5 Ways To Become A Better Songwriter By Learning How To Analyze A Song Using The Key Elements Of Songwriting

9 minutes read, by Ryan Buckner


Would you like to be able to write great songs that clearly express your thoughts and ideas? One of the biggest challenges that every songwriter faces at one time or another is being able to use the different musical elements of songwriting to clearly express themselves. That said, one of the best (and most fun) ways to develop your songwriting skills is to analyze the songs of your favorite musicians. By learning how to analyze a song with a good understanding of the different elements of songwriting, you can:

  • Take all the musical ideas you love in your favorite songs and use them to express yourself in your own music.
  • Learn how your favorite musicians use their music to express specific thoughts, ideas and emotions.
  • Develop your understanding of many songwriting concepts in several different areas at once.

Once you are able to analyze a song and truly understand why the musical artist chose to use different musical elements to express an idea, you will be able to consistently have ideas for songwriting. Additionally, you will find that there are many ways to express the same idea in music by using different elements of songwriting.

As an example, if you wanted to express the emotion of “sadness”, you may think that the best way to do so is to use minor chords or melodies. However, these are not the only possibilities. In addition to using chords and melody, there exist many other musical elements that can be used to create the emotional quality of sadness. For instance, you could use the songwriting element of rhythm to slow down the music and create a sense of calm. Then you could use the songwriting element of dynamics (loudness and softness) to make the notes you write softer and more “delicate”.

By using all of these different musical elements together, you can create a more ‘complete’ and balanced song that uses many methods to give the listener a full listening experience.

How To Analyze A Song And APPLY What You Learn In Your Own Music

It is an inescapable fact that all songwriters are influenced by the music of others. Additionally, the more music you listen to, the greater your capacity will be for understanding how to express different ideas in different musical scenarios (with various instruments, styles, techniques, etc.).

However, not all songwriters fully take advantage of this fact to improve their songwriting skills. Some songwriters feel that it is “wrong” or “stealing” to use the same ideas as other musicians. Regardless of your views on this topic, there is absolutely no need to copy another musician’s ideas note for note; you can get much more value out of the music of others by observing HOW what they created inspired you.

Once you have done this, you can use the fundamental ideas behind their music to create your own unique musical ideas and achieve the same expressive effect.

In order to help you quickly begin developing your songwriting skills, I have created a very powerful list of questions to ask yourself in order to analyze a song. For each question, I have also given you creative suggestion for how you can creatively use the new ideas you gain through this process to write your own music:

1. How is the song structured and pieced together?

This is a question that deals with the musical element of “form”. While analyzing a song, pay attention to how many different sections there are. To do this, observe when different melodies, chords, rhythms, lyrics or other ideas repeat in one way or another. One common example of song structure could include the following: Intro - Verse - Chorus - Verse - Chorus - Break – Chorus.

Tip for using this idea to improve your songwriting:

Observe the song structure of 5 – 10 different songs. Do this with either different musical artists or all the same musical artist (if you really want to learn about their style). You may begin to see a pattern in the way your favorite artists put a song together. As you are doing this, write down the way each song is structured on a piece of paper. Once you have done this, you can take the structure of any of the songs you analyzed and use it as a foundation for putting together a new song of your own.

2. What chords are being used?

Observing which chords are being used in music (also known as “harmony”) is one of the first elements of songwriting the songwriters tend to notice. As you analyze a song using this musical element, you will want to pay attention to the key of the song (or different sections in a song), which specific chords are being used, and how the different melodies throughout the song are used together with chords.

Tip for using this idea to improve your songwriting:

Pay close attention to the ‘emotion’ that is created with the different chords choices that your favorite musicians make. When analyzing a song, work to identify the exact notes of the chords that are used in the music. Some chords will contain notes played at the same time, some with notes played one after the other and some with a combination of both methods. You can use your main instrument as a tool for picking out each note of the chords being used (may require some “close listening” if you do not have a great ear for music yet).

Once you identify each chord in a section of the music, write them down. Then write down the exact emotion that you think these chords create when used together. You can then refer back to this list anytime you want to create this specific emotion in your music.

Learn how to use chords to enhance your music by downloading this free musical elements eBook and discovering how to use each note in a chord to connect one musical idea to another.

