If you’ve ever dreamed of expressing yourself through the creation of an original song, the process can be quite overwhelming. You may be confused as to where to begin. Should you write the lyrics or music first? Should it be fast or slow? Should the mood be sullen or uplifting?

As with any form of writing, it’s best to start with your own personal experiences when crafting a song. Following a few simple steps can help you create a tune that tells your story.

Don’t Rush It

While some prolific songwriters might be able to crank out a hit song in one afternoon, there is no right or wrong length of time when it comes to writing a tune. You might find that the lyrics come easily, but the melody or chord progressions do not. Should you grow frustrated, take some time to walk away, listen to some of your favorite music for inspiration, and return to it when you’re feeling calm.

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Start with the Lyrics

For many people, it’s easiest to start writing a song when you know what story you want to tell. Not sure where to start? Choose a theme, and then create a basic rhyming pattern that drives the story along. Like poetry, many of the world’s most popular songs tell a story about love or heartbreak, such as “Someone Like You” by Adele or the classic “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel.

Whether you’re writing about love, loss or life in general, the listener should known within the first few lines what your song will be about. If it takes too long to get to the point, you’ll lose your audience. And while you want your lyrics to have a steady beat and rhyme scheme, you’ll need some variety between the lines. Otherwise, your introspective lyrics might have a mood more suited to a nursery rhyme. Play around with different beat patterns, especially between the chorus and verses, until you’re comfortable with the format of your lyrics.

Write the Guitar Chords

If you’re accompanying yourself on the guitar, the next step would be to work on chords that fit your lyrics. Before picking up the guitar, however, try establishing a basic melody by singing the song, a capella, several times. Once you’ve established a basic melody, you’ll find that the chords begin to identify themselves. If you’re writing an uplifting song, you’ll want to write the guitar parts in a major key. Conversely, you can write a moody song in a minor key. Likewise, as you sing through the song without the guitar, you should be able to hear when the chords should change. Don’t feel like you have to write an overly complicated tune. Some of the world’s greatest and most well-loved songs have simple, three-chord progressions, like “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (G-C-D) and Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” (E-B-A).

Write the Title

Once you’re satisfied with your lyrics and chord progression, it’s time to give your song a title. There are multiple ways to go about this task. The most obvious method is to pick a phrase from your song lyrics to use as your title, as long as it’s not too long. This is a technique used by numerous songwriters, and is one of the most effective. Similarly, you could simply use a prominent word from the lyrics to name your song, such as “Emotions” by Mariah Carey or “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys. On the flip side, you could title your song by using a subtle reference to a line in a song that has significant meaning to you. Finally, you can take a more cryptic route and name your song something completely unrelated to the lyrics of your song, such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana or “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles.

Where to Publish or Play Your Song

If you’re feeling confident that you have a hit on your hands, you may be ready to share it with the world. If you’re looking to get your name out there without having to busk on the streets, you can start a YouTube channel. Record yourself performing your songs, upload the videos to your YouTube channel, and then share your videos on social media, a la Justin Bieber circa 2007. Ready to take your show live? Plenty of local restaurants, coffee shops and bars offer open stages where you can practice performing in front of a live audience. Joining a local musicians group on Facebook can help you find venues at which to perform.

About the Author

Jennifer Brozak earned her state teaching certificate in Secondary English and Communications from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Pittsburgh. A former high school English teacher, Jennifer enjoys writing articles about parenting and education and has contributed to Reader's Digest, Mamapedia, Shmoop and more.