How to write and compose great songs

What is music?

A book of music defined music as an art of combining sounds and tones for reproduction by the voice or by various kinds of musical instruments to affect the emotions or feelings. Music therefore is an art. Music is not an object you can lay your hand on like you would a book or a stone. It is something you can hear and feel. So music had to do with feelings. Every human being and probably all beings love to listen to music. Human preference may vary from one individual to the other about the music they love to listen to, they all without exception love to listen to music. The exceptions are those who cannot hear music play because of a disability.

 The origin of music

Music is as old as civilization itself. To pinpoint the origin of music is not the purpose of this write up as it is not on music per se but on composing songs. Be that as it may, we still need to know a little more about music to help us grasp fully the topic under discussion.

If we use the biblical account as our yardstick, we can safely conclude that music came from the creator himself. Rev. 4: 8-9 “Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

Like I said before, I am not concerned with the detail research into the origin of music or those who perfected the art of music writings as we have it today. It does not matter if you can read or write music. That is not the motive of this treatise. There are many books that teach theory of music to those who are interested.  My main concern is to show you how you can trigger the composition and writing ability innate in your sub consciousness to become a great composer and writer.  No one can make you a composer since you are already one! I will only show you how you can use the ability you already possess to become a great song composer and writer.

 Start with a genre

In Africa where I live, there are as many music genres as there are tribes. In a particular tribe, there may even be different music genres. People of other continents especially those of the European decent thinks African music lacks the harmony and the in-depth of western music.  This borne out of the misconception that Africans makes use of percussion instruments as the medium of presentation so their music lacks harmony.  This is why the west believes African music is monotonous irrespective of the richness of its composition. This may be true to some extent when African music is compared with the versatility of the western music al instruments.  Nowadays, modern music lean towards heavy percussion and heavy rhythm with less emphasis on harmony.

An Average human being is a composer of some sort. A typical African when performing an assignment could be heard humming a tune or singing a song. This makes the task however boring less unpalatable. The African-American used music to ease the burden of slavery during slavery days. Many of the songs composed then form the backbone of the African-American praise worship of modern times. What I am trying to bring out is that contrary to the erroneously held view that composers and song writers are born, anybody can compose and write songs.  I don’t deny there are specially gifted people like those who crafted the symbols used to score music we read in music books today; still anybody with a strong desire can compose and write songs. Note that I placed emphasis on strong desire.  If you want to compose music, start with a genre that interests you. Everybody have his/her musical preference. Identify which genre interests you and start from there.

 Must I have knowledge of music before I can compose?

This fallacy stunted the growth of many talented people who would have become great songwriter and composer today.  You don’t need to be a musicology to be a songwriter and composer. What you need is the basic talent and the interest to compose or write songs.  The first thing you must do like I said before is decide on the genre you want to work with. We have our musical preference. Even if you want to create your own unique music, it must take its roof from a music you are familiar with.  You cannot create something from nothing as you are not God. The great Nigerian legend Fela evolved his unique Afro Beat from a combination of Highlife music and Jazz; two music genre that evolved from African percussive instruments.

When you have decided on the genre, procure and exercise book, a pen and a tape recorder. If you want to become only a songwriter, the tape recorder might not be necessary. Next, you need to take a simple exercise. Let your thought most of the time revolve around the song you want to write. This means you must think about the music you want to compose or write most of the time. The more you think about the music, the more you are attuned to the creative energy that will heighten your talent.

This part is important. See yourself most of the time writing or composing that song. The seeing I mean is different from the ordinary vision you see with your eyes. You have to see yourself with your inner eye. I will not tell you to sit down in a corner and meditate as some people will tell you. This is not necessary. Just concentrate on seeing yourself writing or composing songs any time you have the time and this would be enough. This is the most difficult part of the exercise; when you concentrate on seeing yourself composing that song, don’t think of any popular song or any song you know as you may end with a copycat of another tune. The more you think the more you are attuning your mind to the creative vibration that will enable you compose that song.

