When Mozart was only 6 years old, he began writing his own songs.
His father put a piece of music in front of him, and after perfectly sight reading through it, Mozart turned
away from the written notes and began picking out his own tune from the keys.
What was his secret? What did he know innately as a child that others today could learn about writing their own
Songwriting on piano comes both from passion and from ability. No songwriter ever sits down and randomly
composes a song on piano without knowing the basic rules of melody, keys, chords, measures and lyrics.
Likewise, no pianist who knows all of the music theory could ever write a successful song without having
feelings about a particular topic that the song will express. If you intend on becoming an effective song writer,
you must have a balanced understanding both of yourself and of the type of music you intend on communicating
The first step to song writing is creating a good melody. The idea of a “good melody” might seem rather broad,
and it is. There is no one definition of “good,” and therefore there is no single, all-encompassing bit of advice
someone can give you. Melodies should be simple, ear-catching, and expressive.
To begin composing a melody on piano, there are two techniques
common among songwriters: first, experiment on the keyboard itself, listening careful to the ideas your fingers
generate. Do you want a slow, pretty song, or a dark song in a minor key?
Here’s where knowing your scales comes in handy: if you know your scales well,
then finding the right notes that fit your idea will be much easier. The second method songwriters use is to
take breaks from pounding the keys and just listen to your own head: hum, whistle, think, and interesting
melodic ideas may present themselves to you.
Don’t think you have to compose the entire melody all in one sitting. Like the title of a writer’s masterpiece,
melodies are likely to change as your ideas mature. Frequently, songwriters will develop one basic melody for the
verses, and another related melody for the chorus.
Once you feel like you have the basic idea of what your melody will sound like, it’s time to begin adding
chords. Here, again, is where knowing piano theory will serve as an advantage. Many songwriters know that the
most common chords are the root, IV, and V chords, but they also know the rest of
the chords available for any given note as well.
Try to find chords that harmonize well with the note your melody plays at any given moment, and also make sure
that the chord matches the intended mood you’re attempting to give. It doesn’t sound right if you play a
minor chord where a major one should go, or if you play a root chord when a
dominant seventh fits better. Lots of trial and error is likely when you’re
finding the right chord for your song.
Songwriting on piano is a process that requires time, patience, and many revisions. Once you feel like you have
a strong idea of what your verses and choruses may sound like, it’s time to finally write those memorable lyrics that will help articulate what’s on your heart. Then, add an
intro, outro, bridge, and – if you’re daring – an instrumental within your song.
Finally, remember that songwriting on piano is a creative, artistic process and doesn’t have to yield to a
formula. If you create these components of your song in a different order, that’s great!
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