Learning how to write a country song isn't as complicated as you may think. As said best by country music legend Harlan Howard, country songwriting chalks up to "three chords and the truth."
However, if you're new to writing country songs, or to the genre in general, it can be tricky to transform these basic principles into concrete songwriting. Fortunately, we've built the ultimate guide on how to make your first country song whether you're an experienced musician or just starting out. Let's get started!
What Makes A Strong Country Song?
What makes a country music song different from a pop song or rock song? While this question is fairly subjective, it's important to have a basic understanding of what defines the genre so that you're able to create authentic country music.
By the dictionary definition, country music is "a form of popular music originating in the rural southern US. It is traditionally a mixture of ballads and dance tunes played characteristically on fiddle, guitar, steel guitar, drums, and keyboard." While this rings true in some ways today, not every country song follows the same formula.
That being said, here are some of the common themes that hold true across many different types of country songs:
Song Lyrics Come First
Country music is similar to the folk genre in that it's an incredibly lyrically driven genre. The musical backing isn't always complicated by design, since listeners are more focused on the story and raw emotions showcased in the music rather than bumping to the beat of the song .
A good country song tends to tell a story, and hooks in the listener by speaking directly to them or telling it like it is. This is a genre that relies heavily on songwriting, so crafting thoughtful lyrics is essential.
While country music is oftentimes sad or reflective, it can also be silly or be used to convey a wide range of emotions. When you hear country songs, you stay for the writing, regardless of the mood of the track.
If there's one thing you need to know to learn how to write a country song, it boils down to the art of being vulnerable. You won't hear modern production techniques on every country song, but you will hear the speaker or singer being honest.
It's easier for listeners to connect with lyrics that feel raw, which is exactly why country artists are able to build such strong connections with their fans. Artists writing songs of their own is commonplace throughout the country genre, even if they are co-writing with another artist. When you write lyrics , you need to show listeners your story unfolding.
Country lyrics take risks by showcasing the good, bad, and ugly whereas other genres throughout the music industry don't always take that risk. Successful songwriters in country write straight from the heart.
It's hard to write a country song without referencing the lifestyle that helped build the country music genre into what it is today. The genre originated from the rural southern regions of America. It takes influence from gospel spirituals, cowboy culture, and the storytelling embedded into American folk music.
Many country songs hold tropes of life on the farm, faith, family, love, and good drinks. While these ideas continue to make their way into modern country songs, fresh ideas are more than welcome to the table! Honest songwriting is still the most important part of a country hit, so don't feel like you can't participate if you weren't born into a southern American family.
In fact, one of country's most popular artists Keith Urban was actually born in New Zealand! It just goes to show that the country market is open to explore. You can still connect your artistic identity in many other ways, even if you weren't born into country culture.
Country stars are amazing at painting mental pictures for their listeners. When it comes to writing songs , you'll want to employ plenty of literary devices like metaphors and hyperbole to help get your point across. Even in silly songs, country artists manage to keep the listener hooked by building a country scene with their words.
Country songwriters rely on traditional instruments like the guitar to help express their art. Some other instruments you might hear in country music include the banjo, pedal steel, piano, fiddle, bass, and mandolin. As you can see, there's a lot of sonic crossover and overlap from country's ancestral genres folk and bluegrass.
Modern country music may have a more pop feel depending on the artist, but every artist is different. Country music usually has fairly simple chord progressions to help focus the listener on the lyrics of the song. Some of the most memorable melodies are sourced from country music, and country songwriters are usually excellent musicians and wordsmiths in their own right.
Classic Vs. Today's Popular Country Music
Within the country music industry, there's a lot of discourse on what "true" country music actually sounds like. This is because country music has many different subgenres, and a classic country song can sound completely different from a stadium country hit.
Classic country artists like Johnny Cash usually play guitar and write songs focused on the lyrics alone, without too many bells and whistles. Modern country artists may mix elements of pop and rock into their music, like in the Florida Georgia Line song "Cruise."
Some of the artists attributed with crafting the beginnings of country pop music include Taylor Swift, Shania Twain, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, and Glen Campbell. While some country fans dislike the new elements expressed in country-pop, it's impressive that these new country artists where able to find mainstream success by blurring the line between genres.
How To Write A Country Song in 7 Steps
Are you ready to write a country song? Here are the essential steps to start the country songwriting process.
1. Find Your Voice
Arguably the most important part of writing a country song is finding your voice, or unique perspective. Country artists are known for drawing from personal experience, so take some time to reflect on yours. If you find yourself getting stuck, check out our list of 200 song ideas .
Start to brainstorm the main idea of your song and even pick out a song title if something comes to you. Not every song will come easy but have a general idea of what you want to write about before moving to the next stage of the process.
During these early steps, let yourself create as unencumbered as possible. One of the hardest parts of songwriting is getting started , and having the courage to write from the heart. Good music is just a matter of being vulnerable enough to connect with the listener.
You need to allow yourself room to express your ideas and focus on editing later. Even the greatest songwriters struggle to finish songs from time to time but trust your concept and pledge to follow through with your initial song idea for the sake of creation.
2. Pick Up An Instrument
Country music, even country-pop, tends to incorporate live, recorded instruments, so it's helpful if you play one. Some common instruments featured in country music include guitar, bass, banjo, lap steel, pedal steel, fiddle, harmonica, mandolin, and drums. You'll find that country music shares a lot of the same sounds used in bluegrass, rock, and folk music.
