How To Make A Song? Start With The Chords

How To Make A Song

Do you have your music making software and gear all set, but wonder where to start the actual song making process? Where to get those ideas for good melodies? How to make all the different melodies work together? In this tutorial I show you one method you can try to get started on song making. I’m personally using this technique (alongside with many others) when I’m out of musical ideas. And it works.

I have included a video tutorial as well. Music making software I’m using is FL Studio and musical style here is something like downtempo with soundtrack kind of elements.

So Where Do I Start When I Wan’t To Make A Song With This Technique?

I start with the chords. At this point I have to say that I don’t have a lot of music theory knowledge (seriously, I can’t even read the notes), but I do have a bit of musical ear so I can pretty much tell what chords, chord combinations and melodies work together. So if you don’t have music theory knowledge, don’t worry, you can still make music and your ears will get trained as you keep doing it.

Allright. Basically, the step by step guide for this method goes like this:

1. I choose the right instrument. Usually it’s a string sound. Miroslav Philharmonik has some nice sounding strings and strings are good for experimenting with different kind of chords. But you can use your favourite VSTi of course.

2. I start to build my first chord. I go to the Piano Roll view in FL Studio and choose a root note and  I layer one ore two more notes on top of it and experiment till I find a note combination that sounds good. And my first chord (triad) is now created.

3. I copy and paste the first chord and try different notes in it to find a combination that plays well with the first chord. The chords must fit together when played one after another. The chord pattern should progress logically.

4. I keep doing this until I have a 8 bars long chord pattern.

Here’s pictures showing how I do it in FL Studio’s Piano Roll. This is the very first chord which is the beginning of the whole musical idea:

Chord

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Here I have added another chord and the chord pattern is slowly starting to form:

More Chords

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And here’s the whole chord pattern ready:

Chord Pattern Ready

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Now, the strings chord pattern I have just created is very very basic, but it’ll give me a guideline what melodies I should add next. There’s a tons of possibilities and different kind of combinations and it may take a while before I come up something catchy. So, next task is to load up another instrument and start to design a melody that works together with the strings chord pattern.

I usually choose oboe instrument with the strings. They work great together. Again, using Miroslav Philharmonik here.

So here’s the next steps:

5. I load an instrument which I’m going to use to play a melody that works with the strings chord pattern.

6. I’ll keep adding and testing different notes until I find a melody that plays along nicely with the strings chord pattern. Usually I use my MIDI keyboard to play and record different kind of melodies live. That’s a lot more fun and faster then point-and-click the notes one by one by mouse, though in this tutorial I’m using just the mouse.

This is how the melody pattern looks and sounds like:

Melody Pattern

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Okay, now that the song has some basic melodics I’ll add an bassline. I go and load a bass instrument. Very often I use ReFX Vanguard for basslines and thats what I do now as well. Bassline can be created from scratch, but in this example I use the root notes of the strings chord pattern and build the bassline based on those root notes. That way, the bassline will most likely fit in melodically.

So the next task I’m going to do is:

7. I load up an bass instrument.

8. I copy the root notes of strings chord pattern and build a bassline according to those root notes.

Strings Chord Pattern Root Notes For The Bassline

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I simply just copy the root notes of the strings chord pattern and paste them to the bass instrument track. Then I transpose the whole thing one octave higher and edit the notes to create a “rhythmic” bassline.

Bassline

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Now we have melodies and bassline ready and at this point I usually add in the drums. I choose a kickdrum, snare and hihat and create a basic drum pattern that fits to the style of bassline and melodies. I usually start with something very basic and blend in more percussion elements (or loops) as I move on.

So the next step would be:

9. I load a kickdrum, snare and hihats to FL Studio’s Sampler channels and create a drum pattern via Step Sequencer that plays along nicely with the bassline and melodies.

This is how the drum pattern looks and sounds like:

Drum Pattern

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And here’s how they all sound together:

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So basically what I just created here is the chorus for my song (or the “hook” as it’s often called). What I usually do next is I push the whole composition away (in FL Studio’s Playlist view) to make some room for the intro and verse:

Make Room For The Intro And Verse

That’s it. That’s the idea of this technique.

But this is just a beginning. This was just the melody of the chorus. Next step is to test / choose the right sounds. I usually use the basic strings and oboe sounds just for designing the melodies and after I come up with something decent, I start to test how the melodies work with different kind of instruments and sounds. So everything usually changes and the finished song will sound much more different than this.

In electronic music, the sounds and effects make a huge difference. You can have a very simple – even boring – melody, but if you find a cool instrument or sound and/or effect which you use to play it,  it may become super interesting. So I really recommend to put time and effort to the sounds. Test the presets your VSTi has and if you don’t find anything you’re happy with, start tweaking the presets. Don’t be afraid to go wild with the knobs and sliders.

Also, next in the to-do list is to start creating the intro, verse and other parts.

