is it the length?  Is it the song structure?  Is it because they communicate about something that everyone can relate to. 

Here’s a hit song called “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang, let’s take a listen.

For one thing, this song is about celebrating, and everyone likes to do that.  Everyone can relate to this song.  It’s got a simple concept – “Let’s celebrate!”

It’s not too long, and all the musical parts are interesting and catchy to the human ear.  It’s no wonder this song still gets played today, decades after it was written.  You’ll hear it at weddings and everywhere else.  Everybody loves this song, for the most part (there are always haters).

How about this song, “God is a Woman” by Ariana Grande

Why is this song a hit?  If you ask me, there’s a few reasons.  One is that it’s catchy.  It’s got a catchy melody, guitar hook, vocal hook, and the music is all well-put together to make a good song that people can enjoy.

But that’s not all.  I think in this case that if you call a song “God is a Woman”, that is the kind of idea that people can get behind and agree with.  It would be similar to calling the song “Women are Awesome”.  People, both men and women, are going to hear that title and agree with it immediately. 

Also, in the music video, there’s some partial nudity, and people always like that.  Especially when the person who is partially nude is attractive.

Of course, this last point about nudity relates more to the video than the actual song.  Remember how I mentioned the campfire test earlier?  In other words, can this song be played around the campfire and people will still like it?  I think so, but someone would have to first learn it on acoustic guitar, because that’s not how it was made.

These are all things to consider when you’re trying to write a hit song.  Even just having a video can make or break a song these days, in terms of it being a hit.  No video, no hit these days. 

I also think that in order to write a hit, you might need to “sell out”, a little bit.  Not all hit songs are “sell out” songs, but a sell out song is basically just a song where you will make the song any which way, so it can be a hit.

This means you don’t really care about anything else, except the fact that other people have to like the song.  Lots of people.  Maybe even you won’t like the song, but by that point it won’t matter.

Do you really want to do that?  In terms of having a hit song, you might need to do that – ie. make a “hit” according to what record executives and fans want and then be its slave forever.  Or, you can try to make it a hit without listening to anyone else, which is considerably harder.  Take your pick!


How to write a good indie song

The thing about indie songs is that the production standards are usually lower than with non-indie songs, or mainstream songs, and that is generally what makes them indie.

Saying that you have an “indie” song usually means that the sound quality is going to be worse than usual, and so people expect that.

Poor sound quality on purpose is not the true meaning of indie, you should know.  True indie music means more to do with the people making the music not being connected to any “major labels”, or huge companies.  It has more to do with people working on their own, to produce something.

In any case, a good indie song is going to have the same standards that any good song will have.  The recording may be indie, but the song itself is just a song and so it has to be good.

Again, I’ll refer back to the campfire test, which means that you should be able to play the song with just an acoustic guitar and it should hold the same emotional weight as having all of the instruments playing it on the recording.

What I like about indie music is that there’s something cool and admirable about a person taking it upon themselves to write a song, and record it, and not wait around for the support of big record companies, to do so.

This means, their recording might be a bit scratchy, but you can tell the song is good anyway.

Here’s a good example of that – by Elliott Smith, called St. Ides Heaven.

You might be able to hear that the production values aren’t the same as your huge blockbuster songs you hear on the radio.  In fact, you’ll probably never hear this song on the radio, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good song.

If you read the rest of this article, you’ll get some more tips on how to write a generally good song, on its own, and from there, you can decide if you want it to be indie (aka lower budget) or not.


How to write a good instrumental song

I will be talking about melody down below, but the thing about instrumental music is that they still have melodies, just not sung by a person’s voice. 

This means that there’s nothing really different about an instrumental song from a regular song with vocals, because the melody in an instrumental song is in the place of where the vocals would be.

Some instrumental songs don’t even have melodies, but most do.  Here’s one by Aphex Twin that doesn’t have a typical melody, as most think of the term “melody”, called Grass.

Now, you could argue that this song does have a melody, and it actually does.  All of those “voices” which are synths in this song, are the melodies.  People are attracted to melodies and like to follow them with their ears, to see where they go.  This is partly why people enjoy music to begin with.

The melody of a song is like a lead instrument.  You could argue that “Grass” has no lead instruments, and so it has no main melody.  You could also argue that the synths that come in and out are the melodies here, although when you hear them, they are strange and faded. 

Whatever you think of that song, now listen to this song, “I’ve Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin.

Clearly this is a different type of song than Aphex Twin, and the main melodies are much more hummable and easier to follow.  They’re also much faster and more lively. 

Still, we are dealing with instrumental music here, and so melody must be considered, whether you make it a focal point, or try to avoid it.

