How to Write a Song! BASICS OF SONGWRITING: WRITING LYRICS | Meghan Kelly | Skillshare

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teacher avatar Meghan Kelly, M.M. Vocal Coach and Songwriting Teacher

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

5 Lessons (23m)
    • 1. Intro (Basics of Songwriting: Writing Lyrics)

    • 2. Theme

    • 3. Content

    • 4. Structure

    • 5. Rhymes

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About This Class

This course focuses on lyric structure and composition. 

It covers the following topics:

  • song content
  • components of a song
  • song structure
  • rhyme scheme

This course is great for beginners and amateur songwriters as well as the hobbyist. It helps you take your inspired lyrics or brainstorm notes, and put your words into a structure that is familiar to the listener. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Meghan Kelly

M.M. Vocal Coach and Songwriting Teacher


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1. Intro (Basics of Songwriting: Writing Lyrics): hello and welcome to the basics of song writing, writing the lyrics. I'm Ed Kelly and I'll be instructor for this course. I have a master's degree in music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I am also a vocal coach and singer songwriter. In this course, we're going to learn all about writing the lyrics. Lyric writing can be so much fun and a great way for self expression. But when it comes down to putting it into a song, there are some key elements we want to keep in mind so that the listener has the experience that we want them to have. We'll learn some song structure, rhymes, games and how to make your lyrics make sense to the listener. The main thing will work on is writing with the listener in mind. Whether you're a beginner songwriter, amateur songwriter, hobbyist, this course will put you in the right direction for your songwriting endeavors. Sure, we're going to go over some rules of song writing, but when it comes down to it, rules are meant to be broken, so keep that in mind. Throughout this course, inspiration is key with song writing, so we do not want to get in the way of that. You'll start with inspiration and then take this course. Once you have your inspiration written down or recorded, then it's time for the editing cap to come on, and that's when this course comes into play. So if you're ready to edit your lyrics and put them into a song structure that will make sense to the listener, then let's get started. 2. Theme: Step one. Take a look at your inspiration that you've either written down or take a listen. If you've recorded it, it's often a stream of conscious flow. And though some of it might make sense when you put your editing cap on, you might realize that the listener might not get what you're saying. You might know what you're saying, but the listener is going to be confused in some areas to the first step. To iron out any confusion is talk about what your overall theme is for the song. What are you trying to say? What is the overarching idea? The most basic question you can ask yourself during this stage is, What is this song about? Let's take an example. Shape of You by Ed Sheeran You can feel free to pause the video here and take a listen on the streaming service that you use. The overarching theme of shape of you is I'm so in love with the way that you look. It's very simple. If we take another example No. One by Alicia Keys. There's nobody who could change how much I love you. That's the overarching theme. So take a look at your inspiration and your stream of conscious or maybe a song that you've already started to put into a structure and narrow down into one or two sentences. What is your song about? 3. Content: step to the five W's just like in story writing. But five W's are very important, although you don't have to answer every single one of them in a song, you just want to answer a majority of them. So aim for three out of five. And if you get all five good for you. Let's start with who? The question to ask yourself here is Who is singing this song? Is the song happening to the singer? Are they an active participant, or is it in third person? Are they observing something that's occurring? If they're observing something that that is occurring? Who are the characters in this song and what's their relationship with each other? If the singer is singing to somebody who are they singing to? And what's that relationship like? You can get as detailed as you want In the section, the more detailed the Mawr Inspiration will come to you toe. Add more content to the song and make it way more clear for the listener. Let's take an example. Lewis Capaldi is somebody you loved. The singer is singing To you is the pronoun you and that is the singing. For all intents and purposes. I'm not sure that's an actual work, but we'll use it as a word for this course. The singer is singing to the singing I Am singing to you. Their relationship seems to be pretty romantic in nature. Sounds like they had a relationship. They no longer half. Take a look at the lyrics and see if you come to the same conclusion as me. Next. W is what this is different from the overall theme. We're not asking What is this song about? But we're asking What do the characters want in this song for somebody you loved? Singer singing to the singing wants somebody to love them. They want somebody to need them. The third W is where. Where are the characters in the song? Actually, physically. Where are they now? This could be one that you might want to skip over, depending on the content of your song. Or it could be when you want to get a lot of detail about Let's take the example of Taylor Swift song lover. The very first lines help us know and picture where the characters in this song physically are. She says. Something about Christmas lights and leaving them up and that this is our place. I have an image that you can indicate within your lyric to help the listener have a clear picture of where they are. The fourth W is when. When is the slung taking place? Sometimes it's over many, many years. Sometimes it's within one moment. We could take the example of 2 a.m. Breathe by Annan Alec. The title tells you right away to am. That's definitely Owen. In this song, it might be one of the most obvious examples. Also, her lyric indicates that Winter has come and gone. She says something about how winter wasn't her best season. The last W is why, and this might be one of the most important W's and every song should be able to answer this or every song. Writer