If you don't play an instrument, try to link up with someone who does. You can also find country chord progressions from beat libraries or opt to make the melody first before finding an instrumentalist to help you realize the entire track.
3. Write From The Heart
Great country music is real, raw and honest. While writing your country song, challenge yourself to be as open as possible. Act as your listener is your closest friend and share your current struggles, hopes, and dreams.
Since country music is so lyrically driven, you'll want o spend a lot of time on this step. Consider the following while writing your lyrics:
Try not to mince words when writing country music. Your words don't have to be literal in every sense, but they should be easy for your listener to dissect and understand. Country music is all about honesty, so your listeners should be able to relate to what you're saying without too much effort.
It can be scary to put your heart on the line, but remember that music is a perfect place to do so. Oftentimes, listeners are applying your experiences to their own experiences rather than trying to decode what you went through, so try not to get self-conscious. Music is a magical medium, and letting your guard down will only benefit you in this context.
Country music is full of raw, complex emotions. To help illustrate how you feel, use literary devices like metaphor, hyperbole, and imagery to take your ideas to a ten. Your songs should feel like a complete story with a narrator, setting, beginning, middle, and end. Take your listeners on a journey through your words.
4. Record Your Creation
You can make country music as complicated or simple as you want it to be. Some country songs are just the singer and the acoustic guitar, and that's okay. Others are packed with drums, bass, backup singers, and full instrumentation. Feel free to take what you need, and then move on to record your song.
You can record your song from a home studio or opt to hire a professional engineer to help you complete your project. If you plan on hiring someone to help you with the recording process, make sure you complete step 5 first, so you don't have to shell out extra cash for revisions.
Making the put to record your songs, even if you don't plan on releasing them is great practice and can help inform your future songwriting process for the better.
5. Listen Back and Revise
Rome wasn't built in a day. Not all songs are at their best on the first try. Once you get a solid recording of your completed song, it's time to come in with the red edit pen. Reflect on ways you can improve the song whether that's tightening the lyrics, switching the chord progression, or opting for a stronger melody .
Sometimes, it can be helpful to come back to your song after a couple of days' distance from it. It's easy for our ears to become accustomed to what we've heard in the past, so let your latest mix sit a little before you ponder revisions.
Once you've figured out your proposed improvements, go ahead and make your changes! If you aren't keen on pursuing the song further, you can use your feedback points to help inform your next creation.
6. Share and Collaborate
Now that you've edited your song share it with other musicians and non-musicians. Seek out feedback and use it to improve your songwriting . While music is ultimately subjective, if you get a couple of common threads across multiple people, it's a good chance working towards that improvement is a worthwhile one. Seek out other musicians to work with moving forward and ask about how they've refined their process for writing country songs.
7. Rinse And Repeat
The best country songwriters were once inexperienced songwriters. Some people may have a natural gift for songwriting more than others, but every songwriter is capable of becoming a great one with enough time, patience, and practice. Once you've completed your first song, give yourself a pat on the back but don't stop there!
Try to make a consistent routine of writing music. The most difficult part is getting started, but as you learn songwriting will become increasingly second nature. Listen to other country artists to get inspired and keep writing. In time, you're bound to make a golden hit!
Tips For Writing Country Music
Now that you have the tools to start writing country music get out and do it! Here are some additional tips to help you shine throughout your artist journey:
Melodies Are King
Lyrically driven music relies on melodies to help it shine at its very best. You'll still want to pay attention to the story of your song, but make sure you pilot a couple of hook melodies and see what lands best. Listeners are often drawn in by the feel of melody first and stay for vulnerable lyrics later. Country songs can be simple, but they should be sonically pleasing.
Collaborate With Other Musicians
Just go to one of the capitals of country music, Nashville, and you'll see just how important it is to collaborate with other musicians and country songwriters. Some of your favorite country music artists almost always work with cowriters, since two heads are almost always better than one.
So, take it upon yourself to start collaborating with other musicians. You don't even necessarily have to put out a formal release together to work with each other. Try writing songs together, brainstorming melodies, or spitballing song ideas.
If you do get the opportunity, collaborating on a formal release can work wonders for both of you as creators. This is a great way to cross-pollinate your audiences and learn new skills from the other artist.
Don't Be Afraid To Experiment
Don't be intimidated by country purists. Your music can be anything you want it to be! Whether you're creating a classic guitar-laden track or opting for a more genre-bending banger, your expression is valid. Play with your voicing and persona as an artist and follow your desires. Music is about expressing yourself, so don't be discouraged if you feel like your first song doesn't align as neatly within the genre as you would've liked!
Songwriting is a skill just like anything else. In order to improve, you need to consistently create. Practice makes perfect, and in order to make quality songs, you need to work through a wide quantity of songs. If you have trouble staying motivated, ask another musician friend to keep you accountable or set small yet realistic goals to help you get into your musical headspace on a regular basis.
Take a Break When You Need One
As important as consistency is, it's also essential to step away from your art form to take care of yourself and find inspiration for your next work. Allow yourself to take scheduled breaks with promises to return and finish the songs you're actively working on. Sometimes, letting yourself sleep on a song will give you additional perspective the following day, so let yourself create at a relaxed yet productive pace.
At the end of the day, country songwriting is what you make of it. Enjoy building country music from the bottom up and allowing your story to unfold through the power of music!