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“Some people keep diaries, I write songs…” 
John Martyn 1948 – 2009

In the words of the late, great, John Martyn, “Some people keep diaries, I write songs”. It is a very poignant reflection of how John created his many hit songs, including ‘May You Never’, and today we are, hopefully, going to help you write your own songs.

First, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a guitar or a full band to write a song; although it does help in some cases. If we think way back to 1794 when Robert Burns ‘composed’ his poem/song ‘Oh, my love is like a red, red rose’, Burns most likely just had the basics, i.e. Pen, paper and brain! This very same methodology continues through to composition today.

A good topic for a song, as well the most common topic, is love. We have all at some point loved someone, or something! I recall being a child and attending Motherwell Football Club in the early 80’s and hearing football fans singing about how much they love their team! What was Burns writing about when he wrote ‘Oh, my love is like a red, red rose’? Love! So for the purpose of this short tutorial, we will also choose ‘love’. Before we begin, it is worth mentioning that it is possible to compose a song about anything at all!

Let’s begin with the structure of a song. This can be argued to the death, so I will use a standard structure for this example.

Verse 1
Verse 2
Middle 8/ Solo

We will break this into 3 sections:

Verse 1, 2 & 3 will be the beginning of the story (The problem)
Each pre-chorus will be the middle of the story (What you are going to do)
Each Chorus will be the end of the story (The outcome)


For our structure, during the verses you could discuss how there is a person that you know, that is a good friend perhaps, and that you have actually fallen in love with, but they don’t know yet. You could take this idea and elaborate on it over the three verses. Use lots of adjectives! Try to paint a picture or a movie in the listener’s head.

During each pre-chorus, you could then explain what you have decided to do about your feelings for this other person. Maybe you have decided it best to bottle them up and not risk the friendship, or maybe you have chosen to do a big romantic gesture to find out if the feelings are mutual.

The chorus is where you let the listener hear the outcome to your dilemma, what happened when you went through with your plan? Did the other person tell you that they feel the exact same way, or did they tell you that they actually have feelings for someone else, maybe your best friend! The chorus is the part of the song that everyone remembers, so this should have lots of repetition, and usually the title of the song is included at least 4 times.

The last piece of the jigsaw is the melody to your song. The trick is to keep it as simple as possible, if it is too complicated people may not be able to memorise it easily. Aim to keep the melody within the verses fairly similar, as well as each pre-chorus too. The choruses are best to be 100% carbon copies of each other, exactly the same with the title of the song repeated within.

Try listening to songs and analysing them this way, you will soon hear the connection. Since we interviewed Ash’s Rick McMurray, why don’t you listen to the words of their hit ‘Candy‘.

More to come next time or if you are keen to press on, book a lesson with us.

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