How to write a country song

Ain´t no Music like Country Music! As Dolly Parton once stated: “ If you talk bad about country music, it´s like saying bad things abot my momma. Them´s fighting words.”

Maybe it is the feeling of comfort and a solid amount of love that runs through this kinda music, allowing us to be simple people, with simple lives, which makes us so protective of it!

If you love country songs like I do, and if you want to become a better songwriter in this domain, then take the following tips into account!

Here are 5 ingredients to brew a dang good country tune:

1) Lyrics

Country music lives off compelling storytelling! Rhyme intended;) I believe that the secret to a great country song lies 90 % in the lyrics. While you may go simple and strip down on fancy melodies, you should put extra effort into killer lyrics! The secret lies in taking everyday emotions, frustrations and hurt that we all go through, and turn it into something relatable, but less frightening and adding a dash of comforting, understanding and encouraging nuances to it! This may sound really complicated. That´s because it is! As much as country is built on “simple language”, you need to play with these simple, every day words and create something yet unheard. You can go methaphorical here, like “Ship in a bottle” by Brett Young”, that plays with a methapher throughout the song, but using very simple words and addressing the hurt of having to let someone go…who needs their space.

Or think of “Space Cowboy” by Kacey Musgraves (a current favorite of mine)…that line: “After the gold rush, there ain´t no reason to stay…” What a brilliant way to address the boys (or girls) that will leave you the minute they got what they wanted. She paints a picture of authentic country nostalgia, but also bringing in the pain of feeling like you are worthless, once you gave it all away. That hurt we go through when people leave us…when it feels like we are not enough.

I could go on and on. The golden rule is: Find a unique way to express universal feelings in a way that hits home! If you want to learn the techniques, make sure to sign up to our newsletter (at the end of this article). A lyric masterclass will be available this summer!

2) Chord Progression

When it comes to country music, simplicity rules! Most country songs are built on a I IV V combination. Almost always ending the end of the hook on the root chord.

If you want to add in a bit of melancholy, try adding in a VI minor here and there! Always works its magic!

3) Instrumentation

Country music comes with a long tradition of “busking”, “wandering around” and playing in dive bars and in the streets! It is music made by people for people! So, the most common instruments are such, that can be carried around easily. Predominantly guitars, tambourines, steel guitars of course and fiddles. Cajons and little drum kits add to the equation! Of course a decent bass line is mandatory as well in modern country music. Lately electronic beats have mingled in a bit! I´m not a particular fan of it in country music, but I do think it works very well on folky tunes.

But there are no rules really! Do what feels right for you!

4) Playing with Rhyme Schemes

This is a pro trick, that really takes your writing from good to great! Implementing internal rhymes, or breaking with the typical ABAB ryhme schemes can really shake up the groove of your melodies and add interest, as it shakes the listener off a bit! One to use varying rhyme patterns effectively is Kelsea Ballerini. Listen back to her 2017 hit “I hate love songs”  for example. The way the rhymes float on the melody but also break patterns here and there.

5) Intricate Hooks

In country music the main hook (mostly the chorus) is a super important element! It can be simple and short, or long and seemingly complicated, but it must have some sort of twist to it (either lyrically or groove wise) and usually keeps the energy up until the very last line, which usually resolves on the base note! A lot of times the first line of the hook is repeated towards the end again. Or the main line repeats twice at the end of a chorus.

The chorus is also a place that´s great for some long notes!

Think “Whiskey on my Breath” by Love and Theft or “Love is a fire” by Brandy Clark or “Humble and Kind” by Lori McKenna, or (again) “Space Cowboy” by Kacey Musgraves. She even leaves space after the word “space”. How clever!

Some of my current favorite songwriters, that I recommend looking into:

Kacey Musgraves (lyric queen)

Tyler Childers (very raw, emotive lyrics and strums)

Brandi Carlile (sultry, emotive songs with a bit of anguish to them, folk-rockish)

Chris Stapelton (Father of Country-Blues and a storyteller par excellence)

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