Songwriting isn’t reserved for the Mozarts and John Lennons of the world. Anyone can learn how to write a song on piano! In this lesson, we’ll teach you how to write a song on piano in six easy steps. We’ll also give you tips on embellishing your song, recording it (so you don’t forget it!), and song structures to inspire you.
How to Write a Song on Piano:
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First, let’s establish the scale we’ll base our song in. You can think of a scale as a “bank” of notes you can pull from to create melodies and harmonies. If you stick to the notes of that scale, you’ll sound good.
A great key for beginners to start with is C major because it has no sharps or flats. But we encourage you try other keys! Better yet, find your key — a key that matches your vocal range (if you’re singing) and/or the mood you want to convey
Some songwriters go into composition with a melody first, but if you’re just starting out, it can be easier to establish your chord progression before your melody. It’s generally easier to find a melody that matches a given progression than it is to find a progression that matches an established melody. But everyone is different, so if you’re a melody-first type, feel free to check out step 3.
Otherwise, you can think of chord progressions as “song scaffolding.” Some popular tried-and-true chord progressions you can use include the I-V-vi-IV pop progression, the ii7-V7-I7 jazz progression, and the I-IV-V rock progression.
Or, if you want an extra challenge, you can write down a bunch of diatonic chords, put them in a hat, and pick chords at random!
Play your chord progression in a loop with your left hand. Then, on your right hand, experiment with different combinations of notes from the scale you’ve chosen.
In Western music, we tend to think symmetrically. So, you may have an easier time coming up with a melody if your song structure is 8 or 12 measures.
Be creative. There’s no right or wrong answer. If something doesn’t sound right, tweak it a little.
And don’t feel pressured to fill up all the space. Songs don’t need to be busy! In fact, it was Mozart who said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
If you’re a singer-songwriter, now is the time to think of some lyrics to go with your music! If you’re stuck, you can again try the hat method: write a bunch of random ideas on pieces of paper, toss them into a hat, and draw out phrases at random. The mood of your melody and chord progression can also be an inspiration.
Now that you’ve got your basic ideas down, it’s time to make things interesting. Some stuff to try:
– Play the melody backwards
– Change up the rhythm of the melody by exploring different note values
– Improvise new passages between different statements of the melody
– “Decorate” your melody with passing notes and trills
– Harmonize melody notes by playing thirds, or use octaves to bring out more “oomph”
Finally, we can end the song by landing back on the I chord. That’s your C major triad if you’re in C major.
These steps aren’t hard-and-fast rules; they’re just suggestions to get you started! Remember: there’s no right or wrong in songwriting. In fact, don’t be afraid to sound “bad.” Sounding “bad” means you’re breaking out of your comfort zone!
Ready to write down what you composed? You have a few options:
Need more inspiration? Here are some popular song structures artists have used for generations that you can make your own:
This is the form you’re most likely to hear on the radio. It’s catchy, familiar, and reliable.
Popular in blues, jazz, and rock, the 12 bar blues is a simple form that’s great for jamming along with because it’s so consistent and balanced in its symmetry. Here’s the standard chord progression in a 12 bar blues:
Songwriters can then alter the progression to their preference. Famous 12 bar blues songs include:
The A-A-B-A form is a fundamental jazz form that consists of two verses, a refrain, and another verse. While it’s simple, this basic form allows jazz musicians to improvise freely within a guiding structure. Jazz standards in A-A-B-A form include:
Through-composed just means written from beginning to end with no repetitions. Basically, a through-composed song has no structure and is written stream-of-conscious style. This form is rarer but can be found among progressive artists and some Classical composers like Schubert, and it’s an excellent creative challenge.
Through-composed songs include:
We hope this lesson inspires you to write songs! If you want a step-by-step method to learn piano, designed with the modern beginner in mind, try Pianote for 7 days:
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