Taylor Sappe Music Production & Instruction

10 Easy Steps to Building A Song


This free lesson is an overview of what is involved in writing a song. The lesson guides the student, step by step, through one of the many methods of writing a song. Upon completion of this lesson, you will have written one song in it's entirety. It is assumed that the student reading this lesson has a basic understanding of music theory, and is familiar with note values, staff lines and spaces using the treble clef, and chord structures. If you do not have a basic understanding of music theory, be sure to sign up for my music theory or songwriting courses. In just a few lessons, you can learn enough theory to understand this free lesson. To schedule a lesson, email me.


1. Select one or more note values. In this example, we will select 2 note values.


2. Create a rhythm pattern from those note values. In this example we will use common time (4/4) rhythm patterns.


3. Combine your patterns to create a motif. In this example we will use different combinations to create 3 motives, which we will identify with the labels A, B and C:


4. Use one or more motives to create a 1, 2 or 4 bar groove. In this example, we will use Motif A as a 1-bar groove.


5. Use that groove in the first 6 to 7 bars of your section. In this example, we will use that 1-bar groove for the first 7 bars of the song section.


6. Use a second groove for the last 1 to 2 bars of your section. In this example, we will use Motif B in the last bar.

 We now have an entire 8 bar groove. Now we need to select a chord progression to play over that groove. To keep this example simple, we will select 3 chords: C, F and G.

 We now have one entire section of chord changes with a groove, which we can use as a verse, chorus or bridge of a song after we have added melody and lyrics.


7. Add a melody. We will now repeat steps 1 thru 6 to create a melody. One thing to be careful of, whether you create your chord rhythms first or melody first, is to avoid using more than 3 of the same note values in a row, that are used by any of the other parts. For instance, your chord and melody motives should contrast each other and not have the same three note values in a row.

This example will create the rhythmic motives for the melody in contrast with the rhythmic motives of the chord progression. We start by lining up the two so we can see how the note values will line up. To allow the melody to stand out from the chords, we will use two of the rules of counterpoint:

  1. One line moves while the other sustains or rests.
  2. Avoid using more than 3 of the same note values consecutively in both lines.

Lining up our motives like a conductor's score will help us to avoid using the same 3 note values consecutively. In the bottom line of the score below, I have created a 2 bar melody rhythmic motif against the 1 bar (top line) rhythmic motif of the chord progression.

 So far we only have the rhythms for the melody. We now need to add pitch to the melody. There are many advanced ways to do this, but for this example, we will keep it simple. I teach the more advanced techniques in my 12 week courses and private study one-on-one lessons.

8. Using the two measure rhythmic motif we've just created we will create pitches using notes from the C chord in the first two measures. The notes of a C chord are C, E and G. We will take two of those notes and one non-chord tone to use for our melody. The chord tones I will use for this example are E and G, and the non-chord tone I chose was D. The non-chord tone in the first measure is used as an "auxiliary" note. This means that one chord tone is played, the note called the "auxiliary" is played one scale tone higher or lower (in this case, lower), and the same chord tone is played again. In this example, the E is the chord tone, D is the auxiliary, and E is played again after the D.


The same D (non-chord tone) in the second measure us used as an "approach" note. This means that there is a leap away from a chord tone to a note one scale tone above or below the target note, which is the next chord tone. Notice that the last note of the measure, G, will leap to  the next chord tone, E, but the E is approached from the scale tone below it (D) before being played. You can use only chord tones in your melody, but too many chord tones used consecutively will sound boring. Adding some non-chord tones and having them resolve to a chord tone creates a little tension and release, which makes the melody sound more interesting.


Applying these notes to the rhythms we created looks like this on paper:

Play both lines together to hear what they sound like.

For the F chord on the next two measures we'll use the same pattern, both rhythmically and melodically, but this time we will use the notes of the F chord. The F chord is constructed of F, A and C. We will use F and A as our two chord tones and E as our non-chord tone in the same way we did in the above example.

When the next two measures return to the C chord you can use either the same pattern or a different one. For the sake of simplicity we will use the same pattern:

The last two chords in this section of music are F for one measure and G for another measure. The G chord uses a different rhythmic motif. This may require changing the rhythm of the melodic motif. We will now create a rhythmic motif for the melody that works with the motif of the last two measures of this section of music. We could use the same melodic motif of the first measure of the F chord, but in this example we will change the both melodic rhythm and pitches under the F chord completely, and use something entirely different under the G chord.


Now we will create a melody with those rhythms we just created. For the F chord I will use two chord tones, A and C, and one non-chord tone, B. The G chord is constructed of G, B and D. We will use G and D as chord tones and A as the non-chord tone. Note that the non-chord tone used with the F chord uses another technique called a "passing note". This is a scale tone that is used to connect two adjacent chord tones. The A and C are adjacent chord tones (F A C), and the B us used as a passing note to connect them. With the G chord we used our non-chord tone as an auxiliary note.


Now let's put it all together:

 We have now complete one entire section of music, complete with melody and chords. Let's call this section of music, "Section A".

9. Repeat steps 1 thru 8 to create two more sections, which we will call B and C. You may use unused motives, motives that you have already created, use the motives of an earlier section, but in reverse, create 2-bar grooves for one section and 4 bar grooves for another section, create new motives for each section. The choice is now up to you. Be creative and have fun with it.


10. Song form follows a specific pattern. Some commonly used commercial patterns are AABA, AABB, ABABC, AABBC, ABCAB. Choose a common pattern or make a pattern of your own. Then organize your song sections in the order of the pattern you created and you will have a finished song.  Using the most common commercial structures will help your song to achieve mass appeal.  If you wish your song to be more artsy and less commercial, then divert from the commercial patterns.

The techniques used here can also be used in arranging a song for multiple instruments.


There are many different techniques that you can use to develop your motives. These techniques some of these techniques have been briefly touched on here, but these and others acre covered in greater detail in my 12-week courses and continuing private study in songwriting. In the course we also explore the many different ways to make your music more interesting, the techniques for giving a song commercial mass appeal, writing good lyrics, and never again having writers block when writing music or lyrics.

If you are interested in my songwriting course, email me.