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Students working together to write a song

How to Succeed as a Songwriter

Anyone can write a song! But if you want to write great songs and make a living as a songwriter, there are some basic skills to learn that will put you firmly on the road to being a successful songwriter. 

Think about the songs you love – what makes you love them? A melody catches your ear, a lyric moves you to tears or lifts you up, and a funky beat makes you want to dance – great songs touch you in these ways.

Where do you imagine your songs being played? Are you writing for yourself? Pitching to artists, film, TV, and other media? Is writing for Musical Theatre your passion? Though each of these genres have differences in style, writing a great song will always include the same elements: music (melody and chords), lyrics, and something that only you can bring. Keep reading to find out!

Student following along to written music

Getting Started

You can start with an idea, a title, a lyric line, a melody line, or even a cool chord pattern. Once something comes to you, document it! Record it on your phone, write it down, or save it in some way! These little gems are the start of any great songwriter’s next hit song! Journey’s Jonathan Cain started writing the first four lines of “Faithfully” on a napkin while on his tour bus.


The 1-4-5 pattern

Song Form and Music Theory

Most rock and pop songs use the simple verse-hook-verse-hook-bridge-hook method.  Some examples include “Dancin’ in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen and “Heartbreaker” by Geoff Gill and Cliff Wade for Pat Benatar. 

Many songs also have a pre-chorus like “Rolling in The Deep” written by Adele and Paul Epworth and “You Know That I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse. With these songs (as with many others), there are instrumental breaks instead of a bridge. As a songwriter, you can be creative and follow songs that inspire you.

The 1-4-5 pattern is the basis for most songs though it can be embellished with minor 3rd and 6th chords as well as major or minor 7th chords. You can always start simple and embellish later or you can start with a chord voicing that inspires a cool melody and lyric and go from there.

Lyrics and music have to be congruent: powerful anthem-like music needs an anthem-like lyric. Think “We Will Rock You” written by Queen, Brian May, and Jason Paul Brown, or “Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves” written by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. These songs usually use a simple, 1-4-5 chord progression in a major key.

Two students writing music together

Working with Others & Working Alone

Imagine Dragon’s hit song “Believer” was written by Dan Reynolds, Wayne Sermon, Ben McKee, Daniel Platzman, Justin Tranter, and Mattias Larsson. Whew – that’s a lot of writers! Songwriting alone can be a challenge and if you find you need some input or if you’re better at music than lyrics, consider collaborating with others.

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Imagine Dragons - Believer

Pros and Cons of Writing Alone

Pros and Cons of Collaborating

Additional Tips for Collaborating as a Songwriter

What Do You Bring?

Writing a song to express, not impress, is what will make you a successful songwriter. Take time to learn more about the songs you love. How do they impact you? Borrow ideas and take inspiration from those songs and songwriters but don’t imitate. Be distinctly you.

Learn to write your own music at School of Rock Learn more

About the Author

Roz Esposito is a singer-songwriter and vocal coach at School of Rock Huntington Beach.

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