3. How is rhythm used throughout the song (and during specific parts)?

Rhythm is often one of the most commonly passed over elements of songwriting. Although rhythm plays a very large role in creating direction and emotional impact in music; many people notice things such as melody, chords or instruments before they think about rhythm. While analyzing a song to look at its rhythm, make it a conscious effort to focus ONLY on the rhythm of the music (and not the actual ‘pitches’ of the notes). If you find it challenging to not let the ‘pitch’ of the notes distract you, try to play the rhythm of the notes (melodies, chords, lyrics, etc.) by simply tapping your fingers on a table or your feet on the floor.

By paying close attention to the rhythm in the music, you will notice that the rhythm of the notes will tend to “speed up” during very tense moments, and then “slow down” afterward as a way to relax the tension. You will also notice that the more complicated a rhythm or series of rhythms gets, the more tense it will feel overall. Generally speaking, our brains like to make patterns to make sense of what we hear; if a rhythmic pattern is “hard” for our brains to put into order, it creates a natural sense of tension.

Tip for using this idea to improve your songwriting:

Next time you go to create a melody, begin by writing the rhythm of the notes only. To start simple, think of a melody or rhythm line that lasts for 4 measures. In order to come up with a rhythm for your melody, tap a rhythm with either your fingers or your feet. This could be an entirely original rhythm or - if it helps - the rhythm of a melody from a song you like.

Once you have this rhythm created, add in the actual pitches of the melody by using an instrument or your voice. If you chose to use a rhythm from the melody of a song you know, modify it (both it rhythm and pitch) to come up with something that is totally unique.

4. Does the song seem to repeat common themes or phrases?

As you analyze songs, you will come across songs that contain various repeated “themes” (melodies, musical ideas, rhythms, etc.). These repeated “themes” can occur as repeated song lyrics, choruses, entire melodies, pieces of melodies, note rhythms or many other songwriting elements. Sometimes these themes may be repeated note for note, or may have slight variance.

In songwriting, using themes in this manner can be a very effective way to connect together different parts of a song. Whenever you listen to music, observe what themes repeat throughout the song and when. In addition to looking for repeated themes, try to spot the major points of interest throughout a song and identify what it is that ‘maintains’ your interest for the entire duration of the music.

Tip for using this idea to improve your songwriting:

A great way to tie together your music using repeating themes is to learn how to write a theme with slight variation. The idea of doing this is to make the listener notice an element of songwriting that was used previously in the song; but in a more subtle and interesting way (as opposed to note for note repetition).

To work on this, start by creating a melody, rhythm, progression of chords or short song section. Then try to write 5 variations of it with a change in either note rhythm, pitch, instruments, chords (pitches or amount of notes) or any combination of these elements.

5. Does the song contain different parts that are louder or softer than the others?

What is the overall loudness or softness of the song you are analyzing? Most music does is not made up of different parts that all have the same volume level. By creating parts of music that are louder or softer, you can make songs that tap into a whole new dimension. How loud a particular instrument plays a note can have a big impact on the listener’s perception of the music. As you listen to the songs of others, pay close attention to the volume level of each instrument/part and how this affects the expression of the music.

Tip for using this idea to improve your songwriting:

Whenever you write songs, do not ignore this very important element of songwriting. Comparing songs with a variety of volume levels in their parts to songs with the same volume level throughout is like comparing a 3D object to a flat surface; variety in volume simply brings a whole new level to your music. Next time you write a song, take the time to map out the volume level of each instrument/part and how this will help you to express your overall musical vision.

To start using this article to help you get better at song writing right now, choose 5 to 10 songs to analyze (try to find songs which you think are highly expressive). Over the next month or so, analyze each of these songs using the ideas mentioned in this article. It will take a bit of time for each song, but will be well worth it. The more you look into the music of others (and how they create it) you will notice a very significant increase in your own musical expression skills and your ability to create ideas off the top of your head will improve (this will help you to avoid “writer’s block” as well).

As a last note, if you pick all songs within the same genre, you can greatly improve your potential to write for that genre. You will begin to notice specific patterns in the specific way the music is written, which will enable you to be able to quickly come up with ideas while writing for that genre. If you pick songs from various genres, it will give you a much more broad perspective of how to express yourself in various scenarios.

Drastically improve your ability to write great songs by downloading this free eBook on songwriting techniques that will show you how to use the 7 elements of music. Click the button below to get your copy:

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