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How To Write a Song On Piano in 6 Easy Steps

Pianote  /  Songwriting  /  UPDATED Apr 19, 2024

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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.

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Step 1: Choose a key

Keyboard diagram of a C major scale with C major notes highlighted in red and labelled.

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. Sticking to this set of notes is pretty safe, so as long as you stay here, there shouldn’t be any clashing notes.

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

Step 2: Find a chord progression

Roman numerals I V vi IV in red

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!

Step 3: Come up with a melody

hands on piano, overview

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.”

Step 4: Think of some lyrics

How to write a song on piano. Open blank notebook with pen lying on top.

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.

Step 5: Variations and embellishments

How to learn piano fast. Close up of hands on piano keyboard with red plaid sleeves.

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”

Step 6: Resolve your song

How to write a song on piano. Woman with short platinum hair playing piano and singing in mic in studio with purple lighting.

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!

Writing Down the Music

Ready to write down what you composed? You have a few options:

  1. Standard Notation: Writing for the grand staff has a learning curve, but modern software like Musescore (which is free!) can help make the process easier. You can also jot down your ideas in free time and approximate rhythms first, then worry about precise note values and measures later.
  2. Chord charts and lyrics: This is probably the most intuitive and logical method for singer-songwriters. Write down your lyrics, then write chord symbols above the lyrics where the chords change.
  3. Digital audio workstations (DAWs): Music production is easier than ever thanks to digital audio workstations (DAWs). These are intuitive to use, especially if you have MIDI keyboard and are tech-savvy. There are free DAWs available too.

How to Write a Song on Piano: Song Structures You Can Try

Need more inspiration? Here are some popular song structures artists have used for generations that you can make your own:

Verse-Chorus-Bridge

This is the form you’re most likely to hear on the radio. It’s catchy, familiar, and reliable.

  • Verse: verses tend to have different lyrics with each iteration
  • Chorus: the “hook” part of the song that repeats (usually with the same lyrics) throughout the song
  • Bridge: the emotional high point of the song — usually the climax before we go to the final chorus

12 Bar Blues

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:

I I I I 
IV IV I I
V IV I I or V

Songwriters can then alter the progression to their preference. Famous 12 bar blues songs include:

  • “Tutti Frutti” – Little Richard
  • “Can’t Buy Me Love” – The Beatles
  • “Black Magic Woman” – Fleetwood Mac/Santana

A-A-B-A

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:

  • “Take the A Train” – Billy Strayhorn
  • “My Funny Valentine” – Richard Rodgers
  • “Body and Soul” – Johnny Green

Through-Composed

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:

  • “You Enjoy Myself” – Phish
  • “The Musical Box” – Genesis
  • “Erlkönig” (Op. 1, D 328) – Franz Schubert
How to write a song on piano. Woman with short platinum hair playing grand piano and singing into mic in a dark bluish studio.
Get insight into Lisa’s songwriting process in this interview.

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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