Truth bomb: The guitar is the greatest instrument for songwriting.
*Jealous piano player enters*: “Do you have evidence to back up such a strong claim?!”
Don’t fret, here are our reasons to pick the guitar as your songwriting tool.
- They’re more affordable
- You can take them anywhere
- Owning a guitar instantly makes you more attractive
🎸3 – 0 🎹
Now that that argument is settled, we can move on to how to write songs.
The first step is to nurture inspiration. Be mindful of everything you experience – your surroundings, emotions, conversations, etc.
A couple of words you overhear from a random passerby can be enough to spark an idea for a song!
- When something resonates with you make a note of it.
- Better yet, grab your guitar and start trying to express what you’re feeling.
- Don’t wait! Inspiration goes as quickly as it comes – try to write when the moment is still fresh.
Next, we’ll look at how to translate those moments of inspiration into music.
Start with a chord progression
People take many different approaches to writing a song. Some have a vocal melody in mind first and build around it, others start with a chord progression – there’s no right or wrong.
This article is focused on guitar, so we’ll start with some chords.
- A chord progression is the backbone of any song.
- To begin, just experiment with a few different chords and find some that fit the mood you’re going for.
- Basic rule of thumb: If you want something more upbeat and cheerful – use major chords.
- Minor chords if you want to make people weep.
Many singer-songwriters stick to a handful of open chords, so don’t overthink it. The number of famous songs that all use the exact same chord progression is crazy:
- Don’t feel bad for “borrowing” a few chords from another song (they probably stole them from someone else anyway).
- Play around. Sometimes an accidental shift to a chord you weren’t expecting can be a happy accident.
- Once you've settled on a progression that sounds right, you can start building your song around it.
Create a melody
The melody is what really gives a song its identity – this is what the listener will remember long after the song is over.
A quick and easy way to make a simple melody is to use notes that already exist within your chords – there'll be at least three notes to choose from in each chord.
A more intuitive and creative way to make a melody is just to sing one out.
- Play your chord progression and try singing or humming different melodies over them.
- Sometimes less is more – the most ‘hook-y’ melodies are normally the simplest ones.
- If you’re struggling to play and sing at the same time, record the progression on your phone and sing over that.
Feel awkward singing? Sing in the shower! 🚿 There’s a reason everyone does it.
- You can be less self-conscious in the privacy and comfort of the shower.
- Plus that natural reverb will make you sound awesome.
- If you come up with a great melody in there, keep singing it until you get a chance to record it – there’s nothing worse than losing a great idea.
Write the lyrics
Once you've created your melody, it's time to write the lyrics.
Start by brainstorming different ideas for your song. You can write about anything that inspires you, such as love, heartbreak, or a personal experience.
- This is when all that observation comes in useful – check your inspiration notepad!
- You can start from a title or a phrase. Then write every word and concept that is triggered by that phrase or title.
- Don’t judge anything – just write it all down.
- After a while you will have a large pool of lyrical ideas to draw from.
Now you can go back and start underlining your favorite phrases and maybe crossing out the ones you don’t like.
- Remove any words or phrases that would be uncomfortable or awkward to sing,
- Test them all out – you’ll know pretty quickly which ones don’t work.
This process works very well when you are staring at a blank page with only a title or phrase at the top. It can give you something to build on.
Once you start singing lyric ideas to the tune of your new melody, things will start to take shape.
Put it all together
Now we’ve got the ingredients, it’s time to start cooking.
Start by trying to sing small sections of your lyrics over the chord progression, it may not feel very natural at first – like everything it just takes time.
- You really need to be able to play the chords on autopilot to be able to sing over them.
- Try to coordinate your strumming with the timing of the melody.
- If you need to, slow right down to the point you’re singing one syllable at a time.
Once you start getting the hang of it, experiment with different strumming patterns, fingerpicking styles, and tempos to find the right sound for your song.
When you go to a restaurant, the menu is split into sections: Starters, mains, sides, desserts – they all have a their own purpose, and are usually eaten in a certain order.
- Songs work in a similar way.
- We split them into sections – Intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, outro, etc.
- Then arrange them in a certain order.
Most popular music will follow some variation of the verse-chorus form, here are a few examples to try out:
- Intro – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Outro
- Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus – Verse – Pre-Chorus – Chorus
- Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus
You can usually feel if sections need to be added or taken out, just play around with it – songwriting is all trial and error.
Refine your song
Once you've got a rough outline for your song, take some time to refine it. Play it over and over again and make changes as necessary.
- You can also experiment with different chord voicings or arrangements to add another layer of depth to the song.
- You may need to tweak the lyrics or melody to make them flow better.
If you’re feeling brave, play your song to a friend (preferably a fellow musician) and ask them for feedback.
Record your song
Now you’ve got a hit single on your hands it’s time to get paid share your music with the world!
Demos don’t have to be a high production, oftentimes the singer-songwriter style can actually benefit from a less polished sound.
- If you’re on a budget – phone microphones are pretty good these days and software can work wonders for improving the sound.
- If you’ve got a computer you could invest in a little audio interface and a microphone.
- This will allow you to record in high quality directly into a digital audio workstation (DAW).
There’s loads of great information online about home music production, but that’s for another day – let’s keep on track!
Promoting your song
After you’ve recorded your song, it's time to promote it. There are loads of ways to get your music out in front of a global audience with just a few clicks.
- Upload your music to platforms such as Soundcloud or Bandcamp. Make sure to tag your music appropriately.
- Make videos of yourself playing your song and put them on YouTube, Instagram, Tiktok, etc.
- Why not unplug? Get down to your local open mic night and meet with real-life human beings!
Collaborate with other musicians
This can be a great way to expand your knowledge, creativity, and musical abilities.
- Get to know people in your local scene and invite them to have a jam!
- You can work on a song together, share ideas, and create something unique.
Networking can also help you gain a larger following as you'll be able to share your music with other musicians’ audiences.
How to get better at songwriting?
What we’ve covered today is just the tip of the iceberg – songwriting is a bit of a dark art and many musicians spend their entire lives trying to unravel it’s secrets.
We’ll finished up with two important steps you can take to become a better songwriter:
- Learn music theory
Learning music theory can help you become a better songwriter and musician.
- It’ll help you understand the basics of melody, harmony, and rhythm.
- Knowing things like the circle of fifths will make it easier to write chord progressions.
- Getting familiar with scales will improve your ability to write interesting melodies.
It can also help you analyze your favorite songs and understand what makes them sound so great.
- Practice, practice, practice!
Like any skill, hard work and dedication are the key to improving. Make sure to practice your guitar regularly and work on your songwriting skills as much as possible.
- Set aside time each day to work on your music and try to write at least one song per week.
- Writing a great song comes only after you’ve written a bunch of bad ones first.
The more you write, the more likely you are to create something truly special – so what are you waiting for?!
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