should be able to answer this about their song. Why are the activities in this song happening? Why are the characters saying in doing what they're saying and doing? We can go back to our first example of somebody you loved. He is singing this song to the singing because he feels sad and heartbroken and feels that he needs somebody in his life. If we look at Lover by Taylor Swift, she's singing this because she's so in love and she wants everyone to know. And she wants it, this person to know how much she is in love and comfortable with their love. 2 a.m. by an Alec She's contemplating life and feeling kind of down, and she's singing this so that she can calm herself and not overwhelm herself with the craziness that is the world. The why is very important, and you never want to let go off the why this will come back around, over and over and over. As you edit your lyrics. Here's your first activity. Take a look at your inspiration and write down what your overall theme is then right who, what, where, when and why? And describing his much detail. All five of the W's keep in mind. You probably only need Teoh attack three of the five, but if you can get five in your lyrics, Big win. There's a word document linked below that is a worksheet for this assignment. Once you've done this work, which could take a while. If you get in a lot of details, you can move on to the next video 4. Structure: next up, we're going to talk about song structure now that you have all of your inspiration written down and a ton more detail from the worksheet in the previous video, you have so much information to start forming the structure of yourself. So what does song structure me? For the sake of this quirks, we're gonna talk about four main structures within the structure. There are specific parts of a song. Each part of a song has a purpose. Let's talk about versus when it comes to lyrics. The verse of your song will move your story forward. It often provides a lot more detail. It's where you'll probably find most of the five ws from the previous video. Each time a verse comes in, it has new words but is written with the same rhythmic length. What does that mean? Rhythmic length? Rhythmic length refers to the number of syllables that a line has. Let's take somebody you loved as an example again, his first verse says, I'm going under, and this time I fear there's no one to save me. I said it kind of robotics so that you could hear more of the rhythmic length the number of syllables. So count those along with me. I'm going under, and this time I fear there's no one to save me. So that's 16 16 syllables. We go to the second verse. The first line of the second verse also has that many syllables. I'm going under, and this time I fear there's no one to turn Teoh. It's the same exact link. Now let's chat chorus. The chorus is where your overall theme will come to light. That first step from the previous video. This is the purpose of your song. Lyrically, it will have a lot more broad of an idea of what the song's about, and it will make very clear to the listener what's going on. Also, choruses repeat themselves. That's the most repeated section in a song. Typically, every time the chorus comes back in, it has the same words. Same rhythmic lengths, same melody We could Take Somebody You Loved again as an example, of course, is also often contain the title of the song, which goes hand in hand with that overall theme. Now the day bleeds into nightfall and you're not here to get me through it all. I let my guard down and then you pulled the rug. I was getting kind of used to being someone you loved. The overall theme is very present in the chorus. Next, let's talk pre chorus, as stated by the name you can tell this. This probably comes before the chorus. It's not in every song structure, but when you have a pre chorus, its job is very specific. Similar to the chorus, it often repeats the lyric every time it comes in, sometimes with minor changes. It also helps transition what you were talking about in the verse to end up being Macoris. Let's take 2 a.m. Breathe as an example again, the Annan Alex Song. Her first verse, talks about being awake, a 2 a.m. Keep thinking about a mistake that she's meant that she's made, and then it jumps to because you can't jump the track were like cars on a cable. Life's like an hourglass glued to the table. No one confined the rewind button girl. So cradle your head in your hands. That is the transitional point to get her into her chorus of and breathe. Just breathe. Whoa, breathe. Just breathe. It sets you up for that overall theme to come in into the chorus. If she went straight into Just breathe, breathe from the end of the verse would be a little less clear and a little more confusing for the listener. Now let's talk about a bridge. A Bridge is a section of the song that is a departure from anything that we've heard thus far, both musically and lyrically. Lyrically, it's a chance to put a new perspective on the topic that you're talking about. It's a chance to shift directions a little bit. You don't want to throw something brand new into it, but, um, it is a chance to kind of mix things up a little bit. A great example of a bridge that does this really well lyrically is a little bit of a throwback to Tina Turner. Song called What's Love Got to Do With It. That song Bridge even begins by saying, I've been taking on a new direction. I've been taking on a new direction, so it quite literally takes a new direction with the lyrics. The last line of that bridge brings on a brand new emotion for the singer as well. It says it scares me to feel this way. Nowhere else in the song have we had an indication that the singer was scared. This is a new perspective on the topic that the singer has been singing about so far. Now we're going to switch gears and talk about something called a refrain. Refrains are only evident and a certain song structure a song structure that is mostly made up of versus with no chorus, no pre chorus. Sometimes they'll have a bridge of some sort, but it's a bunch of verses and a bridge, maybe, and refrains refrains come either at the very beginning of every verse or at the very end of every verse. An example of this is the song Ain't No Sunshine by Bill Withers, the first line of every verses. Eight. No sunshine when she's Gone, and that is the overarching theme. So the refrain takes on a similar role to a chorus, except it's much shorter and often is paired at the beginning or end of every verse. Also want to refrain as president, a chorus is not present. You cannot have both