Have You Ever Written A Song? | Coursera Community

Have You Ever Written A Song?

  • 2 September 2019
  • 27 replies

  • Music Forum Leader
  • 2195 replies
Yesterday, @Elochukwue asked me how he could learn to write and produce songs.
As a Music Community, I wonder if we could help him.

Has anyone taken a song writing course here?
Would you recommend it to someone without any music background? Do you need to know basic music theory first?

Have you written a song? If so, what advice might you have to give ?

Do you hear the music first and then add lyrics, or do you write the lyrics first and then set them to music? Do you do both at the same time?

When I have written songs I prefer to write the lyrics first. Somehow a melody always seems to flow from the lyrics. Or I will find a chord pattern I enjoy the sound of on guitar, and make up words and melody to go with it.

What do you do? Have you used Garage Band to help you create a song?
Let's share songwriting thoughts...

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I took a songwriting course here, the one given by Berkelee. I write a great deal of poetry and I play the flute and the piccolo, so I can't say what it would be like for someone with no musical background.
I discovered that I like writing poetry but I'm not a song writer. I've written poems that I intended to be songs as part of a couple of my science fiction novels that I haven't set to music.
I have never written a song as such, however I have been know to write my own guitar studies when I need to work on something specific and don't have a study handy that focuses on that problem in particular. I am not much of a poet, in any case, so a song with lyrics is probably out. 😆

Here is an example of one of the songs I wrote for 12th Night...using Shakespeare ‘s words.
Whenever I read good poetry, melodies pop into my head. They’re usually simple. Having worked with kids and also many adults, I found that people enjoy melodies that are easy to learn.

@Halla , I think you are a poet! You paint pictures with your words...I have heard many ballads in your stories.😀
Hello. Some years ago I wrote some songs, which later a friend of mine was in charge of musicalizing. But my musical theory is exactly equal to zero, although I would like to have the basics. Thanks and regards
I took a songwriting course here. It was great but it mostly covered song form, construction, types of rhymes, etc. I personally write songs from whatever inspiration I get. It could be a 3 word phrase on top of one chord, it could be a lyrical phrase that I like, it could be the sound of a train going down the tracks. Take inspiration from wherever you can get it. A song may start from the melody, a chord, a rhythm, a lyric, or anything else. If you look at songwriting like Arts and Crafts,---that inspiration is the art. The craft is what you will learn from taking courses,---that is how to write songs when you have no inspiration...
@yonick , what an excellent analogy to compare songwriting to Arts and Crafts. You seem to trivialize the crafts part though, saying this is how to write songs if you have no inspiration.
The crafts or the musical knowledge become your tools. By learning much of these mechanics you can use them to better your songs. For example, you mentioned you placed words over a chord, but what if you didn’t know your chords? You could be inspired to write a beautiful melody, but how would you harmonize it? Might you use a certain instrument in the background? Your inspiration will be greater and you will achieve greater results if you have more musical knowledge to draw from.

What was the course that you took?
Your ways of creating songs sound wonderful! Can you share any samples with us?
I started writing songs before I got myself any instrument. Just took a melody from some already existing song and wrote my own lyrics. Probably that's why when I write lyrics I always have some sort of a melody playing in my head. That is also the reason I hardly write any poetry, because there's no music in poetry. I didn't have any basic music theory knowledge back then, later I learnt a dozen chords from my favourite songs and started experimenting with them, looking for patterns, trying to make my own melodies by ear. So it's easier for me to write lyrics first and then music. Also I mostly write when I have inspiration, it's hard for me to write something intentionally.
Hi @Shtruger I think is is awesome that you stated writing before you got an instrument. That must have been hard. What instrument did you finally take up?
I agree that it is hard to write something without inspiration. What do you do when that happens? When I was doing creative writing I would keep a journal and writ everything in it when the idea struck me. Then, when the inspiration was not there I would pull out my notebook and go over it, looking for things that I had never had the time to work on, or that needed a rewrite and do things like that for a while. I found that that would often spark new ideas, too, which I would dutifully write down for later consideration. It seemed to work well for me.
I know that there are many approaches to songwriting, probably as many as there are songwriters. I remember reading once, long ago, an interview with Paul Simon. He said he wrote the music first and the lyrics were the last thing he wrote.
Thank you for sharing your process with us.
@Halla I can't say it was hard, though it was slow as the whole thing of songwriting was new to me, especially because I wanted to write in English and English was not my first language, so I had to learn how to write proper lyrics in English. The fun thing was that again I figured it out myself from the lyrics of my favourite songs, not from some textbooks dedicated to it. The instrument I took up was a guitar because at that time I was obsessed with early Bob Dylan (you can guess now who was my "mentor" in songwriting 🙂 )
When I have no inspiration, I either try to finish some of my incomplete songs or go through already finished ones to perfect them - and the latter I do all the time. It is really a never-ending process :)
But sometimes I have concerns about finishing incomplete songs. What if I forgot the idea I had in the beginning and the parts I add would have a different mood or style, making a song less of a solid piece and more of a patchwork?
From time to time I write music first. A melody also has a certain mood in it and this helps me write suitable lyrics. I usually play chords and mumble whatever comes to my mind from the mood a melody gives me and if I like what I get I start working with it.
@Shtruger it’s so good to read about the process you have used to write songs.
@Halla ‘s suggestion of using a notebook for lyrics the way she did for creative writing seems like a good idea. If you can’t finish a song, you could write the intention of what you hope to write so when you come back to it you might recall your thoughts.

