How to Plan Out Your Song

When I’m putting together a song, I always like to plan out each section of the song, before I put pen to paper to write the lyrics. I find it helps to keep the song focused. A lot of songwriters just write line after line until they’ve filled up a song, but a lot of times that can lead to meandering lyrics.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s plan out the sections of a song as an example. Before we do anything else, lyrically, we have to have an overall idea for our song. What is this thing going to be about?

Try Starting From a Title

For this example, let’s say our idea is simply a title that we’ve come up with that we think is cool. That title is “It Makes Me Want to Run.” I like it, because it’s generic enough to be a good title, while at the same time there’s some intrigue. When you see it, you probably wonder WHAT makes her want to run, if you didn’t already know anything about the story.

With that title, we also have our overall song idea. I usually recommend starting with the chorus anyway, since it’s usually the most general section of the song and it’s the same each time.

Add a Song Structure and Some Ideas

Additionally, let’s say we already know we want this song to have an ABAB song structure, meaning it’s simply a verse / chorus / verse / chorus song. Now we can start to kick around some ideas for each section of our song.

For the verses, we can throw around some ideas for what we want “It Makes Me Want to Run” to mean. It’s a phrase that can be pretty open to suggestions, so we can use a different verse idea each time to keep the story interesting. The verses of your song will usually move your story forward. The chorus is likely to have the same words each time, so the verse is your chance to keep your ideas moving. Verses are generally more specific and detailed oriented than the chorus.

For example, the phrase “It makes me want to run” is left open enough that it can either mean it makes me want to run toward something, or away from something. Being that those ideas are opposites, I think they can be a nice way to advance our verses, if we used them both. The first verse can be about being excited for something and wanting to run towards it to get started, while the second verse can be about being tired of that same thing and wanting to run from it. In both cases, our title/big idea/chorus still makes sense.

There are a number of topics that can fit this concept. It could be referring to a job, a relationship, a friend or any number of other things. For our purposes, let’s say it’s about a relationship. Our first verse could be about being excited to be in a new relationship, leading to a chorus that’s about “making me want to run” (to you). The second verse could get into the specifics about how the relationship grew stale, or how our lead character found out that her boyfriend turned out to be someone completely different than he led on. A cheater, a liar, or something like that. Someone who would make our character want to run away from him. So with that in mind, our song outline could look like this:

 

Verse 1: She meets someone new, and she’s excited about him
Chorus: It Makes Me Want to Run (meaning: to him)
Verse 2: She finds out he’s not who he said he was. He’s a liar and cheater.
Chorus: It Makes Me Want to Run (new meaning: from him)

 

Maybe there could even be a bridge about how even though she wants to run, it’s hard to, because she still has feelings for him. It’s just a thought, but since I originally settled on an ABAB song, I’ll stick with what we’ve got for now.

Last Note

Now we can start to write lyrics to these sections in a well organized manner that is likely to get us conveying a compelling story to our listeners. At the same time, we’ve weaved some nice forward motion in our lyrics by changing what they mean as the story progresses. Plus, going through this exercise will help you take something that’s just an idea and turn it into a fuller song with a purpose. I highly recommend doing this before you write out your actual lyrics.

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