of her frame and, of course, so depends on the structure that you want to go with? Now that we've talked about the components of a song structure, let's talk about the top four most popular song structures out there. The first song structure is a verse chorus song structure. This means that you just have verse and then a chorus, a second verse and then a chorus, and then it can repeat on or just end there. Sometimes a bridge is thrown in to this song structure as well. When a bridge is thrown in, it occurs after the second verse and after the second chorus, so it would be structured as verse one chorus verse to chorus bridge chorus end. So the bridge takes on the role of the third verse. But keep in mind, lyrically and musically, it should be vastly different from the verse. The second structure is a verse pre chorus chorus structure that means every time there's a chorus, the pre chorus comes before it. So you would have verse one pre chorus chorus verse to pre chorus chorus and end in this structure at bridges, also optional. If you put in a bridge, it's similar to the first song structure in that it would come after the 2nd 1st after the second pre course after the second chorus, so your structure would be verse one pre chorus chorus verse to pre Chorus Chorus Bridge. And then you can either go back to the pre chorus and the course again. But often times the pre courses skipped for that last chorus. The third song structure is thesis on Structure of eight No Sunshine by Bill Withers that we talked about previously. It's the verse refrain structure. Holly Lucia is another example of this. You can have verse after verse. They would have the same rhythmic structure. They would sound the same, but all different words, except for the part. That's the refrain, which is either the first line, like a Nano Sunshine or the Last line, Like in Holly Lucia. The Last structure is song that begins with the chorus. Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass is a great example of this. You start with the chorus, you goto averse optional pre chorus than the chorus. Again, go to another verse chorus end. So now they have the four ish options for your song structure. Let's just choose one at random and start forming your lyrics 5. Rhymes: as we form our lyrics, it's important to talk about Ryan. The scheme. When songs rhyme, it's easier for the listener to sing along and anticipate what the next line is going to be . Listeners like that feeling of comfort. We're gonna talk in two categories. Four lines and three lines. Thes air in reference to the sections that we just learned about writing your verse with four lines or writing your verse with three lines, writing your chorus with four lines or writing your chorus with three lines. There's different rhyme schemes you can use. Let's talk four lines as that's very, very common way to write lyrics. I'm going to give you five common rhyme schemes for four line sections. The first is very simple. It's a A. This means that every single line rhymes with each other. I could write a song that says, I love my Cat. She wears a hat. She catches rats and sleeps on a mat that's an example of a a rhyme structure. A second example of a four line rhyme scheme is a B A B. This means that the first and third line rhyme with each other, and the second and fourth line rhyme with each other. If we go back to the cat example, as silly as it is, I have a cat she really likes to run. She wears a hot and has a lot of fun. That would be an A b a B rhyme scheme thief Third option for a four line rhyme scheme is an A B C B rhyme scheme. This would mean that the first line does not rhyme with any other line in that section. The second line rhymes with the fourth line, and the third line also doesn't rhyme with anything. So we could say I have a cat she loves to run. She meows a lot and has a lot of fun. That would be an ABC be structure. Another Ryan scheme is an A B B. Ryan scheme. This means the 1st 2 lines rhyme together, and these 2nd 2 lines room together, have a cat. She wears a hat. She likes to run and has a lot of fun. Final structure will talk about is an A B. C. C structure. This means that just the last two lines rhyme with each other. Here's an example. I have a cat. She likes to run she me as a lot but never gets caught. That would be an A B C C structure. Now let's talk about three lines. I'm going to give you three examples of rhyme scheme for when you're sections only have three lines. The first is similar to the first of the four line. In that all lines ride, you could have an a rhyme scheme. I have a catch. Where is a hot? She sleeps on a mat. The second option is an a a B rhyme scheme. I have a catch, wears a hat she likes to run, and the last option is an A B B option. Have a cat she likes to run. Has a lot of fun. Here's another exercise for you. You've picked your song structure. You've picked your overall theme. You've gone through the five wise, and now you'll pick your rhyme scheme with all of that information. Try writing either your 1st 1st or your chorus, or if you picked a verse refrain, try writing your 1st 1st with a refrain, either at the beginning or the end. Good luck, and I'm excited to see what you come up with now. We're coming to a close of this course, but there's some reminders. I want you to keep in mind as you go back and edit your lyrics. First of all, editing is very, very important, and you shouldn't feel bad to go back and change your lyrics over and over again to get them the way that you really love them. A couple pointers to keep in mind as you go back and edit. If you're versus, try to keep them all the same length with the same rhyme schemes. If you have chorus, keep all of those the same length with the same words on the same line scheme. And same goes with the pre chorus. If you have a bridge, try to make the length of those lines different from the chorus or the pre chorus and try a new rhyme scheme. When writing refrains and choruses. Make sure the lyrics help us have a better understanding of the overall theme. Once you have that first section written, use it as a basis for the next. If you write a verse, it could be quite easy to write the next versus because you've already decided on a structure, a rhyme scheme and the length of the lines. Now you just got to come up with the words Always refer back to your five W's your overall theme and the inspiration that you started this whole thing with. If you'd like, you can submit your work down below and I'd love to take a look. I hope you guys enjoyed this course and happy writing.