Why I like this method? Because now that I have the chorus in place – and that’s usually the backbone of a song – I have a clue what kind of melodics the intro and verses should have. Song must be coherent as in whole so the chorus works like a guideline giving me directions on what kind of melodies the verses should have as they must be in a style of chorus. They need to support the chorus melodically.

Couple of more tips:

ALWAYS listen the song as in WHOLE

When I’m making a song, I need to listen it as in whole, over and over and over again, countless of times, just to get a hang of the feel and to hear the bigger picture. To see (or hear) it as its wholeness. This way I’m able to decide what sounds or melodies REALLY needs to be tweaked, taken out or added so that there arent any inconsistencies.

Word About Verses

If I make a song using the common structure – intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-outro, I usually try to create the verses in a way that they make the chorus stand out. I try to keep the verse simple (simpler melodies) and go with less sounds (fewer drums sounds for example) than the chorus so that chorus really makes an impact to the listener. So in verse I just try to build the tension towards the chorus.

About Intro

Intro is good for  letting the listeners know what’s ahead. I usually use a “mini-chorus” here which could be something simple like an instrument playing the chorus melody.

All In All

This is just one of the methods I use to start making a song. Another one I use a lot is that I create a drum groove, start to play bassline on top of it with my MIDI keyboard, compose the melodies and then maybe chords. OR one method is that I just start building a song from the intro, without a clue what the chorus is going to be and keep adding elements as I move on and usually I come up with some nice ideas for the chorus at some point.

Finally, here’s the video for this tutorial:

About Petri Suhonen

Petri Suhonen is an electronic music hobbyist. He has been producing music with computers over a decade on such styles as trance, downtempo, ambient & experimental electronic using FL Studio.

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Comments

  1. Loved your article! And yes, those strings sound good!!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. david says:

    i am not grate to write a song

  3. my advice would be to take breaks when you write a tune because after a while, everything sounds good when played repetitively. great article.

    • Thanks for the tip, Ugo.

      That is so true. It has happened to me several times that I have composed a song in a day and after listening it on a next day with a “fresh pair of ears” it sounds like rubbish…

      Seriously, taking breaks should be a part of the composing process.

  4. Sebastian says:

    Great stuff man. So nice to see a coherent, well-structured article for a change.

  5. rdgeezy says:

    Dude your article was very useful. I’m beginner and it helped a lot, btw this page is helping me a lot because I understand english well if it’s written, its very well-structured with pictures and the text.
    I just have to thanks for the help, keep with the articles. ;D
    Just one question. The instrument to play in the intro, for example, could be the same instruments of chorus?
    Thank you.

    • Thank you :)

      To you question: sure thing! But I suggest to add a couple of more instruments to the chorus to make it really stand out between the verses.

  6. César Augusto says:

    Petri!
    I’ve discovered your site yesterday, and i can’t get out of here anymore. Learning a lot!
    THANK YOU! Congratulations for your talent.

    And PLEASE, tell me how do you made this Full Strings combi on the Miroslav! This is SO beatiful, that i’ve listened the step 3 of this tutorial more than the whole music. lol

    Hugs from Brasil and sorry for my english, it sucks.

  7. Bill says:

    Fantastic article, I just got a Mac with Garageband and had no idea where to start. Even though it’s not the same program, this definitely gave me some direction to go on, rather then wandering aimlessly. Thanks very much.

  8. DanielP says:

    This article was exactly what i was looking for. i just got the Professional edition of Fl Studio and i was a little skeptical about were to begin. Also who you happen to know any free VST’s that are very good. Just got the program and im not looking to buy anymore addons for a bit.

  9. shelby says:

    how do u download it..i wanna download it

  10. Marco says:

    Hey Petri,

    I would like to download this tutorial, how can I do it?

    Just one more thing, when you start a track with the drums + bass how do you create a melody around it?

    • Hey Marco, at the moment I’m not able to offer the downloadable version straight from my website (bandwidth limit), but you can go to my Youtube channel and use a Firefox extension like Easy Youtube Downloader to dl it.

      About the melody:

      I use the bassline notes as basis for my melodies. I’ll use only notes that fits to the notes I use in my bassline.

  11. ERA UMA PESSOA QUE NÃO TIA

  12. charles says:

    thanks this tutorial save my life!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. I love your articles Petri.

    I have been studying music theory for the past week to try and improve my own productions…
    I am no expert, but one thing i have learnt is figuring out/ choosing a key makes note selection ALOT easier.

    For example, your track there is in the key F,
    F uses only the notes
    F G A A# C D E
    so instead of having 12 notes to choose from (per octave), you can narrow it down to 7!
    the other thing you are doing there (and correct me if i am wrong, this is only from the theory i have read today) is chord inversion.

    in a scale you have chords, they just use every second note from the scale root,
    eg in scale F first chord is F A C, second is G A# C etc.

