Songwriting Basics on Piano
It has been said that all one needs to write a good song are
“three chords and the truth.” The point is that when it comes to writing a melody and lyrics, you don’t need
to feel like the more complicated a song is, the better it is.
In fact, sometimes a song’s very simplicity is what makes it a fantastic work of art in the first play.
Just listen to “Louie Louie” for its very basic progression, or the refinement of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Kind
of Man” for examples of how a powerful message can be encoded in a simple means.
Here are some of the songwriting basics on piano to help you get started with your next masterpiece.
Getting started can be one of the most perplexing parts of songwriting. What comes first – the melody, the
lyrics, the title, the chords? The answer is that there is no answer. For some songwriters it’s one element, for
other writers it’s another.
However, no matter which angle you begin writing your song at, there does need to be some musical idea that
you’re pursuing, usually based on some sort of feeling or experience you’ve had. If good music is based on “the
truth,” then you need to decide what is at least one true thing for you that you can write a song about.
Another songwriting basic on piano, after you have that initial inspiration to get you started, is to develop
what the melody and lyrics of the song will be. This is easier said than
done. Picking out the right melody will take time as you experiment with, and ultimately reject, many other
possible melodies for your song.
Again, don’t be tempted to write anything that is more complex than necessary.
Writing lyrics at roughly the same time you’re writing the melody can be
helpful in that you know what it is you want to communicate and how many notes, what rhythm, and what overall
format your music will take on.
Like any form of creation – from art to literature to poetry to cooking – many “rough drafts” are needed before
a final draft is ready. Don’t expect to have the perfect melody or the perfect lyrics the first try – not even
professionals just sit down and have a perfect song right away!
After getting the basic idea of your melody and lyrics, try to lay them out according to the following common
simple song order: verse 1, chorus, verse 2, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus. Of course, there’s room for variation
in this order, but this is a simple, standard way to organize the ideas of your song.
The first verse develops your song’s main idea and introduces the melody, then the chorus reverberates with the
catchy, memorable lines that will stick in listeners’ ears. The second verse develops what you started in your
first verse, followed again by that catchy chorus.
Finally, the bridge creatively and powerfully deviates from your main idea, giving a fresh set of lyrics and
melody that helps to break from the repetitive pattern of the previous segments. Ending with one or two choruses
helps to solidify in listeners’ minds the key concept of your piece.
Songs don’t write themselves, and the main idea behind songwriting on the piano, is that it doesn’t
matter where you start, with enough attention to melody, lyrics, chords, and order, you can create a memorable,
powerful song. Be prepared for lots of experimentation and lots of revision to turn your rough draft into a
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