Composing a Song: A Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide

Songwriting and producing may seem daunting to those new to the craft. But anyone can get started with the right combination of resources and determination.

One thing’s for sure at Hooktheory: we believe that anyone can learn to create great music. We celebrate everyone taking the steps to follow their passions!

In this blog post, we’ll break down the songwriting process together, turning what may seem overwhelming into attainable steps.

First Up: Follow Dennis’ Musical Footsteps

To immerse yourself in this songwriting tutorial, we invite you to experience our video tutorial below. Follow along as Dennis, Hooktheory’s audio engineer embarks on a 15-minute challenge to compose a hook using Hookpad.

Hookpad is perfectly suited for a songwriting challenge like this. Think of it like a songwriting sketchpad, where you can quickly jot down musical ideas and build them into something more complex.

In his songwriter tutorial, you’ll learn how to use Hookpad to:

  • Write a chord progression
  • Create a bassline
  • Craft a melody
  • Add variations to make your composition more interesting

Set the Stage with Pre-Built Instruments

There is no set “first step” that you have to take when beginning to compose a song.

Composers and songwriters have all kinds of different approaches. Some find it easier to start with the lyrics, while others prefer to begin by creating a melody.

One method to get started is to define your “sound” first. In Hookpad, this can look like experimenting with Hookpad’s pre-built instruments and templates.

These help you create a solid sonic foundation for your song so that later on, when you want to add more complexity, you’ll already have something for your chords and notes to build on top of.

Hookpad offers various instrument options, including drums, percussion, pads, synths, and basses. Take the time to explore different instrument combinations and find the perfect blend for your song.

Craft a Chord Progression

With your instrumental palette ready, the focus can shift to establishing a chord progression.

The chord progression is the backbone of your music. It’s what gives your song its “feel” and sets the stage for what will come next.

With Hookpad, the process of crafting a chord progression is easy.

  • Choose from a selection of popular chord progressions in your key. The “Progressions” feature provides a starting point and allows you to experiment with proven progressions that work well within your chosen key.
  • Gain inspiration from existing songs by loading their chord progressions from the TheoryTab database. Analyzing chord progressions from established tracks can provide insights and spark creativity in your own composition.
  • Start from scratch and craft your own unique chord progression. Hookpad’s user-friendly interface highlights popular chords in your key, providing guidance while leaving room for your creative variations and substitutions.

In the video, Dennis quickly sketches a progression that includes a cadence chord to add resolution and interest to his song.

You can learn more about how to craft effective chord progressions through our music theory books.

Build a Memorable Bassline

A bassline is a set of musical notes that follow the song’s tempo and chord progression. It often sets the rhythm and tonality of a piece.

Here are the steps Dennis takes to create a bassline:

  • Add a new voice: Hookpad supports four melody voices. Each voice is configurable in the Bands tool with its own instrument(s), octave, and volume. Dennis creates a new voice specific to the bassline and selects a sound that fit his vision.
  • Rhythmic exploration: Dennis establishes the rhythm of his bassline using 16th notes. He experiments with various rhythms, syncopations, and accents to create a rhythm that suits his hook.
  • Harmonic support: Typically, a bassline harmonizes with the song’s chord progression. To achieve this, Dennis creates a pattern with the first two I chords, copies it onto the other chords, and makes necessary adjustments.

Write an Effective Melody

Following the creation of the bassline, the next crucial step for Dennis is developing a compelling melody.

Just like a bassline, a melody is a series of musical notes. However, this sequence forms the theme that a listener would hum or sing.

Here’s how Dennis navigates this part of his musical journey:

  • Find a nice sound: Dennis creates another voice in Hookpad and focuses on building an excellent sound with the instruments from the Bands tool.
  • Melodic development: The next step is setting the structure for your melody. This involves experimenting with different note choices, rhythmic variations, and hooks. It can be a process of trial and error, but remember to keep the ultimate goal in mind: to create a catchy, memorable melody that resonates with listeners.
  • Harmonic alignment: Dennis pays attention to the interaction between his melody and the underlying chord progression in his composition. The “Guides” tool is a helpful way to visualize what notes are in each chord as you write and adjust your melody. This allows you to ensure that the melody and chords are working together smoothly, creating a harmonically pleasing final product.

Begin Your Songwriting Journey in Hookpad

In just 15 minutes, Dennis’ hook is complete. It’s impressive what he was able to create in this short period of time! With an intuitive tool like Hookpad, anyone can compose their own captivating hook, just like Dennis.

If you want to try it out for yourself, you can pick up where Dennis left off here and see where your creativity takes you.

Have fun songwriting!