Songwriting for Beginners: Music Theory & Tools

Woman writes down musical ideas

Are you interested in songwriting but have no prior musical experience?

Don’t worry — songwriting is a craft that can be learned by anyone with some practice and determination.

In today’s world, countless online resources can help guide you through the process. At Hooktheory, we believe that anyone can create great music, and everyone should have access to the resources to teach you how.

This comprehensive post is designed to provide practical tips on how to kick-start your journey as a songwriter, even if you have never held a guitar or sat down at a piano. By the end of this article, you’ll:

  • Learn what music theory is
  • Understand why it’s vital for beginning songwriters to learn music theory
  • Discover helpful resources to guide you in your songwriting journey
  • Be empowered to start your songwriting journey

Let’s dive in!

Understanding Music Theory

The quickest way that any new musician can begin writing a song is first to learn music theory.

Music theory is simply the study of how music works. It explains how songs are formed and what makes them sound great.

Traditionally, music theory was taught in academic settings, so it’s sometimes seen as a mysterious or daunting subject. But the reality is that all songwriters, producers, and artists can benefit from understanding it.

Music theory is not just an academic, theoretical study. It offers real-world benefits that can help you understand why your favorite songs work— and how you can apply the same principles to your own music.

Check out our YouTube video introducing fundamental music theory concepts

Why Everyone Should Learn Music Theory

The value of music theory truly can’t be overstated for beginning songwriters.

Let’s break down some of the top reasons why a new songwriter’s first step should be getting a grasp of music theory.

Music Theory Provides a Roadmap

Music theory acts as a guide, offering a structure within the seemingly infinite world of musical possibilities.

Consider this analogy. You can approach an empty canvas and start throwing paint around, or you can gain a basic understanding of colors, shapes, and proportions and create more intentional artwork.

Sure, you don’t need to understand the principles of visual arts, but it can help you begin creating something that will catch people’s eyes. Plus, it takes the pressure off you to build something from nothing.

Songwriting with music theory is similar. You don’t need to understand music theory to write chords and melodies, but having a basic understanding of the fundamentals doesn’t hurt. That way, you can create more intentional, impactful songs without being bogged down by the limitless musical possibilities.

Simply put, a little structure goes a long way in the creative process.

Music Theory Helps You Make Informed Decisions

Music theory gives you the power to make musical choices that are backed by theory rather than intuition alone.

Think of your favorite songs. The perfect harmony, compelling melody, a distinct rhythm you can’t help but tap your foot to. These choices didn’t happen by chance. Each note, chord, and progression was a deliberate decision by the songwriter, and music theory helped guide each of these decisions.

You have the power to make these same decisions for your songs when you understand the basic principles of music theory. You can take the mystery out of the process and use your knowledge to guide you through making choices that will improve your songs.

Music Theory Gives You a Deeper Understanding of Music

Learning music theory allows you to listen to your favorite music and understand why great songs “work.”

Your favorite artists don’t just make hit songs by accident. They know how to use music theory and apply it to their songwriting process to create a desired impact.

If you can study your favorite music and see music theory in action, you can apply the same principles to your songwriting. What once seemed impossible or reserved only for professional songwriters becomes a lot more approachable.

A great place to get started with this process is by exploring our database of over 40,000 chord and melody analyses. Here, you can learn from your favorite songs and see how music theory principles are applied throughout them.

Music Theory Helps You Communicate Better With Other Musicians

As you dive deeper into the music world, understanding music theory becomes a crucial tool for effective communication.

It is a shared language that simplifies and enhances interactions with fellow musicians, discussions in collaborative projects, and learnings from podcasts and videos.

Whether you’re interacting with fellow musicians or consuming musical content online, knowledge of music theory can significantly enhance these experiences.

Music Theory is a Flexible Tool, Not a Limitation

Although music theory does lay down some “rules,” these aren’t rigid constraints. Instead, they can be creatively manipulated to suit your musical vision.

Music theory informs and, most importantly, empowers your songwriting process. Knowing the rules gives you the artistic freedom to bend, break, or even disregard them.

That’s where the magic happens — when you use music theory knowledge to create something uniquely captivating.

Resources for Beginning Songwriters

Diving into songwriting has never been more accessible for new musicians, thanks to great online resources. To make the journey smoother, here are some of Hooktheory’s essential resources that will guide you through the songwriting process.

