How to write a rock song! Step by Step
You want to know how to write a rock song? Perfect! Then you’ve entered the right page to learn how to write an awesome rock song. In this article I will share with you my step by step approach how to easily create your own rock song – starting with the riff and finishing with the final lyrics.
This text won’t include a lot about music theory, it is rather a practical guide to lead you through the songwriting process. With the tips and tricks I provide you, I hope to help you during your music writing process. I will lead you through this guide with a practical example of a rock song which I wrote while I was creating this guide. Now let’s get the things done and dive into the first steps!
Table of Contents
The framework of a rock song
When I begin to write a classical rock song I always start with a cool riff on the guitar and a simple song structure to develop a rough framework of a song. In general, I focus on a standard easy song structure which is often used in a lot of popular songs but is also very easy to work with.
Easy song structure
How to write a rock song on guitar?
One important note in the beginning: No matter if you have the most evil looking guitar of B.C. Rich, a Fender Strat like Eric Clapton or just the cheapest guitar you can find on the internet – a good rock song does not depend on the gear you have! It’s based on the effort, sweat and tears you are willing to put into your practice.
When I start to work on a new song, I first get out my guitar and just jam around a little bit until the magic happens and out of nothing some chords or riffs sound cool. But sometimes I also play like one hour and there is no cool riff coming up – if this happens I use this trick: I put on my computer, increase the volume of my computer speakers, go over to YouTube and type in “music genre” + “drum backing track”.
In our example I typed “hard rock drum backing track” into the Search bar of YouTube and I found a whole bunch of drum tracks to which I jammed along to. After a while I found a nice riff for my intro.
Verse of a rock song
For our rock-example-song I then needed something for the first verse, and to get some inspiration for this I listened to my favorite hard rock band ACDC. What I enjoy about ACDC are the beating riffs in Back in Black or Ballbreaker. So I tried playing my chords (A Major, C Major and G Major) which I already used in the intro riff and played around with them in the style I thought ACDC would do. After some time I developed a cool riff which I really liked. Just try to use the same approach! Listen to your favorite rock band, listen to your favorite riffs and try to copy their style of playing. Then combine your own ideas and play it in the style of your favorite band.
Now let’s check out the pre-chorus which comes right after the verse.
Pre-Chorus of a rock song
A pre-chorus is the glue between the verse and the chorus. It informs the listener about the chorus and that it is about to begin very soon. Having this in mind for our own rock song, I thought about three options for this part:
- using another beating riff which stands out from the verse riff but still reminds you of the verse riff
- let single chords ring
- playing three different chords and play the strings with a bit more power
I played around with every option of these but the best one I developed was option number three. Just try to do the same for your song and think about different options of how the song could develop here: Play it harder, softer, leave more room for the voice or for another instrument? Just try it out and use every option to write a rock song which sounds fantastic to you.
Chorus of a rock song
When you write a rock song the chorus of this song should be as catchy as possible and should not get out of the head the first time someone hears it. Having this definition in mind you should again think of your favorite rock tracks and check out what makes them so memorable.
Taking our own rock song as an example I listened to different songs by ACDC and their chorus – and then I noticed the easy but effective trick ACDC uses in all of their songs (more or less). To make a long story short: buzzwords! Just one word or phrase which is constantly repeated a thousand times. That’s all, that’s the magic why really everyone remembers the line “Highway to hell”. So for this part I knew that the riff in this part didn’t had to be the most important thing but the lyrics or phrase would be. Therefore, I just used a variation of the three chords which I already used in the pre-chorus.
You can do this as well for your first rock song, just play around with the pre-chorus, pick a variation of the chorus or use the exact same chords but already think about the voice which will be sung over your chorus.
Bridge of a rock song
The bridge in a piece of rock music is mostly used to give time for a small rest and prepare for the final climax in a last chorus or verse. In our example I played the chords of the chorus in palm mute which helps the song at this point to calm down a little bit and give room for lyrics, or perhaps also prepares for a solo. That’s it! We need a solo, so lets use the bridge also for our solo then the solo guitar will of course stand out much better from the rhythm guitar.
Solo of a rock song
A solo in a rock song is a section in which one instrument should get the main attention of the audience. In rock music usually the lead guitarist, plays challenging guitar licks or melodies – but of course also drums, the bass or any other instrument can be used to play a solo. Listen to Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin for a weird but cool drum solo.
Playing a solo is for sure the most fun but also most challenging part when you write a rock song. I am not very good at playing solos but I think there are a lot of people which face the same problem. So for all of you out there this is my tip for playing solo.
How to write a solo for a rock song?
