Songwriting Handbook for Beginners

When to Give in to Your Distractions

An excerpt from Emma McGann’s new book The Songwriting Handbook for Beginners, Volume One: Motivational Methods

It can be extremely frustrating to find the motivation to begin songwriting. Inspiration for some of us doesn’t always just fall in our lap. We sit and mope expecting the lyrics to find us.

When you’re demotivated like this it’s just time consuming. that way you have to step it up and search for inspiration yourself.

Don’t wait for it to find you. And don’t think of it as a chore— seeking out your inspirational muse is actually fun and fulfilling. Let’s get started.

Escaping from the everyday things in life is absolutely necessary for all of us. We can’t exhaust our minds, overwork ourselves and expect creativity to stick around.

As a beginner songwriter, perhaps you envision yourself having to write for hours on end to achieve a song you’re happy with. But the truth is—there’s so much more to songwriting. While writing is an escape from reality itself, there are certain distractions in everyday life worth giving into instead of caging your mind away to write until you drop. You’re missing out on a tonne of motivational factors around you that will keep your creative spark burning.

mcgann-songwritersDon’t cloud your own creativity by ignoring your brain’s cry for a time-out. Because when that mental block throws itself up and you can;t write anymore, it’s your brain telling you to shift your focus and re-charge. You need to identify how and when you require that escape.

Reading is one example f a healthy and worthwhile distraction. Opening a book is like opening a door to not only another dimension but also, an endless world of motivation. It’s an incredible way to subconsciously gather inspiration. By reading regularly you’ll also extend your vocabulary and this will shine through when you write your lyrics, it’s a win-win distraction. So next time your creative flow is stunted, pick up a book and ask yourself how the writer has built that world. How do they make you invest in their characters? Now try applying this to your own writing.

Some songwriters even take direct inspiration from the stories found in books and fairytales, For example— Ruth B’s Lost Boy.

I am a lost boy from Neverland
Usually hanging out with Peter Pan
And when we’re bored we play in the woods
Always on the run from Captain Hook
Run, run lost boy
They say to me
Away from all of reality
Neverland is home to lost boys like me
Cause lost boys like me are free

If you’re struggling to gather inspiration from the world around you, picking up books is one option to follow. Step away from the realities of everyday life. Let books and the stories they hold inspire you—it;s a part of their purpose.

Songwriting is very much like storytelling, even when it comes down to structure—although instead of ten chapters, you have a matter of minutes to communicate your story through music and lyrics. It’s productive to plan and build the basis of a song before you flesh it out. So, where do you start when it comes to your song’s structure?

Song Components

Let’s dissect these song components below and talk through the purpose of each section so you can understand the basic building blocks of a song structure.


An intro can be used to establish the tone and often introduces the listener to a dominant melody used throughout the song.


Here’s where your story comes in. Most songs have multiple verses through which the story of that song will progress.


Also known as the pre-chorus. The purpose of a climb is to build the listener’s anticipation before the chorus kicks.


The catchy part. The key message of your song usually hits here. You may also notice repetition and the use of the song’s title in this section.

Middle 8 or Bridge

And now for something completely different. The lyrics, melody and rhythm may differ there to offer a contrast to your songs story.


A line (sometimes the title of the song) that is regulated regularly—usually at the end of the verse or to end the chorus.

Other components commonly used include instrumentals and outros or codas.


Exercise: Song Components

Now that you have a basic understanding of these common song components, let’s map out what the storyline of a common song structure might look like using a graph.

  1. Story is introduced
  2.  Rising action (anticipation builds)
  3. Climax
  4. Story progresses after falling action
  5. Climax after a second rise in action
  6. Resolution / contrast in story


Plotting out the peaks and troughs of your song’s storyline like this is a good visual way of structuring your song as a beginner. Remember, the above is just one example. You might choose to arrange your song differently.

Try plotting out your own graph using youyr own song structure with the components we’ve covered, so far.


mcgann-songwriters-coverThe Songwriter’s Handbook for Beginners” is aimed at inspiring and encouraging writers of all styles and ages. Learn More about the book here:



Check out Emma’s latest release Second Chances (2016):

Emma McGann is a songwriter and Musician who lives and works in the UK. She has a 1st Degree BA in Music Composition & Professional Practice and holds a passion for helping young musicians progress independently in the music industry. Her own self-written songs have reached the Top 20 in the iTunes Charts, received BBC Radio 1 airplay and have had critical acclaim from the likes of Kylie Minogue and Nancy Sinatra.

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Production (of “Second Chances”) is first-rate, really quite good, and she does have a nice voice — sadly, imho, underlying music is imminently formulaic (you’ve heard it a million times) — obvious example is endless repetition of the following chords — BM C#M D#m — anyway, best of luck to Ms McGann!

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