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Step One to Composing a Hit Song


Where do you even begin?!

Seriously, how do you decide what to start with and what are the steps for songwriting? This question is definitely open-ended, but today I’ll break down common techniques I use for approaching a new song.

Common Techniques

It’s obvious you write a melody, then harmony, and then everything else. Also, you could start with a beat, add cool harmonic elements then write a melody. Or should I write my chord progression first?

There are no wrong approaches to starting a song, however, you need to find the method that helps you take your creativity and put it in your daw. Let’s check out the methods we will cover today.

  • Writing a melody
  • Creating a beat or groove
  • Composing a chord progression
  • Picking a sound
  • Writing lyrics

While this by no means is a definitive list of every way everyone writes music, it is a common approach that can help you get started.

Writing a Melody

Melodies are the most memorable part of a song for your general audience. I covered melody writing and accompaniment in my previous series and discussed the importance of making it singable and simple. Now it’s time to discuss the strengths of writing a melody first.

The main reason you should write a melody first is to put an emphasis on the most important part of your song. Consider this, you write an awesome beat and when it comes time to write a melody, it’s hard to focus on it. Since there is too much going on, the listener can’t really grasp the most important part of your song!

By writing a melody first and then writing supporting material, you ensure you listen to your melody so that nothing can distract from it at that moment.

Another benefit to writing a melody first is freedom from harmonic constraints. Ok, I am starting to use unnecessarily complex words, so let’s break this down.

When you write your melody first, you can sing it and hum it and then put it down exactly how you hear it. That’s your melody’s most natural, memorable form. Sometimes when you write a chord progression first you have to change notes in a melody from what you want them to be. This is because they clash as certain notes disagree with certain chords. To fix that, you have to change your melody from what you really intend it to sound like.

Creating a Beat or Groove

Next, let’s cover the benefits of creating a beat or groove first. The first obvious answer is rhythm. Rhythm is arguably the most crucial foundational element to music. This is because rhythm defines the feel of a song.

For example, think of your favorite latin pop song. What makes it latin? That’s the groove. By writing a groove first, you lock yourself into certain idioms and can write accordingly and melody usually doesn’t have this property.

Also, by writing a beat first you can write from the bottom up. In the same way, we discussed listening up to a melody, now we can listen down to the drums and bass. This allows us to stack elements on top of each other to easily build energy without having to worry about reaching a limit with a melody.

This enables more focus on the rhythm and less on clashing with the melody. This of course runs the risk of running into the melody when it comes time to add it, but because we wrote a bunch of layers we can decide when to have more activity or less and create space for our melody.

Reflecting on Writing

Ultimately you should write what you hear and not question it. As soon as you put yourself in a comfortable situation with what you hear, creativity will flow.

However, the benefit of writing with new constraints can help you think not just creatively, but objectively. This helps you organize musical ideas so they make sense to your audience, not just to you.

Wrapping Up

Looking forward, I will be covering the other three topics mentioned today in the next part of this blog. If you have questions or want private lessons email cjrhenmusic@gmail.com and don’t forget to check out my previous blogs!

About Cj

Hi, I’m Cj Rhen, and I am a composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. You can find some of my work at cjrhenmusic.com or on sounds.com, where I write and record high-end sax and horn loops for your music. Also, you can check out my live streams at twitch.tv/cjrhenmusic to see me writing music like this post live and ask questions and chat.


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