- Check the chords over which the solo should be played
- Find the key that belongs to these chords
- Search for the matching Minor Pentatonic Scale
- Record the part to which a solo should be added
- Play the Pentatonic scale up and down and use some variations – while you listen to your already recorded song
A-Minor Pentatonic Scale on Guitar
The A-Minor Pentatonic Scale is often used in rock songs. It can be played when the key of the song is in A. The general A minor scale is made up of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G.
But in the A-Minor Pentatonic Scale (penta = five / tonic = note) you don’t use every of these notes. You only use 5 of these notes. The A Minor Pentatonic Scale uses the Notes: A, C, D, E, G. If you play the patterns to a song which is written in the key of A-Minor every note of the A-Minor pentatonic scale will match to the song because these five notes sound really nice with each other. This way you can jam around and you can develop a solo that sounds perfect to your riff or chords.
The scale can be played on any fret, it just has to be moved according to the key in which your song is written. You can do this by orienting yourself by the root note of the key and aligning the patterns to that root note. In the graphic of the A minor pentatonic, the root note is represented by a green dot. In our example song I used this A-Minor Pentatonic Scale to write the solo.
For sure at some time you will find a cool melody or lick by using the Pentatonic scale, which sound awesome on your recording. For beginners this approach should be enough to learn the first steps in soloing. If you are already more advanced in your guitar play, and you want to play crazier solos just enter the following keywords into the YouTube search bar “Guitar Rock Licks” or check out this video by Robert Baker which helped me a lot for finding some nice licks when I was writing our rock song example: https://youtu.be/xtLXYAxvUFk
Drums of a rock song
Drums are for sure the most important instrument in a hard rock song but also one of the hardest instruments I could think of. I tried to learn to drum a thousand times but I failed completely because I couldn’t coordinate my hands simultaneously with my feet. That’s why when I am able to get a drummer I like to rehearse with “real persons”. But when I like to write a rock song at 2 o’clock in the night these guys are not very motivated rehearsing so early in the morning.
So which option do you have when you want to write and play music with drums at any time? Gladly a friend showed me how to do this. He introduced me to the EZdrummer about which I am very excited. Because since I am using this software I can play at any time, everywhere my notebook is. The best thing is that it can be fully integrated with my recording software Cubase. But you can use it also without Cubase, it’s a standalone software – so you can play the drums via your pc speakers and record everything with your smartphone! The EZ Drummer has a bunch of different drum patterns for Country, Metal and mostly important right now – Rock! For a loser in drumming like me who doesn’t know anything about drumming, it was a great help to develop my first “Hard Rock tracks”.
The EZ drummer offers different drum patterns which can all be combined with each other. Furthermore, you can edit each pattern individually or choose between different drum setups. A perfect solution for me. It also only costs approx. 100 Euro which makes it affordable for everyone – at the very latest by Christmas or your next birthday.
For our rock song I checked the library of the EZDrummer and easily found a few cool drum patterns which fitted perfectly to our rock song.
In general this is all I can say about drums, as a help to dive deeper into drumming you can also check out this video of Drum Beats online: “Drum Beats For Beginner Drummers” which helped me quite well in learning some basics of drumming.
Hard Rock drum backing track for guitar or bass
You want to play guitar or bass to a hard rock drum backing track ? No problem man! Here it is, a perfect hard rock backing track for you to improve your songwriting and play along with your guitar or bass. Originally the drums are of our song “Highway Rock”, but play along to it and change chords and your rhythm like you want to.
The drum track runs at a speed of 137 BPM and you can improve your guitar or bass skills and rock out to the digital drums. The drums are perfect for fans of Hard Rock, Rock or Classic Rock. ACDC fans will enjoy this rock drum backing track.
What are you waiting for? Get your guitar out of the case and rock to the backing track!
How to write bass lines for a rock song?
So what can you do for writing good bass lines for your rock song? And what did I do to develop the bass for my rock song?
For our example rock song it was actually very easy, I mean I could have made it very hard for myself, but actually I only replayed with the bass what I also played with the guitar. That’s it! And how does the result sound? I think it’s amazing! The song sounds thicker and I don’t think a more varied bass would have launched the song any closer to the moon. Okay, if I had had more time or you have more time, then I recommend to pick out the right pentatonic for the key of the song and develop a separate bass line for each part – same as I have done in developing the solo.
In our rock example, we don’t need that crazy cool bass – it’s just a standard hard rock song!
How to write lyrics for a rock song?
Often a lot of musicians struggle to write lyrics for a rock song. For sure this is always a very difficult task because there are a thousand topics that can be covered and the problem is always “How to put your thoughts to lyrics?” Let’s check out how I would write the lyrics of a rock song.
In the beginning it’s important to find a non- or fictional story you can write your lyrics about. You can write your lyrics about the story of your favorite book, a tale your grandpa or uncle told you or about something that happened in your life. It will be then used later on to write the lyrics. As a start to summarize or develop your story answer the 5-question-words.
