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How To Write Songs: For People Who Don’t Know Music Theory

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Washington chapter.

For many people, songwriting might seem to be a hard and impossible task. At first, I thought songwriting was out of my reach too. I thought that it was something reserved only for musicians. However, it turns out that it’s easier than you think. I started songwriting when I was 18, without any music theory knowledge. All I knew was the 3 fingers chord on the piano.

But you just need one musical instrument that you are familiar with to get started. In fact, you don’t have to be a professional player: you just need to know how to play it! In this post, I am going to show you how to write songs based on my experience in songwriting. 


1. Listen to lots and lots of music

I think the main reason I was able to start writing songs is because I listened to lots of music from when I was young until today. I also have the habit of streaming songs that I like over and over again, which made me become more familiar with the song and its conventions. You must listen to music until you figure out what sounds wrong and what sounds right. For example, if someone plays an off-tune piece to you, would you be able to sense that something is off? If yes, then music has already become ingrained in your intuition and now you can start songwriting! 

woman listening to music and dancing
Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels


2. Read poetry 

What does poetry have to do with songwriting? I think the most important facet of a song is emotion. Without the right words in your song, you will not be able to convince your listeners to hear the message that you want to convey. Becoming a great poet will enhance your skills in becoming a better lyricist. In poetry, you will learn about various stylistic devices such as alliteration, assonance, and visual imagery, which will improve your skills to choose the right words to touch other people’s feelings.

Mug of black coffee next to woman reading a book
Photo by Thought Catalog from Unsplash


3. Start with a concept 

The most important part to accomplish before you start songwriting is to think of a concept or a theme or anything you want to say to your listeners. For instance, if you are going through a heartbreak and you want to talk about it, then decide on which aspect of your relationship do you want to talk about? Do you want to talk about how good it was? Do you want to talk about how bad it was? What do you want to talk about? When you have figured out what you want to say, it will create a lexical field of words with similar themes in your song. Personally, I believe that a songwriter has succeeded when their listeners learn something from the piece. Hence, keep in mind what you want your listeners to take away from you. 


4. Continue with a “stuck in your head” melody 

Step 4 is the songwriting process. Of course, there are different ways to approach the songwriting process, but because I don’t have any music theory knowledge, I start out with the melody. Think of one sentence from your whole story that you really want to say that will be the first line of your chorus. The reason why I want you to start out with the chorus first is that it is the most important part of the song. It’s what you repeat over and over to emphasize to your listeners what you want to say. Moreover, I feel like the chorus is the most complicated part of the song to write because it’s when the song sounds more intricate. Therefore, if you start off with the chorus, it’s kind of a guarantee that you will be able to finish off your whole song. 

When I wrote my first song called “Smile”, I thought of Selena Gomez’s words that I really liked, “You don’t have to be broken”. I started singing that randomly until it became a melody that made sense to me. Don’t be afraid to sing random chains of melodies or hum it out. After all, nobody is listening to you to judge whether it sounds good or not. When you find a melody that you like from randomly singing, it will be the starting point to finish off your chorus. Then, choose chords that go with your melody. You don’t need any music theory knowledge to do this. Just play the 3 fingers chord everywhere until you hit the spot that sounds right to you. After you finish the chorus, then write your first verse, pre-chorus, second verse, and bridge, respectively the same way you wrote your chorus. Make sure that everything is in the same key!


Songwriting can be very beneficial to you. Not only will you have the chance to create something that no one has created before, but it will also allow you to express yourself when you feel down and want to let it out. I guarantee that if you follow these steps, you will be able to write songs even if you don’t have any music theory knowledge! Everything is a trial and error process, so don’t pressure yourself to finish your song. Keep trying it until you get it! 

Taylor Swift performing
Photo by GabboT from Flickr distributed under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license