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Songwriting 101: Lyrics or Music First?

I’ve often wondered whether there are any advantages to starting with lyrics or music when creating a song. I am a music-first type of creator and find it much easier to start with a melody or chord structure. I have many “songs” on the shelf with no lyrics, as that part of the equation is more difficult for me to develop. 

Alright, I’ll divulge the answer right from the start. There is no right or wrong way to go about songwriting; different approaches may work better for different genres, styles, and personal preferences. However, in this blog post, I will outline some of the advantages of each method and offer some tips on choosing the best one for your songwriting process.

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Starting with lyrics

Some songwriters prefer to start with lyrics because they have a clear message or story that they want to convey through their songs. Lyrics can also provide a structure and direction for the melody and harmony and a way to express emotions and feelings. Some of the advantages of starting with lyrics are:

  • You can focus on your song’s meaning and purpose and ensure that every word counts.
  • You can use rhyme, rhythm, and meter to create catchy and memorable phrases (the hook) that will stick in the listener’s mind.
  • You can experiment with poetic devices, such as metaphors, similes, alliteration, assonance, and imagery, to enrich your language and add depth to your song. It is worth exploring the meaning of each and how you can use them in your songwriting.
  • You can choose a genre or style that suits your lyrics and match the mood and tone of your music to your words.

Some tips for starting with lyrics are:

  • Capture on your phone, or write down any ideas, thoughts, or feelings that come to your mind without worrying about grammar, spelling, or structure. You can always edit and refine them later.
  • Use an online thesaurus or a rhyming dictionary to find synonyms, antonyms, or rhymes for your words. This can help you avoid repetition and clichés and expand your vocabulary.
  • Listen to songs with similar themes or topics as your lyrics, and analyze how they use words, melodies, and chords to convey their message. You can learn from their techniques and get inspired by their creativity.
  • Sing or hum your lyrics out loud, and try to find a melody that fits them. You can use a guitar, piano, or any other instrument to accompany you and find chords that match your melody.
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Starting with music

As I mentioned earlier, some songwriters, like me, prefer to start with music because they have a strong sense of melody or harmony that they want to explore and develop. Music can also provide a mood and atmosphere for the song and a way to express emotions and feelings. Some of the advantages of starting with music are:

  • You can focus on your song’s sound and feel and ensure that every note counts.
  • You can use melody, harmony, and rhythm to create catchy and memorable hooks that draw the listener’s attention.
  • You can experiment with different scales, modes, chords, progressions, and instruments to create variety and contrast in your song.
  • You can choose a genre or style that suits your music and match the words and tone of your lyrics to your music.

Some tips for starting with music are:

  • Play with different melodies, chords, and rhythms on your instrument without worrying about theory or rules. You can always edit and refine them later.
  • Use your phone voice recorder or a music recording software program (DAW such as Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, Reaper, etc.) to record your musical ideas, so you can listen back and evaluate them. You can also use them as a reference when writing lyrics.
  • Listen to songs with similar genres or styles as your music, and analyze how they use melodies, chords, and rhythms to create sound. You can learn from their techniques and get inspired by their creativity.
  • Write or speak words that fit your music, and try to find a lyric that matches it. You can use a dictionary or a word generator to find words that rhyme or sound similar to your music.
  • The technique I often use is singing sketch lyrics that have no meaning but allow the creative process to keep moving. Sort of how Lorem Ipsum is used in print; they’re just a placeholder until actual lyrics come together.
Ableton Live setup (fri-son)” by furibond is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


As you can see, both songwriting methods have advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, the best way to start a song depends on your preference, goals, and inspiration. You may also find that you switch between methods depending on the song or the situation. 

There are two points I can’t stress enough. First, start the process. Remove all other distractions, practice, fiddling with equipment, etc. Second, commit to finishing a song by a specific date and follow through.

I saw an interview with Bob Seger, and he recalled how someone had asked him how he could write such great songs. His answer, and I’m paraphrasing, is that to write all those great songs, he wrote hundreds of lousy ones. This is how you will develop into a good, or even great, songwriter.

The most important thing is getting going and having fun with the process. Happy songwriting!

Bob Brozowski

I am the founder of  I love music and music gear/production. I've been playing guitar for quite a while and am still learning. I use several DAWs, too many to be honest. If I had to choose one, it would be Logic Pro; It just suits my style and workflow best.  I want to thank you for participating in the discussion.

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