To write a short story answer the 5-question-words
The 5-question-words are used in journalism to get all necessary information of a story. You can use this technique to create a story for your lyrics of a rock song.
Who? Describe who the main characters are, what kind of people they are and which characteristics they have.
What? Describe what happens to the people in the story
When? Explain the time it is in the plot. Is it in the past, the present or the future? Early in the morning, in the evening or in the dark night.
Where? Describe where the story takes place. In space or on earth, on the sea or on the mainland, outside on a farm or in the middle of a big city.
Why? Why do the people act as they do and why do the events occur. This list of questions will help you to develop a nice short story on which you afterwards can write your lyrics about.
In our rock’n’roll-example I did exactly the same thing. This is the story I developed for my lyrics:
Who? The story is about a tough guy who loves driving fast and has a cool car. The other person of the story is his girlfriend who has to live in another city because she couldn’t get a job in the same town as her friend – so they have a long-distance relationship.
What? The couple is talking on the phone and the woman starts crying because she can no longer bear the long-distance relationship and would rather be with her boyfriend. That’s why the guy takes his keys to his fast car and drives more than 1,000 miles to see her.
When? The story takes place in the 70s a time when a car was still a status symbol.
Where? It takes place in Arizona (US) which has a landscape like straight out of a ZZ Top music video.
Why? The couple misses and loves each other and the man is very adventurous, risky and loves to drive.
At this point I have to admit that the story is quite a macho tale. But it also has to be said that we’re writing a rock song and that rock songs simply imply this cliché. Therefore, I want to use this stereotypical story to write a 120%-real-rock-song.
Rhyme scheme of a rock song
If you have never written lyrics before, you should always start writing rock songs or other songs with a simple rhyme scheme. This may sound a bit too easy, but it will help you to get your rock song into a great structure. Afterwards you can still rewrite, improve and work on the lyrics. But as a first starting point you should use a light rhyming scheme. At this point I always use simple rhyme schemes like AABB and then I start to write single key-sentences for the lyrics which rhyme.
These key-sentences can contain different aspects of the story you would like to sing about e.g.:
- Small summaries of different sections of the story
- Acts or behaviors of the characters
- Descriptions of the landscape
- Description of emotions and feelings
The most important part of a rock song is the chorus!
In the section “Chorus of a rock song” I wrote that the chorus is the most important part of a rock song. It should be easy to sing along by the listeners (in the best case if they listen to it the first time) and it should get stuck in their heads for at least three days – then it’s a real good chorus!
We also said, that e.g. ACDC often uses only just one word or a phrase and repeats it during every chorus a few times. That’s why everyone you know remembers the line “Highway to hell”, “It’s a long way to the top” or “Thunderstruck”.
For our example-rock-song I just had to find some cool buzzwords which would fit the lyrics and would be easy to remember. For this I opened my Spotify (you can also YouTube or the Hard Rock Collection of your father) searched for different “Classic Rock Songs” and noted the names of different popular rock songs on a sheet of paper. I then created a mind map with all titles of known rock songs and segmented them according to buzzword. At the end I had a good overview of different titles. I just combined the buzzwords and found my matching one: My rock song would be called “Highway Rock”! The good thing about this title is that it completely captures the theme of our song with the word “Highway”, it can be sung short and punchy over our guitar and moreover it contains the word “Rock” which shows that this song clearly is gonna be a rock song!
4 Tools to write perfect rock song lyrics
- Deepl: If English is not your native language the best tool to translate into English is the Deepl translator – https://www.deepl.com/translator
- Thesaurus: If some words don’t fit quite well and you need to find a synonym use this tool – https://www.thesaurus.com/
- Wordhippo: For cool rhymes you need the best fitting words. The Wordhippo will help you – https://www.wordhippo.com/
- Languagetool: To check your grammar in the end I recommend using this tool – https://languagetool.org/
The video of the example rock song "Highway Rock"
Lyrics of our final rock song "Highway Rock"
I push the pedal to the limit
fight every minute
turn up the radio
Listen to wrock in stereo
You cried on the phone
You miss me you’re alone
I started the engine
to bring to you my medicine
I’ll drive faster to you
Baby my love is so true
Lips will taste so sweet
But my tires melt the street
Baby get ready! Uh, Baby get ready!
It’s time for highway rock
It’s time for highway rock
The speed of light travels at my side
The tank is filled up
the sun is burning hot
You miss me while I dominate the street
Push it to the limit, increase the speed
Thank you for checking out my guide “how to write a rock song”. I hope it helped you, let me know if the guide works for you as well or which other ideas or tools you used to write great lyrics!