Tickets To Write

Welcome to Beatles Songwriting 101. Here you'll find a summary of all the songwriting techniques, tips and tricks I've gleaned from Lennon & McCartney (and Harrison...ok...and Starr) so far. Clicking on each heading will take you to a post that explains the technique more fully and contains a much longer list of examples, from the Beatles and beyond.

My hope is to give you, dear songwriter, some fresh inspiration. Please leave me a comment if any of these have proved useful.

You can also study individual songs via the sidebar or searchbox, completed album posts are indexed here and articles on methods that made the Beatles effective are listed under Be-Atletudes.

For more info about Beatles Songwriting Academy and how it started or about me, Matt Blick just click on the links.

by Matt Blick

1: Use the flat 6 (bVI) chord in a major key song (e.g. F major in the key of A major)
I Saw Her Standing There, With A Little Help from My Friends and Suffragette City (David Bowie)

2: Take out every unnecessary section, repeat or other element
From Me To You, Please Please Me and Song 2 (Blur)

3: Create catchy, melodic, rhythmic or sonic 'hooks'
Please Please Me, Here Comes The Sun and Wonderful Tonight (Eric Clapton)

4: Create intros, outros and solos by mutating the main sections of the song
Piggies, She Loves You and Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)

5: Make each section contrast with the others
Please Please Me, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window and Creep (Radiohead)

6: Avoid using the root chord, especially as the first chord in the song
All My Loving, The Long And Winding Road and That'll Be The Day (Buddy Holly)

7: Avoid using all three major chords early in the song
Ask Me Why, Get Back and 505 (Arctic Monkeys)

8: Use the minor 4 (iv) chord in a major key song (e.g. Dm in the key of A major)
In My Life, Nowhere Man and Don't Look Back In Anger (Oasis)

9: Develop melodic or chordal fragments to create longer ideas or new sections
Piggies, Something and Dance Little Liar (Arctic Monkeys)

10: Finish a major key song on the 6 (vi) chord instead of the root (e.g. Am in the key of C major)
From Me To You, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and Every Breath You Take (The Police)

11: Have the whole band play the vocal rhythm to emphasise a key line
I Want To Hold Your Hand, The End and Tracks Of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles)

12: Use contrary motion between different instruments
I Me Mine, Something and In The Light (Led Zeppelin)

13: Make the vocal line stay on non-chord tones
Day Tripper, Help

14: Write an in-key melody over out-of-key chords
Julia, Martha My Dear

15: Change time signatures between sections
Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Here Comes The Sun and Paranoid Android (Radiohead)

16: Finish a minor key song on the major tonic (I) chord (e.g. C major in the key of C minor)
A Taste Of Honey, I’ll Be Back and Hello (Lionel Ritchie)

17: Incorporate a descending chromatic melody, starting from the root, into your chord progression
Michelle, Something and Rain Song (Led Zeppelin)

18: Finish on a single ringing chord
Help, I Saw Her Standing There

19: Write a blues chord structure that is NOT 12 bars long
I Me Mine, One After 909 and Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan)

20: End the song with a pair of triplets
I Want To Hold Your Hand, Twist And Shout

21: Do something random, pointless and possibly career threatening
Revolution 9

22: Incorporate 'blue notes' (b3, b5 and b7) into a major key melody
From Me To You, She Loves You and Suffragette City (David Bowie)

23: Write as few lyrics as you can
Love Me Do, I Wanna Be Your Man and I Feel Love (Donna Summer)

24: Repeat words and sentence structures
A Day In The Life, Come Together and Let Her Go (Passenger)

25: Transplant cliches from other genres
From Me To You, Piggies and Every Breath You Take (The Police)

26: Use an AABA (verse verse bridge verse) structure
Lady Madonna, I Saw Her Standing There and Just the Way You Are (Billy Joel)

27: Place your main lyric on the highest point of the melody
Carry That Weight, She Loves You and Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)

28: Use at least one out of key chord
A Day In The Life, I Am The Walrus and God Only Knows (Beach Boys)

29: Use polyrhythms
Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Here Comes The Sun and Kashmir (Led Zeppelin)

30: Emphasise key lyrics by having the whole band drop out
Can't Buy Me Love, The Long And Winding Road and Ain't No Mountain High Enough (Diana Ross)

31: Incorporate a descending chromatic melody, starting from the b7th, into your chord progression
Cry Baby Cry, Eleanor Rigby and Love In Song (Wings)

32: Incorporate an ascending chromatic melody, starting from the 5th, into your chord progression
Hey Bulldog, Glass Onion and Mis-Shapes (Pulp)

33: Subvert a 12 bar blues by altering the chord sequence
Can't Buy Me Love, Day Tripper and Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealer's Wheels)

34: Disguise a 12 bar blues song by avoiding the AAB lyric structure
Paperback Writer, The Word and Surfin' USA (Beach Boys)

35: Use 12 bar long sections in non 12 bar blues songs
Fool On The Hill, I'm So Tired and Private Investigations (Dire Straits)

36: Emphasise key lyrics by changing chord on every syllable or word
I'm So Tired, The End and Tracks Of My Tears (Smokey Robinson)

37: Create odd time signatures by removing bars or individual beats that have no vocals in them
All You Need Is Love, Good Day Sunshine and Country Blues and Folk tunes (especially as performed by solo guitarists)

38: Use an ABCCC rhyme scheme
Come Together

39: Don't start the melody on the first beat of the bar
Don't Let Me Down, Strawberry Fields Forever and They Can't Take That Away From Me (Gershwin/Gershwin)

40: Don't use all seven notes of the scale
Love You To, Rain and The Riddle (Steve Vai)

41: Use the same ending (either melodic or chord progression) for two different sections
Golden Slumbers, Let It Be and Imperial March (John Williams)

42: Have a completely unique concept for the song
Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!, Octopus's Garden and Free Nelson Mandela (The Special A.K.A.)

