Beginning Song Composition with Your Piano

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

A guide to song writing with a piano

If you’ve been playing piano for a while and have mastered the basics, you may have wondered what it would be like to write your own songs. The idea may seem daunting, but with a few basic instructions, you can be composing works of your own.

Please keep in mind that this article was written for people who have been playing for a little while. This is not for the raw beginner. It is also a good idea to know standard notation, although it’s not absolutely necessary.

An encouraging word…

Please be patient with yourself! Unless you are a latent prodigy, your first songs will not be award-winning works of art. If you continue to work at it and apply new knowledge as you receive it, you can eventually create songs that you will want to share with others. Keep at it!

Analyze songs you like

The best writers are good readers, and this applies to music as much as it does to books. Pay closer attention to the music you play. What key is the song in? What chords are you playing? What notes are you playing within those chords? They can be applied to a new song.

Don’t worry that you are plagiarizing someone else’s work just because you may be using some of the same chords or notes that you hear in other works. There are only so many chords out there, and besides, you are just getting started.

Starting up

Often songwriters start off with an idea of the mood, feeling, or idea they are trying to convey. You can do that if you like, but at the start it’s not really necessary. Keep it simple at the beginning. Start with a small number of chords that sound good together. Most songs end with the same chord they start out on; this is the best way to go when you are starting out. Once you have those chords outlined, write them down. If you don’t know standard notation, you can create a kind of “musical shorthand,” as long as you can remember your own system. You can also record yourself playing.

This is when your analysis of songs comes into play. Find notes within each chord to create a basic melody. Keep it at a simple 3/4 or 4/4 beat, and don’t worry about the tempo. Once you have written a few bars, and repeat them … congratulate yourself. You are a songwriter!

Adding stuff

If you are a little more advanced, you can add a bass line to your melody, but once again, that is not necessary at the beginning. If you have lyrical ideas, this is the time to add them. Don’t be concerned if the words are a bit hokey or clichéd. We are simply getting to the “how” at this point. You will get better and better with practice.

Go for it

This is only the beginning. Work at these basics until you have mastered tem. In future articles, we will get into more advanced aspects of songwriting.


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