7 Songwriting Tips and Tricks That Changed My Life


Thales Matos


Do you need help with songwriting? Are you just getting started or facing writer's block? These songwriting tips are for you, no matter how advanced you are.

You'll learn easy tricks that will improve your songwriting forever, starting today — so you can make awesome music.

These are mostly things songwriters do without thinking — in autopilot mode — but it helps to be reminded often.

Don't worry: no one will know or care that you used any tricks — these techniques are all over the songs on the radio.

People will just appreciate your music.

Songwriting Tip #1: be vulnerable and honest

Write about stuff that you've lived — something you've experienced.

You don't have to wait for some magic inspiration or to come up with an incredible idea.

Just sit down and tell your story.

Try to remember something that happened, maybe in your past — or it's happening now —, and talk about it in your own words.

Especially the details and your point of view about that situation.

I mean simple things of everyday life.

That's what resonates the most. Like getting your driver's license.

In fact, Olivia Rodrigo said something on this subject: people are more alike than you'd think. We all feel the same things, we just don't talk about them.

So if you talk about it and you're not trying to please anyone — just writing to please yourself —, people with similar tastes will like it.

They're just waiting for your song to reach them and connect with them.

Be vulnerable.

Songwriting Tip #2: writing and composing shouldn't be hard

Anything too complicated (but you want to do it often) will cause anxiety and you may want to give up.

So try to keep your songwriting simple and don't make yourself work too hard.

I am guilty of doing this. I've made songs with far too much lyrical content and too many instruments playing at the same time.

We've all done that at some point as musicians and songwriters.

Maybe we just have too many ideas and we kind of dump them into the same song. But it becomes overwhelming, losing focus.

So try to write simple songs faster, avoid perfectionism, and accept that it will not turn out so great every time.

The best way to learn what mistakes to avoid in the future is by making mistakes faster now.

Songwriting Tip #3: The hook

Here's what I've learned after doing it for a while: for each song you write, center it around one idea.

Not two ideas. One idea.

Come up with one motif, or hook. Repeat it a lot, with some variations here and there, and build everything else around it.

It's easy to overdo and go on a tangent idea and get lost.

But if you do that, the listener also gets lost and confused.

So keep it simple. You don't have to deliver so much.

It's weird, right? But in music, more often than not, less is more.

Here's an example: at the time I recorded the video at the top of this article, the number one song on Billboard's Hot 100 chart was Heat Waves, by Glass Animals. It had been on that list for 59 weeks.

If possible, listen to that song then come back for the rest of the songwriting tips and tricks.

I know you've already listened a thousand times on the radio. But now listen actively.

Listen to the simplicity, which doesn't mean it's shallow. I think it's actually really deep. But it's not overdone.

And listen to the amount of repetition. It's so catchy and the instrumental revolves around the same idea with just a few tweaks here and there.

Notice the contrast between the sections: verses and choruses.

That was done masterfully with just a few elements that keep getting dropped and then coming back.

Songwriting Tip #4: start with the chorus

This trick connects perfectly with the example above. Start the song with the chorus.

Not always — it's not a rule. But maybe try it. This is a clear trend.

Songs that start with the chorus immediately present the catchy memorable motif that they're going to repeat over and over again.

So the listener is hooked from the start.

If it's interesting enough, they'll want to listen to the whole thing.

Came up with a catchy hook? Consider opening the song with that.

The next 3 songwriting tips will absolutely take your songwriting to a higher level, no matter where you are right now.

Songwriting Tip #5: link your instrumental ideas to the lyrics

Connecting lyrics and instrumentals will help convey any emotion that relates to your song.

There are many ways of doing that but it's easier to understand with this example:

I've been listening to Olivia Rodrigo a lot recently. And I get goosebumps every time I hear the first verse of her song "Deja vu".

Right after she says the words "laughing about how small it looks on you" there are one or two whole bars of laughter — used as an instrument.

It sounds like they sampled a "Ha Ha" sound and made a cool lick that really paints a picture in my head every time I listen.

This little detail fills a gap in the song, while at the same time giving you an extra moment to process that lyrical information.

It puts so much emphasis on that phrase.

So, when writing your songs, question yourself:

  • How can I paint this picture in people's minds?
  • How can I use sounds to make people visualize this idea better?

I guarantee this will take your song to the next level.

Songwriting Tip #6: sensory language

Sensory language has a lot to do with the previous tip. Music is all about emotions and feelings, right?

Those emotions are tied to our senses. Taste, touch, sight, sound, smell, and movement.

These are the sensory elements to keep in mind every time you write lyrics.

I first read about it in a songwriting book by Andrea Stolpe and it turns out this songwriting tip is really effective.

Don't just say things in your songs — show people what you mean.

For instance: during one of my song's verses (Silence Hurts More), I wanted to convey the idea of saying words that hurt someone.

I chose to say "I'm a stampede of poundings words" — using touch to convey pain.

Later in this song, I use the same device, and refer to those words that hurt someone as a "bee sting in your ear".

I'm sure that must hurt a lot.

Again, using the sense of touch to convey the pain that was caused by words — through metaphors.

Then in the end I move on to talking about "silence", in the chorus. Silence is "this wall that hides what's true".

Now the sense is sight.

Can you imagine silence as being a wall? And the truth is behind it — but you can't see it. You can only see the wall.

Wait a minute! You can't see silence.

Yes, you can in my song.

Songwriters do that all the time. Try it!

Songwriting Tip #7: contrast

Use contrast in every single step of your music-making process.

If a song doesn't have enough forward motion, it becomes boring quick.

The best way to create forward motion in songs is to create a contrast between what's happening now — harmonically, rhythmically, melodically — and what's going to happen next.

Before I even start harmonizing and arranging my songs, I determine how contrasting each section will look, overall.

Ask yourself:

  • What's going to be the pitch range of the melody in the verse?
  • Am I going to sing it in a lower register of my voice?
  • What about the chorus? Higher register?
  • More uncomfortable to sing?
  • Make sure those sections are contrasting.
  • What about the rhythm?
  • Is it going to be straight or syncopated in the verse, then change in the chorus?
  • The articulation of the instruments?
  • The texture?
  • Is it going to be busier with lots of instruments, very polyphonic, then change to a more sparse arrangement, with fewer sounds moving independently?
  • Is the harmony going to be more dissonant in the verse and more consonant in the chorus?
  • Am I going to have more harmonies in the back vocals during the bridge to sound different from the rest of the song?
  • Longer phrases or short phrases with lots of rests?

All these things can create contrast. There are hundreds of ways to save a song from getting boring.

Bonus tip: listen to lots of music

Don't forget to listen to all kinds of music to find inspiration and references.

When you're listening, don't just be a listener. Be a songwriter at work. Listening is part of our job.

This songwriting tip is closely related to the content of another post on this blog: this tutorial on how to turn any idea into a full song.

Now it's your turn

At this point, you're probably ready to write great songs. Have fun with it and don't forget to let me hear the results.

As always, if you have any questions, ask in the comment section below.

For more resources on the craft of memorable pop music, visit my website.


Thales Matos

August 20, 2022


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