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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 165 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at FutureLearn based on 181 ratings

Start your review of How to Write Your First Song

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 theory,...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 writing...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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

    David Parkin completed this course.

    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 refresh...
  • Anonymous
    This is a pretty awesome course, easy to learn and full of value.

    Althought it lasts 6 weeks it´s really easy going and you´ll feel motivated in each session.

    I´m really glad I did it, it guided me to a new ways to discover music.

    I feel more confortable to expressing myself throught music and with a different perspective, more wide.

    Awesome musicians. Really valuable knowledge.


  • Profile image for Pam Gould
    Pam Gould

    Pam Gould completed this course.

    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.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 musicians...
  • Anonymous
    Very inspiring, concepts easily explained. The whole process of writing a song is described based on a vivid example (from lyrics to bringing it to the studio and adding drums, cello, etc.) I think anyone who has ever thought of writing a song, but was hesitating for some reasons, should take it.
  • Anonymous
    This course was very excellent. It really helped me out. I think it would helpful for me in the future. I always wanted to take a course and get better at it. Was born to be musical, music, and, etc. Have been playing an instrument since the age of 7. I am very talented and gifted by the Lord.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 make...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 for...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 educational...
  • Anonymous
    It's very interesting and intriguing I'd like to get more advice and I would like to start a music career because I'm passionate about music and I'm eager to start a music career because it's my passion...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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
    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

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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 a great course for both new learners and those who need a review . i learned a lot and found the material great
  • Anonymous
    This course is very informative and full of practical tips and guidance, with specific step-by-step tasks to undertake, and varied lesson styles to keep the interest up. It's very inclusive, as you don't need any prior knowledge of music to take part,...
  • Anonymous
    This course is very informative and full of practical tips and guidance, with specific step-by-step tasks to undertake, and varied lesson styles to keep the interest up. It's very inclusive, as you don't need any prior knowledge of music to take part,...
  • Kathleen Littlejohn

    Kathleen Littlejohn completed this course.

    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 that...

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