The Easiest Way to Write a Song with Zero Experience or Musical Skills
Last updated on September 20th, 2023
I intend to bust the long-standing myth that writing a song requires a certain level of musical experience. Songwriting for personal expression requires more self-awareness than training or talent. By the end of this tutorial, you’ll possess every tool and skill needed to write a song as a first-timer.
Although I didn’t find fame or fortune as a songwriter, I do use the skill often as a music therapist and teacher. Seeing others write the songs that reflect their unique experiences, wisdom, thoughts, and emotions thrills me to no end.
Reasons to Try Songwriting
Songwriting is just plain fun. It also deserves attention as an accessible tool for self-expression that accompanies other healthful effects including:
- Increasing relaxation and comfort
- Decreasing heart rate
- Dissolving tension
- Decreasing depressive symptoms
- Reducing anxiety
- Improving relationships
- Enhancing well-being in general
In teaching others to write songs, I’ve observed anecdotal rewards as well. Unfortunately, research struggles to measure them due to their subjective nature. For example, songwriting turns ugly emotions into beauty and makes uncomfortable situations tolerable. The relief experienced in subduing monkey-mind chatter (an endless thought cycle that leads nowhere while depleting energy and focus) also sends confidence sky-high.
The Piggyback Songwriting Technique
A song takes shape through a process of layering various elements including rhythm (poetry or speech), pitch (melody), and your unique message. Start with the piggyback method if you’ve never written a song or even thought about these elements before.
The only tools you really need are a pencil and paper. You might also choose to record your song to make it easier to recall, especially if working on it over multiple sessions. Most smartphones come with a voice recorder app pre-installed, which should suffice.
Piggybacking involves taking something that already exists and using it to create something new. In this case, you use an established melody and write new lyrics for it. You spend less time and energy on the lyrics, too, because the pre-written melody provides a rhythmic pattern to guide lyric formation.
Copyright Cautions to Consider Before You Begin
Borrowing aspects of music from other creators dates back many centuries. Before copyrights, this occurred commonly as a gesture of respect and appreciation for an author’s work. Since the early 1800s, for example, more than four dozen classical composers including Brahms, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff have written variations of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24.
The practice appears in other genres as well. At least three children’s songs including “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” “The Alphabet Song,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” share the melody of an older French folksong from the 1700s. Hymns reuse melodies more often than any other genre. Over two dozen hymn texts use the same tune as “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”
Nowadays, copyright law protects song lyrics and melodies automatically upon completion, at least in the United States. The law applies regardless of whether the author registers with the U.S. Copyright Office or includes a copyright statement. Professionals typically take both of these steps to help defend infringement claims, though. So if you want to borrow from other songs to create your own, limit your scope to personal use only. Don’t perform the final piece in public, post it on YouTube or other social media platforms, or try to sell it.
Interpreting copyright law gets complicated in certain instances. Generally speaking, however, a registered copyright lasts for 70 years after the author’s death. At that point, the work enters the public domain for use by the general public with no restrictions or consequences. Although copyrights do not cover song titles, trademarks do. I’ll leave that topic alone, as it ventures outside the realm of this discussion.
The Easiest Way to Write a Song for Total Beginners
Let’s get into the step-by-step process of writing a piggyback song, shall we?
1. Find a Melody
Pick your favorite song or find one in the public domain, and ditch the lyrics.
2. “Sketch Out” Your Lyrics
Freely write what you want to express. Don’t worry about organizing it into neat lines or rhymes at this point.
3. Begin to Shape Musical Phrases
With your melody in mind, tailor your lyrics to the length of each musical phrase. As you hum, these phrases emerge between the places you pause to take a breath. They serve as the most natural breaks in lyrics. Write out each lyrical phrase on its own line to help visualize the next step.
4. Prioritize and Reorganize around Stressed Syllables
Strategically choose and order words with stressed syllables that, when spoken, line up with notes also emphasized in the melody. To take this idea even further, reference the table below for musical elements that mirror speech events. Aligning speech and melodic rhythms at this point keeps them from falling out of sync.
5. Add Rhymes to Make it Memorable
If you prefer the effect that rhymes have on the sound of lyrics, work them into the desired lines as the last step. Try rhymes in the same line, alternating lines, subsequent lines, etc. If you get stuck on a rhyme, consult the Rhyme Zone.
Rhymes determine the “catchiness” of lyrics. They also make the words more singable, especially with complex melodies that contain few (if any) repeating patterns. Note that the further apart you place rhyming words, the less likely your brain will connect them. For a more in-depth discussion of rhymes in poetry and lyrics, visit the LitCharts website.
Use Digital Tools to Aid and Preserve Your Songwriting
With each new musical creation, your songwriting skills will evolve and assume characteristics unique to you. Taking advantage of available technologies helps you effortlessly capture each step of your songwriting process and save it for later.
The right tech also acts like a partner during songwriting, allowing you to breeze through the tedious parts while filling in the gaps in your musical skills. Hit the button below to download a list of digital notebooks, voice recorders, online melody instruments, and voice-to-notation software I recommend to make songwriting easier and more enjoyable. Despite being musician-approved, I selected these tools with non-musicians in mind for their simplicity and accuracy.
Whatever your musical skills or interests, the art of songwriting should be accessible to everyone. It’s more than just a gratifying creative hobby – it nurtures and protects your well-being. So go and write a song for good health!
I’m a music therapist, dog mom, nature enthusiast, business owner, introvert, sleep and stress management coach, and research lover. My mission is to help you remove stress as a barrier to better health, greater happiness, and more meaningful connections with the people and passions that make life exciting.