Interactive Music Theory Books

Our interactive music theory books are an excellent tool for aspiring songwriters. With captivating visuals and relatable song examples, they offer an approachable route into music theory that can be applied directly to songwriting.

The key benefits of Hooktheory’s music theory books for beginning songwriters include:

  • Foundational knowledge: The books simplify complex music theory, providing a robust foundation to kick-start your songwriting journey.
  • Real-world applications: Over 300 examples from popular songs illustrate the application of theory in different music styles, making concepts tangible and relatable.
  • Progressive curriculum: The first volume starts with the basics of melodies and chord progressions, and the series gradually progresses to advanced theory concepts.
  • Interactive exercises: The books engage you with over 100 exercises to practice and solidify your understanding of music theory concepts.

Hookpad: Your Songwriting Assistant

Hookpad is a powerful songwriting sketchpad designed to streamline the songwriting process. This tool helps both beginners and experienced composers to approach the art of songwriting in new ways.

Here are the main reasons why Hookpad should be your go-to songwriting software as a beginner:

  • Generating chord progressions: Choosing the right chords for a track can be challenging. Hookpad’s smart chord palettes suggest chords that work well together in a given key based on the principles of music theory. These palettes help you create compelling chord progressions to create a firm foundation for your song.
  • Building melodies: Once you’ve created a chord progression, Hookpad aids you in drafting melodies. It provides a visual guide to note stability, showing whether specific notes will create a stable or a dissonant sound. These insights can help you easily shape your songs’ emotional tones.
  • AI chord suggestions: Hookpad’s AI analyzes real music to offer chord suggestions for your song. This music theory tool allows you to choose chords that “work” based on analyses of over 40,000 songs. Each suggestion has a popularity score, helping you spot predominant trends or explore unique harmonic spaces.
  • Seamless integration with DAWs: With MIDI drag-and-drop functionality, you can easily export your compositions into your DAW for further refining.

By integrating theory and practice with a user-friendly interface, Hookpad makes songwriting intuitive and enjoyable.

You can learn more about how to use Hookpad with our Songwriting Sprint series. Dennis (our audio engineer) showcases amazing music you can create in as little as 15 minutes in Hookpad. Past videos include:

TheoryTab Database

As a beginning songwriter, understanding the music theory behind your favorite songs can be invaluable for improving your skills.

Our TheoryTab database is filled with over 40,000 chord and melody analyses from popular music to enhance your learning journey.

Beyond basic tabs and sheet music, TheoryTab provides a detailed look at each chord and note within a song, making music theory more accessible. With insightful visual representations, you can explore the underlying structures and patterns that connect musical elements, helping you understand how compelling music is created (so you can do the same).

TheoryTab database over pastel gradient

The TheoryTab database is a vital resource for every songwriter’s growth by:

  • Exploring time and genre: Featuring analyses across various decades and genres, TheoryTab allows you to see music theory in action throughout diverse contexts.
  • In-depth analyses: Discover the chord progressions, melodic patterns, and harmonies that make hit songs memorable. Understanding these elements can bring a new level of depth and creativity to your own songwriting.
  • Practical learning: By analyzing the structure and techniques used in successful songs, you can apply this knowledge to your compositions, improving your skills and building your signature songwriting style.
  • Interactive creativity: You can open TheoryTab analyses in Hookpad, where you can adjust musical elements such as tempo, chords, and melodies. This offers an opportunity to experiment with different sounds as you learn.
  • Informative visuals: TheoryTab (and all other Hooktheory resources) have a user-friendly color-coding system to help beginners easily visualize music theory. Each note and chord in a scale is represented by a specific color (for example, the first note in any scale is always red). This simple visual approach makes recognizing notes, chords, and their relationships across various scales easier, helping you learn patterns and improve your musical understanding.


Songwriting is a creative craft anyone can learn, even without prior musical experience.

By understanding the fundamentals of music theory, you can create intentional and impactful songs, make informed musical choices, and have a deeper appreciation for the music you love. With resources like Hooktheory’s interactive music theory books, Hookpad songwriting software, and the TheoryTab database, you have the tools to kick-start your songwriting journey and unleash your creativity.

Start exploring and experimenting today!