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The University of Sheffield

How to Write Your First Song

The University of Sheffield via FutureLearn


Ever wanted to write a song, but not known how?

This course will introduce you to the tools and techniques you need to write your first song. You’ll look at some of the fundamentals of songwriting, building your knowledge as you progress.

By the time you’re done, you’ll have gone through the process of writing your own song, working with pitch, melody, chord progressions and more.

Learn how to write a song

The art of songwriting is one that just about anyone can learn. Whether or not you’ve tried your hand at music composition in the past, this course gives you the opportunity to get creative.

As you work your way through, you’ll learn how to make a song, exploring the main steps involved in the process.

Explore the principles of songwriting

Writing songs is an enjoyable and creative way to express yourself. With this course, you’ll discover the underlying principles of song composition.

As well as looking at how to set words to a rhythm, you’ll examine what an effective melody looks like, and how to structure your piece. These techniques can help you write future songs on your own.

Create a song of your own

If you’re struggling with how to write song lyrics or what to write a song about, we’ve got you covered. Each week, using specially-commissioned lyrics, we’ll build up a song and encourage you to do the same.

World-renowned musician, Martin Simpson, will use the same words and techniques and we’ll check in with him each week for inspiration and guidance on the songwriting process.

We’ll also talk to experts in music and psychology as well as established musicians and songwriters to find out what makes a song successful.

Whether you’re a complete novice who has never written a song in their life, a budding amateur looking to develop further skills or an accomplished professional brushing up on the basics, this course will deliver comprehensive practical and theoretical knowledge to help set you on your path.

While it will be useful to have access to a musical instrument this is not a requirement, you can participate in the course just using your voice or with freely available music software.


  • What's involved in songwriting?
    • Welcome to the course
    • Getting started
    • Writing your song
    • The songwriting challenge
  • Words, music and time
    • Welcome to Week 2
    • The five musical elements
    • Setting words to music
    • Time and pitch
    • The songwriting challenge
  • Working with melody
    • Welcome to Week 3
    • The ingredients of melody
    • What makes an effective melody?
    • The songwriting challenge
  • Chords and chord progressions
    • Welcome to Week 4
    • Major and minor chords
    • Chord types and chord progressions
    • The songwriting challenge
  • Song forms
    • Welcome to Week 5
    • Chorus, verse, refrain
    • The songwriting challenge
  • Putting the elements together
    • Welcome to Week 6
    • Arranging your song
    • Final course assessment
    • The songwriting challenge

Taught by

Adam White


4.8 rating, based on 166 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at FutureLearn based on 187 ratings

Start your review of How to Write Your First Song

  • Anonymous
    I am sorry to leave a rather negative review. I stayed through the course and I am trying to put some of the advice into practice, but in the end, I didn’t find the course particularly engaging or effective. The course is heavily based on music…
  • Profile image for Pam Gould
    Pam Gould
    Fabulous course. The emphasis is on music rather than lyrics. The 'lyrics' are provided by poet Matt Black, to use as you see fit. The song writing process is broken down into its basic elements with wonderful interviews with performers and video demonstrations. There are also excellent interviews with songwriters and producers, And Martin Simpson, folk singer/songwriter and stunning guitarist, writes his song along with you, laying bare his process. You'll listen to wide variety of music, and you can share your own music with fellow students.
  • Kathleen Littlejohn
    This course has taught me a lot about writing music to go with lyrics, and it's enabled me to have fun composing melodies using free online software and sharing them online. A few people were disappointed because the title doesn't make it clear tha…
  • Anonymous
    This was a great course for someone who has been writing songs but without any musical background. It has enhanced my skills and given more meaning to what I am doing and would be doing in the future. Hope to get more courses that will continue to make me grow. Thank you very much!
  • Anonymous
    An excellent course which I've very much enjoyed. Wrote a song though didn't share it as I just can't sing! I've been a sax player for some years and love improvising but have found traditional chordal theory too overwhelming for my brain so do it…
  • Anonymous
    Great course covering lots of ground. You don't need to be able to write or read music, though if you play an instrument it helps! The vdeos were good, not only the tutor's videos, but those from songwriters - how they go about the process of writi…
  • Anonymous
    A very high quality & enjoyable course. The tutors, presenters and guest musicians are all excellent - well-informed & engaging personalities. We were exposed to a broad range of musical styles and influences, from the weekly playlists for listening…
  • David Parkin
    The course starts slowly and builds at just the right pace, the amount of work you put in is up to you but if you work on the song around the weeks topic it is probably easier, I didn’t do that and am now backtracking, revising little bits to refres…
  • Anonymous
    It is a very well-made and generous course for those who are trying to communicate their ideas by writing songs and song lyrics. However, I found that this course is specifically made for people who don't know a lot about songwriting in general, not…
  • Anonymous
    A really interesting course on many levels. I enjoyed the weekly selection of tracks to illustrate the focus of each week's learning, which has really enriched both my learning and how I listen to music. Having the opportunity to hear professional m…
  • Anonymous
    This course has definitely de-mystified songwriting for me. It is a brilliant course, and I would recommend it to all musicians who have never written a song, as well as those those who have taken tentative steps into writing but are unsure what to…
  • Anonymous
    Fantastic course. I started this course as a lyricist only with no idea how to write a song. The course has given me an intro into writing music and the basic knowledge to start creating a song. I regret that I don’t play an instrument as I would ha…
  • Anonymous
    This course was really well presented . It covered all the principal elements of music in a way that was clearly understandable. The staging and course layout was highly commendable. The demonstrations and activities, interviews to accompany the e…
  • Anonymous
    I am very greatful to Adam and the team. I have just started playing an instrument (in my retirement) and could not understand music theory.
    This course has clarified the mystery of how music works. I cannot believe how much difference it has made in just six weeks.
    I now understand what I am seeing and hearing when I learn or (unbelievably) compose/construct a piece. I am only allowed, by my children and grandchildren, nephews nieces, friends and neighbours to sing in private. Despite this I enjoy putting words to the chords and notes I string together, they now sound like music, whereas before they sounded like my singing.
    I am so happy.
  • Anonymous
    I found the six weeks course very enjoyable and instructive. I had already written and recorded several songs, but I had never had any instruction before. The course has provided me with a better understanding of the process of producing a good song.
    I now feel more confident about writing my next song with a number of extra techniques for improving the quality of a song.
    The structure of the course and the quality the presentations were of a high standard.
    When I started the course I had no intention of upgrading it, but I did so.
  • Anonymous
    This was such a great course for learning how to song write and to develop my skills and deepen my understanding in music. Learning to clean up my songs and give them proper shape it has helped my songwriting considerably. I highly recommend this course for all levels of study as even the basics can be just as important to study again and giving you a different perspective for your music writing. Thank you for developing such a beneficial course!
  • The tutors, interviewees/artistes and general advice to/encouragement of participants (students) were always helpful, inspiring and positive. I found the musical theory the hardest part of the course to grasp and understand, which is where other st…
  • Anonymous
    Excellent course! I love music and can play guitar/piano at beginner/intermediate level. I know a good song when I hear one but had never tried to write one. How hard can that be? Recently I retired so it was time to put it to the test. Turns out n…
  • Jose Luis GT
    Well, I must start to say that I was thinking a lot about joining this course, because I simply chose a path in my life, away from considering music for professional purposes, But I have always had music present in my free time, it is a hobby, and…
  • Anonymous
    Frankly speaking, I find this course really engaging and didn't expect it to share so much mindset I've never encountered. Some parts made me want to keep going and learn more that I couldn't stop. A big thanks and thumbs up! I learnt so much from this course! Gonna dive into my songwriting world now~

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