When you least expected, a tune you have never heard before will just come into your head. When that happens, be ready with that pen and paper and the tape recorder to hum the song into it. Sometimes, the tune will pop into your head without the lyrics. Don’t worry; just hum the tune into the tape recorder. If the tune hits you in a place where you cannot lay your hand on the tape recorder, keep the tune in your head. Make sure you don’t lose it irrespective of any distraction until you get to the place where you can record it into that tape recorder.  When a tune comes to you and you lose it, you might never get it back. Many potential hit tunes had been lost to those who first received the tune and lost it. Then one day, they get to hear the same tune and remember vaguely they’ve heard it before but cannot remember where and when.  They not only heard it before, it would have been their hit tune if they had not been careless.

 When the tune comes without lyrics, what next?

Sometimes you hear the tune without the lyrics. Don’t worry, just record the tune into that tape recorder of yours and keep thinking about the lyrics you want to add to the tune. As you move about on your daily activities, observe events around you. They can be a veritable source for the lyrics of your song. News of happenings in your country can also provide you with lyrics for your song.  Some people place too much emphasis on rhyme and the poetic ring of a song. Don’t worry yourself too much if this does not come to you. Song is not poetry. Even though knowledge of rhyme could be an added advantage in composing a song it is not terribly important if you don’t know how. It is not the only thing that counts in writing songs.

When you start to write, watch the length of your sentences. As long as each fits into every line of your tune, you are on the right track. Take this song from my last album as an example:

I’ve got something to say

Only if you got to listen

To hear what I want to say

To hear what I wanna tell you etc.

You can listen to that song at

When you’ve gotten the words of the music together, you can go ahead to practice it.

 Writing the lyrics without the tune.

Some people may only want to write the songs and leave the compositing of the tune to others.  Even if this is what you desire, you still need to do the same experiment for composing songs. The inspiration for writing songs without the tune comes from the same source for composing poems. After all there is a great similarity between writing poems and songs.

 The Chorus

The chorus is that part of your song where others sing along with you. The chorus is an important part of your song. You cannot continue to sing without a brake. Even if you do, you need others to sing with you to make your music sound better than it would if you were the only one singing. After about six or eight lines, you write a different tune that is different from the body of the lyrics. This part you either sing with other singers or you sing alone. But the chorus sounds better when others sing with you. This part could be one or two lines, it does not matter. If your song consists of more than one stanza, you come in with a different stanza after the chorus that you sing until you come to the chorus again.

If you are one of those modern day song writers who write their songs without a break until the chorus, you come in with the body of the song again or end with the chorus. Listen to my songs again to identify where the chorus comes into the songs.

 Breaking your songs into stanzas or verses.

This is an old practice which I use in most of my compositions. These days, many songwriters prefer the freestyle where they sing for a time without a brake until the chorus. This style is popular with Hip hop artists. Whatever style you choose, make sure it is the one convenient for you as a composer. After all you are your own first fan. If you don’t like the song composed by you, you can be sure no one will want to listen to it.


The harmony is the pleasing combination of notes sounded together to make chords. In singing it is a combination of higher and lower notes by the voices to sound pleasing to the ear. At this stage of your composition, you may not bother yourself much with harmony as there are experts who can help you with the harmony of your songs by listening to them when the time comes. With much practice, the harmony of your songs will come to you the same way the songs came to you.

 Putting finishing touches to your songs.

The first draft of your songs usually cannot be the final word on the matter. You will continue to tinker with it as you sing the songs and better suited words comes to you. As you do this, the lyrics will sound better and better to you until you arrive at a point where you think you don’t need to change any word any longer. Even after this, when the urge to change some of your written down words comes to you, do not hesitate to do so as words of the songs are equally important as the composition of your song.


N.B. This writing is neither an academic treatise nor an expert view on the subject but a dissertation on a personal process used and tested by the writer to write and compose his songs.


Next: How to be a great musical instrument player.

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