I love chord patterns. Making up chord patterns is such a good way to write a song. Words often just flow from the chord changes to create a pleasing melody with words.

It’s so interesting that we all have our different ways of creating a song. I want to make sure that my lyrics are meaningful so I usually write these first. For some reason, once the lyrics are there a melody just springs from them, LOL.
I joined a local (Denton TX) Songwriters Guild and every month they have a prompt that everyone writes a song for. At the meeting we all perform our songs. It is interesting to hear how different people use the same prompt in very different ways. When I first joined I rarely completed a song, but now I seem to get one done. This helped my song writing in two main ways. The prompt limits to scope so there is not an infinite amount of things to choose from. The second thing is the deadline forces me to not try and write the perfect song that will be the next great hit, but just complete a song. I often keep adjusting the song after the meeting when new ideas come up while I'm playing it around town. Even if the song is not that good it is great practice in song writing.
@Ken Weiner , the Songwriter’s Guild you belong to sounds very inspiring and just the motivation needed to compose. You are so right about just completing a song and not feeling it needs to be perfect. We can become our greatest deterrents.
Just like becoming good on a musical instrument, it takes practice as well as a sympathetic audience to keep encouraging you to write songs.
I would worry that , if I am a novice and no one else is, my songs would seem so inferior that others might think think poorly of them. Do you see this in your group or is everyone very supportive and helpful?
@Judith You are right with how important the support and encouragement of a group/friends/audience is. Especially in the begining when you are just starting out. The right word of encouragement can keep you going through your self doubt. Once you develop some confidence you can wither the storm of negative feedback easier. The Denton Songwriters Guild has a great group of friendly people who are very supportive of anyone's song writing attempt. They also run an open mic night where anyone can play and you get the same level of support even when you mess up as I have several times. We've all been there at one time.

.I’m almost 40 yrs old and I just started learning music theory in the last couple of months. Regardless, I’ve already “composed” and recorded more than 20 albums of music - hundreds of songs - because I can play the guitar.

So you don’t need to know anything about theory to make a song, if you know some guitar, or piano chords. I never thought of myself as a musician, though - I guess “plastic artist of noise” is closer to what I did. I’m interested in lo-fi recordings, for example. In satire and subversion of standards. There was a lot of things for me to go on and create music from. It doesn’t have to come from music theory, just as long as you listen to a lot of music and get yourself used to a couple of formulas.

I set out to step over those formulas, so I had a lot of freedom. But anybody trying to create music should enjoy freedom, don’t you think? I’d say: if you want to write music, pick up your instrument and start doing it.

Sure, do study it and progress as you move along - but don’t wait for it to get easier than it already is. You’ll be able to make more types of music, if you study, but I bet you can already make songs in a couple of genres. For example: changing the lyrics for “Happy birthday to you”. Anybody can do that. Start with what you’ve got, and it will become natural, despite theory. Theory should improve it, but it won’t start it.

I’m mostly a writer (though English is not my native language, so sorry if my English text sucks), so I prefer to create a song first, and then I can put lyrics over it with easy. My musician friends can compose over anything, so they prefer to start with a lyrics.

If you just want to know how to manipulate chords, watch videos e read something about functional harmony. I’m looking into it now and it is very interesting.

Here’s a couple of songs I recorded. I hope it helped. Start today!


Note: text on video includes profanity (Note added by community manager per music forum guidelines)


Youtube recommended this video in my feed today. It seemed relevant to this discussion, so I thought I would share it here.


I think he makes a good case for his argument. Not in songwriting, but just in creative writing in general, I have seen people fiercely hold on to a passage or chapter of a body of work that should be edited out in the redrafting process. The become so attached to that section that they cannot see that it harms the overall larger work and should not be a part of that particular work. It may be able to be recycled for another story in the future, or not, but it does not belong in the story at hand however clever, well written or whatever it is.  And I can see this applying to songwriting, as well. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

@Halla , this is excellent! I hope everyone watches this. Thank you for posting it here.

Part of growing as a musician or artist of any kind is to just keep doing something. If it is songwriting, then you need to song write as often as possible. Many of these are just learning experiences, not necessarily meant to ever become something you might publish or play.But they helped you grow as a songwriter.

A cautionary note here is that, although the advice is to move on and sometimes leave behind unfinished songs, there are people who rarely finish what they started, have more unfinished than finished projects, and keep making excuses why. This is not meant as an excuse to yourself as to why you aren’t going to finish something. However, there are times when leaving something alone for a while is the best advice.

The closing advice, “try everything “ is a wonderful mantra .


If by song you mean lyrics then yes I have. If you mean a full set of melodies along with lyrics well then no I don’t!