Instrumental songs, like any song, should be engaging, and sometimes it can be harder to engage the listener without the lyrics to provide something to latch on to that can be easily understood.

Instrumental songs are by nature more abstract, because the only thing that tells you what the song is about is the title, and it may not reveal much.

In a way, the melodies of instrumental songs have to be better than in lyric-based music because the lyrics can keep the listeners’ attention even if the melody is substandard.  A genre like jazz is quite often dominated by instruments and no vocals, and that is just fine with jazz fans.

Some melodies are even so famous that people know what they are even without words, and that is a sign of a great melody.

With your instrumental song, make sure that it is engaging in every way, so that people listen to it from beginning to end.


How to write a good jingle song

A jingle is, in essence, something that is simple, catchy, and easy to remember.  Sometimes jingles can be slightly irritating, and sometimes this is done on purpose, because when something is annoying, it’s also memorable.

Here’s some famous 80’s jingles to get you in the jingle writing mood.

How do you want your jingle to be?  It will depend on the purpose of the jingle, but most jingles are made for the purposes of advertising, and so it would be wise to make the topic of the jingle about the product in question. 

The product gives the jingle automatic content for the lyrics, because you simply have to sing about the product and what it does and what it can or can’t do.

Here’s a jingle for the “Slinky” toy that came out in the 1960’s. 

There are a lot of words in this jingle, but it tries to talk about the Slinky, what it can do, and who should use it (or who apparently does already use it) – girls and boys, I mean.

Jingles can be shorter than that, and many of them are, as peoples’ attention spans now are shorter than ever.

These days there are less jingles and more of what I would call “tags”, which are super short, like the “I’m lovin’ it” McDonald’s commercial tag. 

To me, the difference between a jingle and “tag” is that a jingle elaborates on the product more than a tag, while a tag is just like a small sequence of words and notes to indicate a product’s presence.

Oh, and also, a lot of jingles are simply the tag I was mentioning, plus some talking.  So a jingle can actually be mostly talking, and then a quick jingle that takes 5 seconds, like this famous United Furniture Warehouse that many of us can remember from the 1990’s.

For your jingle, decide if you need it to be long or short, and if you want it to actually be annoying in some way on purpose, like the previous one most certainly was made to be.

Read the rest of this article for advice on how to write a good song, and simply apply those ideas to your jingle, and all will be well!


How to write a totally killer song

I love the idea of a “killer” song.  To me, this simply means that everything about the song has to be “killer”, or great.  Great beat, great lyrics, great singer, great everything.  Only then can the song be truly “killer”, in the sense that some people mean that word.

To write a killer song, you do need killer music.  It has to be awesome, basically.  How do you write something awesome?  Well, that’s a bit up in the air, but I will suggest that if you can play your riff to your friend and he or she says “ohhhhhhhh wooooow awwwwwesomeeeee!” and they seem blown away, then you’re on the right track.

Maybe something like this.

If no friends are available to get their off the cuff reaction to your riffs, then just write your song, piece by piece, and ask yourself, “Does this seem awesome enough?”  If it’s only so-so and not exactly awesome, then back to the drawing board.  Besides, it’s not your friends you really need to impress.. it’s yourself.

Think of it almost like you’re inventing something.  Something that the whole world will be amazed by.  That’s how good your guitar riff will need to be.  And if you can manage to do that, then make sure the drums are just as great.  And if that’s possible, make sure the bass doesn’t disappoint.

And then, you sure better not get some lame singer to sing the song.  They had better be amazing too.  Just like WOW!  They can sing with the best of the best! 

The thing is, some people who are musicians are actually quite good at writing “killer” riffs.  I know some of these people myself, and, sometimes, I can do it too.  I just have to dig deep and try to pull a rabbit out of my hat, musically speaking, and then I’ll say “Wow, that IS awesome!”

It can’t happen every single time, but if you try and try again, at some point, you’ll come up with some truly special music that could result in a “killer” track.

Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that your song just isn’t killer enough.  If someone is holding you back, don’t let them.  If it’s the singer, say “sorry!” and get someone better.  You won’t get a killer track any other way, trust me!


How to write a good Led Zeppelin style song

Oh boy.  You do realize that Led Zeppelin is one of the best hard rock bands ever, don’t you?  Their music is something that is worshipped and even sometimes mimicked in the rock world, by countless musicians, with the latest band to copy them being Greta Van Fleet.

So, if you want to try to write a Zeppelin style track, you can look to Greta Van Fleet if you want.  They do what they can to emulate the sound of Zeppelin, and this involves heavy rock riffage, and very Robert Plant-esque vocal techniques.