43: Create a chord progression by going backwards through the circle of fifths (e.g. C F Bb Eb etc)
The Long And Winding Road, You Never Give Me Your Money and I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)

44: Use the minor 5 (v) chord in a major key song (e.g. Em in the key of A major)
I'll Get You, Julia and Why Does It Always Rain On Me (Travis)

45: Change keys between sections
Penny Lane, Octopus's Garden and Wouldn't It Be Good (Nik Kershaw)

46: In a major key song, finish the song (or section) on an unexpected chord like the major 6 (VI) (e.g. A major in the key of C major)
For No One, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away and Lately (Stevie Wonder)

47: Have a false ending
Piggies, Something and Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen)

48: Repeat the same melody idea over changing chords
The Long And Winding Road, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Runs In The Family (Amanda Palmer)

49: Use tonalities, melodic shapes, rhythms and arrangement ideas that clearly represent your lyrical ideas (e.g. melody goes down on 'I'm Down')
A Day In The Life, The Long And Winding Road and Glitter And Be Gay (Candide) (Leonard Bernstein)

50: Keep your melody off the root note
Get Back and Keep Yourself Alive (Queen)

51: Use the mixolydian mode
Paperback Writer, Within You Without You and Celebration (Kool And The Gang)

52: Create odd time signatures by adding in extra beats occasionally
Don't Let Me Down, Revolution 1 and I'm Shakin' (Jack White)

53: Write a 'jazz-style' intro verse
Here There And Everywhere, If I Fell and When The Sun Goes Down (Arctic Monkeys)

54: Unify your lyrical imagery so all your metaphors and similes are drawn from the same area
Julia, Piggies and The Last Chance Texaco (Rickie Lee Jones)

55: Combine two or more different song fragments to create one complete song
A Day In The Life, I've Got A Feeling and Fall At Your Feet (Crowded House)

56: Write a melody over a chord sequence, then completely change the chord sequence
A Day In The Life, I Want To Hold You Hand and Frank Zappa guitar solos

57: Use rhythmic displacement
Mean Mr Mustard, Why Don't We Do It In The Road? and Fascinating Rhythm (Gershwin)

58: Write a descant
Help, She's Leaving Home and California Dreaming (Mamas And The Papas)

59: Turn a technical or poetic exercise into a song
Martha My Dear, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Tears In The Rain (Joe Satriani)

60: In a major key song, go from the root chord to the one built on the 7th degree (e.g. A major to G#m in the key of A major)
Sexy Sadie, Yesterday and Karma Police (Radiohead)

61: Introduce your song's most unusual compositional or arrangement ideas as early as possible
Martha My Dear, Strawberry Fields Forever and Goodnight Girl (Wet Wet Wet)

62: Write two bridges
I'll Be Back, Martha My Dear and Lydia The Tattooed Lady (Groucho Marx)

63: If you favour the major scale, write a minor key song (or vice versa)
Eleanor Rigby, I'll Be Back

64: Try writing for children
Octopus' Garden, Yellow Submarine and 789 (Barenaked Ladies)

65: Build up on the 5 (V) chord (eg E or E7 in the key of A major)
Here Comes The Sun, Twist And Shout and Suffragette City (David Bowie)

66: Write a song to commemorate a national holiday or special occasion
Birthday, Christmas Time Is Here Again and Happy New Year (Abba)

67: Repeat the first or the last verse
A Hard's Day Night, Fixing A Hole and Rapid Fire (Judas Priest)

68: Use the root - b7 - 6 - b6 chord progression (e.g. A – G – D/F# - F in the key of A major)
Dear Prudence, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin)

69: Play an ascending diatonic chord progression (e.g. A Bm C#m D E in the key of A major)
Here, There And Everywhere, I'm Only Sleeping and Like A Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)

70: Write lyrics as, or about, a character other than your own
Eleanor Rigby, Paperback Writer and Roxanne (The Police)

71: Write a parody
Back In The USSR, Happiness Is A Warm Gun and The Saga Begins (Weird Al Yankovic)

72: Leave your mistakes in, or even accentuate them
Revolution 1, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and Roxanne (The Police)

73: Interrupt the rhyme scheme by rhyming with a previous section or anticipating one that follows
Hey Jude, Octopus's Garden and One More Sleep Till Christmas (Steve Whitmire)

74: Keep the tonic note, and tonic chord apart until the end of the section
Hey Jude, The Long and Winding Road and Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (B.J. Thomas)

75: Switch between the relative major and minor keys
We Can Work It Out, When I'm Sixty Four and Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne)

76: Create a school hymn intro
Let it Be, Michelle and Merry Xmas Everybody (Slade)

77: Repeat the final line
I Want To Hold Your Hand, Octopus's Garden and No Buses (Arctic Monkeys)

78: Play the vocal melody on an instrument
She Loves You, Please Please Me and Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)