As I came to know John Lennon, I think I wrote all my lyrics in a John Lennon way. Meaning I just let my feelings flow on top of the pencil I was writing with on my notebook. Getting the first line is harder a bit even closing up what you’re writing is difficult at times. What was logical in my lyrics is just the rhymes I sometimes tried to came up with. Other than those there are only emotions flowing. Interesting thing is that I didn’t feel lighter or fine after it was finished so don’t expect to feel all good after it’s over!! Well that’s just my experience. 


@Amin1995 , there should be a satisfaction that you feel having written something you think is good. Keep writing. Not everything we write will make us feel good. But every now and then you will write something you are proud of and want to share. See if it inspires a melody.

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I used to play instrumental music but gave up without being able to set up a some mixing-studio.

Now internet and tech help me. 

I can try and rewrite my Baroque fav on a online sheet composer, and try to catch up by hear (if I started from studying sheets, then this turns clumsy and failed)

My last funniest hobby is recoding sounds and voice with cellphone and work them out with a sound editor: I feel deeply involved when I work, and new knowledge makes me new ideas. 

Now music in my mind has a way to express and my mind is more and more musical.  

@ATP , what composers or music of the Baroque were you interested in?
Your latest music compositions sound excellent.

Music is everywhere! There are rhythms and sounds in everything we do and experience. To become aware of this is very exciting. For a while I became obsessed with this and created a fun unit with students where they took the mundane and created musical compositions with them...such as a walking down a  staircase, chewing crunchy foods, paper rustling, body sounds like claps and slaps, etc.

Have you noticed how  different environments have different rhythms? A city has a different rhythm than a rural community and different cities have different rhythms.

Anyone else create music like this? Anyone have examples to share?

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Indeed. It’s literally nuts and bolts of sound. I have any theoretical knowledge and I hope the genius of Dewey to help me. In the THX1138 movie backstage interviews, audio engineer said he could create the futuristic motorbike sound by recording a group of women singing in a bathroom! 

My love is Vivaldi-The Four Seasons, a tape in a Von Karajan that made my imprinting in my 10s, perhaps one of the best thing could happen to me: I can play it in my mind struggling to split voices, and I want to write my own arrangement down using the virtual tool online.

A city has a different rhythm than a rural community and different cities have different rhythms.

Have you ever seen the music version of the movie Metropolis? music by Giorgio Moroder

PS - Also, the movie Koyaanisqatsi has precisely the aim to stress on the chaotic life that is going to destroy the Environment. I really love that movie -- music by Phil Glass.

@ATP , The Seasons is a classic, an amazing piece. When I taught, I once made a music video of it...took the whole year. Each season a group of students went outside to film. We played the background on one of those portable boom boxes. The students had to figure out exactly how to show what they heard. They had massive snow fights in winter, apple tree picking in fall, etc…..This piece is so descriptive...anything seasonal worked. 

I am familiar with Philip Glass as a contemporary composer. I haven’t seen the movies you talked about. Music for movies is an interesting field.

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@Judith Actually the 4 Seasons notation also reports what the melody is meant to describe-- here comes a thunderstorm, or “it’s so hot”--along with the tempo. Once in primary school we made a test, whether could we say what the music was trying to describe, but I spoofed the very title on the vinyle hardback and gambled it as my impression the teacher turned so angry like he never was ahaha 

This speech made me think to Fantasia by Walt Disney, you know what part I mean.     

So back again to a subject is also running here on Music forum, when writing music (as well as in any other form of art), are we trying to communicating something, using specific features to manipulate so’s else soul, or is that just an assembly job?

Is pure technique an emotional trigger too?
Is causing any random emotion an artistic success anyway?
Can we pretend to sorrow people with our music? 

@ATP , these are all excellent questions.

I don’t think an artist or musician tries to manipulate someone’s soul. I think they’re just trying to express what is in their soul.
Do we all feel the same emotions? I think we do however the intensity of them varies from person to person.

If you hear a piece of music that has been written as an expression of deep sorrow, and it’s written well, others will be able to feel it as well.

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Ok. What a wonderful world.

@Judith  I agree individual sensitivity as a base, but let’s take any movie: Imagine you as Sound professional, you are asked to build a soundtrack and expected to obtain specific emotions for specific scenes. You know that if you kid around with scales, the scene could make a completely different sense -- just think to the Strauß’ Waltzer in 2001 An Odissey. *

No one doubts the result will be a form of art, but isn’t that a manipulation? because who can really claim the what real emotional state of the situation is, if I can make it appear different? For example, do News titles start with a Looney Tunes theme or rather with a Jaws one? I think we can call it the Itchy and Scratchy effect.

So, if you know that I can technically make you in tears, spend a minute to compare :
- Maná -- En El Muelle de San Blás
- Khruangbin -- So We Won’t Forget


edit PS - interestingly, and I also think very honestly, it’s known that the composer of the Interstellar theme (the excellent Hans Zimmer) was asked by Chris Nolan to compose a theme without knowing what that would have been adapted for. This really underlines the difference between a song that is someone’s emotional expression, and a manipulation.