Personally, I don’t think that’s how you should do it though.  Forget the copycats, and go to the source.  Listen to how Zeppelin composes their music. 

If you didn’t know, they have tried a number of different studio techniques in order to achieve their unique sound. One of these would be to have Bonzo drum in a big open stairwell in some old house, to get that natural reverb that he has on some of his drum takes.

I think in order to write a good Led Zeppelin style song, without ripping off the band completely, you should try different things musically to see what you can achieve.

With Zeppelin, their riffs are legendary.  They have so many great riffs, in fact, that it would take time to name them all, so I won’t bother.  They’re all great, basically.  And so, if you try to emulate them, you’ll just fall short.

Case and point.

Guitar-wise, you’re going to need to come up with something pretty cool, that Jimmy Page would approve of, and it’s probably going to be heavy, and original sounding, and might involve weird tuning, and might involve more strings on your guitar, and might involve other odd instruments being used.

If I were to try to pull of something in the flavor of Zeppelin, I’d probably listen to some Zeppelin, and then try to write in that style, but being really careful to not rip off one of his many great riffs. 

I think the key here is keeping things heavy, but also being slightly experimental, and respecting Jimmy’s riffs. 

As such, try listening to Kashmir, and writing something along those lines, but make sure you’re not ripping it off.  Invite a Zeppelin fan who’s your friend over, and ask him point blank, “Am I ripping them off, or just being inspired by them?”  See what they say. 

But don’t do that until you’ve given yourself a chance to write something in that vein.  Then invite criticism.  Good luck!


How to write a song that’s not about love

Most songs seem like they’re about love.  And that’s true, most of them are.  It’s the biggest reason anyone writes a song, by far.

But there are lots of songs not about love.  There’s songs about everything you can imagine, from politics, other types of non-romantic human interactions, to pets, to this, to that, etc.

You could always argue that everything is about love, at the end of the day.  But that’s not the point here, I don’t think.  When you want to write NOT about love, you can do that.  Just pick a topic other than love.  It’s easy.

Here are some songs not about love that are good songs, and not about love.  Let’s start with Tupac’s Ambitionz az a Ridah. 

That song is about life on the streets, and being a rap star. 

Here’s one by Guided by Voices, a rock band from Ohio.  It’s called Motor Away, and it’s about, ostensibly, taking a road trip, I guess.

And there’s plenty more songs not about love where that came from.  Here’s one more about believing in yourself.

Ah, the ’80’s…


How to come up with a good title for a song

One thing that always seems to work for songs is to call the song the same as some lyrics in the very first line.  Many, many, many songwriters do it, and I’m a little tired of it, but it’s a common way to pick your song’s title.  Here’s an example of what I mean, featuring Queen’s “Bicycle Race”.

It’s not exactly what I was referring to, because they sing “bicycle, bicycle!”, not “bicycle race” as the first line in the song, but believe me, if you listen to any pop music anywhere, songs will often say the first word and have that be the title. 

Oh, here’s one…

This kind of thing happens all the time.  If you want to be a little less obvious, you can pick any lyric in your song and use that as the title. 

Besides using the first line, the most popular source for where the title of a song comes from is obviously the chorus.  Take this one…

Although, to be fair, she does sing the title in different parts of the song, but it is in the chorus too.

The point is, there are certainly no rules for where a title should come from.  You can even call the song something that’s not even in the song at all.

And finally…


How to write a song without an instrument

It is totally possible to write a song without an instrument, but you’re going to need an instrument of some kind eventually.

That is, of course, unless you’re planning on just making your song into something acapella, meaning just using your voice.

Let me tell you a story of how I wrote a song once without an instrument.  I was cutting this lady’s grass, and some words popped into my head.  I basically walked around, cutting the grass, and writing the words in my head for about 30 minutes. 

Once I had a lot of words in my head, that I kept going over and was able to remember them all, I went to my car and wrote all the words down.  At this point, there was no melody.  Just words and an idea.

Then, once I got to a guitar, I came up with a riff, but sort of thinking about those words.  In a short time, the words found a melody that went with the guitar riff I came up with.

Eventually, I showed it to my band at the time, and we had a song that we were able to play.  I still think it’s a good song! 

I also taught a student once that could sing the song they were trying to write, but didn’t have chords.  I think she dreamed the melody and the words, and sang it to me.  I liked it. 

That’s kind of what Paul McCartney did for Yesterday, and also how Keith Richards did Satisfaction.  They were both sleeping, and the songs came to them in their dreams.  Songs do that. 

It happened to me once too.  I remember having this melody in my head from this dream and I woke up, grabbed my guitar, and recorded the melody.  Guess what?  I still know the tune and like the song!  I recorded it! 

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