    In your chord progression, you lead with A E C – which is actually the 3rd chord in the F scale, A C E – you are just transposing your C up an octave.

    I have learned alot from your website here, I wanted to return the favor in some form!

    • Hey Dan and thanks for sharing those tips, appreciated! I should also dive into pure music theory as that is the area I seriously lack of knowledge!

      • I am no theorist or anything, just like yourself i have been a hobbiest computer music producer for ~15 years, the stuff i have picked up is mostly from youtube videos on music theory. search youtube for “chord progression” and you will learn alot :)

  14. Shanssi says:

    Best tutorials ever!

    By the way, I got a question: Can the bassline notes be different octave than root notes of the strings?

    Thanks!

    From fellow finnish trance lover

    • Thank you, Shanssi (kiitokset)!

      To your question: yes they can. Also, feel free to experiment with the bassline by using different note variations than just the root notes: try transposing a section of the notes half step or whole step up or down and listen carefully what notes work with the current chord.

      Cheers! 8)

  15. Chillerbil says:

    Hey Petri, nice tut as usual.

    I’m a beginner house producer and sometimes find it hard layering the right basslines, chords and/or melodies of a song. Do you write house/electro songs the same way as in this tutorial?

    I’ve had different tips of analysing songs and trying to figure out their layers and build up, but got no idea where to start. Any tips on analysing songs and where to start?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hey Chillerbil,

      Well, usually with dance music I create the drums and bassline first and then start building melodies on top of that. But if I want to create a track which emphasis is in a strong melody, I’ve found this method to be pretty good source for inspiration/ideas so sometimes I use both actually.

      About analyzing song: try to get a hang of the song structure first – separate intro, breakdown & drop from each other and listen what kind of instruments/sounds/melodies are used in these parts.

      Hope that helps!

  16. FL studio is the most flexible when composing your own music im getting the hang of making music now been doing it for a while .When you get the hang of it gets easier and you dont sit for hours finding some other button , but anyway nice tutorial Petri

  17. you are the man, man.

    tanks allot for all your you tube videos. i passed through all of them and they where a great kickout.

  18. wayne says:

    this is exactly what I’ve been looking for; thanks!

  19. Michael says:

    Hi petri suhonen, i cant just pass-by without commending your great work here. Its fantastic and every of ur tuts i went over is very explanatory. I have bookmark ur site. It’s a place to check constantly. I hv searched for long for smthng as clear and informative as this. You would be a very good teacher if u are thinking abt it. Thanks very much.

  20. Dwipay Diwan says:

    Hey man, you’re a great artist. I really like what you do. Your tutorials have helped me get better. Specially this one. The tune you’ve made is amazing; it can be used for some TV Show or as a theme for a movie. You’re great man. Thanks a lot for your tutorials.

  21. Eden says:

    How do you copy a part of a melody on another pattern on fl studio?

  22. Hi, I`m 15 and I really like music. 3 days ago I installed FL Studio (demo…) and I start to make some simple songs (trance, this is what i want to learn first, and then hardstyle, house and maybe dubstep or dnb). After I read your post I realize I do it wrong. I wait next day to start to use your tips in maybe my first song? what i do was just 20-25 secounds cuz after I listed I becam too bored and after listing a good song i think what i make is a shit, anyway, i used fl. Studio just 3 days..
    Goodnight and keel the awesome work up! And sorry for my english, i know thats bad.. and im on tablet, the touxhscreen wants to see me in rage quit.

  23. Yrax Max says:

    It’s amazing how you teach and make everything just to be so easy to do. Thank You a lot for all the tutorials. Cheers from a Brazilian Producer.

  24. Your tutorial is great.

    Here is another good use of the Miroslav Orchestra.

    To make your orchestra sound like Thomas Newman (Ghosts)
    that was a perfect sample for
    Reflekt – Need To Feel Loved (Adam K & Soha Vocal Mix)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xta762Ja1fk

  25. Is the Plug – in free?
    The Strings sounds dramatic, I wanna use it on my Videos!
    Nice Tutorial Pertri, it’s very Helpful.

    Keep up the good work bro!

  26. Dat T says:

    Pls, i really need your help , and i will be glad if u can render your assistance! First of all , how can i download all your tutorial? Where can i get it? Or d link to download it ? , secoundly i need an handout on either samplitude or cubase, on how to mix and how to mastered ? I will be very glad also if u can be my lecturer online

  27. Hi

  28. It cool

  29. Andre says:

    Nice Tutorials but i’m not really good to make my own music. :/

  30. nicho says:

    how can i get the link to download it?..thanks..

  31. Gilson says:

    Thank you for your work, Petry! You and google translator is helping me
    lot here in Brazil!

  32. mahan says:

    thank sir i enjoy your song
    pleas learning piano chord in fl studio

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