How to Write an R&B; Song

By James Robert

Rhythm & blues is “a catchall term referring to any music that was made by and for black Americans,” according to music producer Robert Palmer. Contemporary R&B, however, is a more narrow classification, generally encompassing a form of pop music that incorporates elements of soul, funk and dance music. Contemporary R&B came into prominence, especially in the African-American community, after disco's demise in the early 1980s, and it is one of the most popular modern musical styles.

Instructions

Write a great hook. A lyrical hook is usually found in a song's chorus (the part of the song that is repeated), and is a short phrase or series of lines that is easy to remember and sticks in a listener's head. It is also typically the song's title. Choose a hook that is simple and that summarizes the rest of the song in a couple of lines.

Compose the lyrics. Write lyrics that support and add depth to your hook. R&B lyrics typically consist of two or three verses (sets of lyrics that are either four or eight lines long), which are separated by the chorus. Write a chorus that contains general, easy-to-remember information related to the song's topic. Place specific, detailed information in the verses. Each successive verse should introduce a new idea related to the topic.

Write a dynamic melody. An R&B melody typically incorporates a wider range of notes than hip-hop or other popular song styles, part because of its use of melisma (vocal runs).

Add a beat. R&B features significant percussion, most of which is composed using a synthesizer, drum machine or computer-sampled drum loops, three techniques for electronically reproducing and sequencing artificial drum sounds. Choose a beat that fits the mood of your song's lyrics and complements your song's melody. If you don't know how to make a beat, visit JPFolks.org, an online songwriting community that can help you find a co-writer.

Copyright it. Your song is legally protected by copyright the moment you put it on paper or tape; however, proving that you were the first person with the idea can be difficult or impossible. Registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office costs $35 using the online eCO form, according to the office's website, and will provide a verifiable record of the date of your song's creation--an important resource should anyone ever try to steal your hard work or infringe on your intellectual property rights.

Tip

Keep your lyrics conversational. R&B lyrics are typically direct and easy to understand.

About the Author

James Robert has been a professional music journalist since 2007, with work appearing in print magazines including "American Songwriter," "Country Weekly" and "M Music & Musicians." He has a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the University of South Florida in Tampa and is an alumni of the Mike Curb School of Entertainment and Music Business in Nashville.