Old school outlining can really help your songwriting



    Remember in school when your teacher would make you do an


    outline? Outlines are helpful in songwriting too.  Especially when


    you know you will be coming back to your song after your writing




    5 ways to outline your song


    From Flypaper (edited) – Ramita Aurora


    Outlining is such a great way to make sure your song progresses

    throughout the verses and hits satisfyingly at the chorus. The message

    of the lyrics become clear, you can imagine how you might want the

    chords to change and fit the sections and the overall arc of the song is

    easier to write.


    You don’t need to outline the whole song,, especially if you’re

    freewriting, it’s extremely helpful for  time crunches or when you get

    stuck. . Try these suggestions on how to outline a song before you get

    into the throes of writing it.

    1. A Traditional Storyline

    Probably the easiest and most intuitive way to outline. If you’re a


    • Outline your verses like you would a plot.
    • Make sure it develops through the sections 
    • Hits a peak point in the bridge. 

    Think of the settings and characters and how they change over the

    course of the song, starting from the beginning and working towards a

    clear ending.


    For example, in a traditional three-act structure, characters move

    through their storylines in the following model:

    Act I: Set up and exposition, who are the characters and what are their

    lives like. Something happens to break their normal cycle or lifestyle.

    Act II: Tragedy overtakes the character’s life, things fall apart and

    the characters need to start figuring out ways to improve their


    Act III: Characters discover themselves in the process of dealing with

    adversity, and triumph over disaster. There’s a return to the status

    quo, but now the character has completed a journey of empowerment.


    Think about how you might be able to develop a plot line across the

    three verses and repeated choruses in your song, in order to elevate

    the flow of your narrative.

    2. Chorus-First (or Writing Backwards)


    If you tend to write choruses (or hooks) first, try outlining your chorus

    first. Write down the main idea that should be expressed and get really

    clear on what your song is about. After that, you can work backwards;

    now you can decide the events or phrases that will smoothly lead to

    your chorus. You can outline your verses and make sure each line

    leads to your hook.

    Let’s say your chorus goes something like this:


    I’ll give you a break,

    If you want me to,

    But say the word,

    And I’ll stay with you.


    Assuming the main idea of the song is, “But say the word, and I’ll

    stay with you,” you now have a direction for your verses. You can

    try to have each line of your verse relate to your hook so that

    everything ties together:


    • I know things have been tough lately – > But say the word, and I’ll stay
    • with you,
    • And it’s different than before – > But say the word, and I’ll stay with you,
    • A distance has grown between us – > But say the word, and I’ll stay with you,
    • It’s getting hard to ignore – > But say the word, and I’ll stay with you.


    While you wouldn’t repeat the hook after each verse line, by testing

    your verse lines this way, it’s a great way to keep things precise. While

    writing backwards isn’t necessary for every song, it can be helpful to

    build out an outline.

    3. Emotion-Based Sections


    Many popular songs have moved away from the traditional storyline.

    Instead of events or stories, think of the emotions you want

    associated with each section. You can still use that conflict-

    resolution model found in storylines, or write backwards by

    establishing the main emotion in the chorus.


    Or…take the emotional feel for the entire song and write a few phrases

    for each section, making sure you have one emotion per section so

    that the meaning remains clear.


    Here’s an example emotional outline for a verse-chorus song:

    • Verse: sad and frustrated about situation, afraid, full of doubt
    • Pre-Chorus: finding hope, things turning around, reflective
    • Chorus: motivated, determined, excited

    This way, things move smoothly as the emotions develop through each

    section. In this example, there is a clear emotional conflict in the

    verse that resolves in the chorus, much like a traditional storyline.

    Listeners won’t be shocked to hear sadness in the verse and sudden

    excitement in the chorus because you’ve taken the time to progress

    through the emotions.

    4. Images for Each Section


    If your inspiration regularly comes from Pinterest and the like, perhaps

    the form of outlining you need is simply to find images that

    correspond with the sections of your song, and take it from there.

    Try to find a few that work together and make notes on what kind of

    storyline or emotions they evoke.


    Using the last example, let’s find some pictures to animate each

    emotional section:


    • Verse: Sad and frustrated about situation, afraid, full of doubt.
    • Pre-Chorus: Finding hope, things turning around, reflective.

     Chorus: Motivated, determined, excited.

     5. Divide and Conquer


    When your thoughts are scattered, go ahead and brainstorm, write

    freeform poetry, collect images, etc. Create the world of your song this

    way, like a song scrapbook, and come back to it later. This is when you

    can start dividing your ideas into sections, and narrowing down your

    main idea and song progression.


    If you want to write a song that’s beach-themed, here’s what a

    brainstorm might look like:


    • beach
    • sand
    • happiness
    • sunshine
    • sunglasses
    • swimming
    • ocean
    • sea
    • water
    • waves
    • relaxation
    • excitement
    • friendship
    • love
    • vacation
    • holiday
    • sunday

    Try it out!

    One of these might work out every single time and you’ve found your

    ideal songwriting outline strategy — or you may have to try a few out

    and switch them up according to the song and how you’re feeling that



    One thing’s for sure, trying new techniques and ways of outlining your

    song can definitely lead to interesting ideas you wouldn’t have come

    across before.



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