So, you’ve mastered the basics, learned some good songs for the cover band crowd, and now you are thinking it’s time to create something of your very own. That’s a great step. I, for one, believe that there is nothing more important for guitar players than to embrace your own creativity. Maybe your chords and lyrics will eventually inspire a fanbase, or maybe you are just playing on the porch swing. Doesn’t matter. Creativity is the absolute heart of guitar playing, and everything you are aspiring to be wouldn’t exist if no one was intent on writing songs. It’s never too early to start trying to create your own music, but this article assumes that you are an intermediate player at least. With that being said, let’s get down to the basics of how to write a song with a guitar.
The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You
One of the best ways to write songs with a guitar is to play around with rhythm guitar. An important thing to remember is that there is more to rhythm than just the chords you select. The way you are strumming the strings can be just as important. Remember, when you are playing guitar alone, the strumming is the backbone of whatever you are creating. Try different patterns and see what inspires you. Try new chord progressions you may not usually go for. Start to lose yourself in the music and see what comes to your mind.
Record Everything — You Just Never Know
Many a musician can tell the story of the one that got away. Sometimes when you are vibing off of a great riff or progression, you think there’s no way you are going to forget this awesomeness. Then, you go off to school or work for hours and you come back, and suddenly, those same combination of chords just doesn’t speak to you the way it did before. That’s why if you want to be a songwriter, you need to always have a way to document a good idea when it comes to you. Smartphones make this easier than ever. You don’t have to have a polished concept. Just record you playing your idea and capturing the all-important vibe. Even if you don’t have lyrics, but you do have a melody line in mind, then just hum some nonsensical lyrics over the rhythm. The important thing is to not lose the idea.
Every Day is a New Day
So you have a good progression, but for the life of you can’t come up with any decent lyrics. Don’t scrap it. Tomorrow is another day. Revisit old ideas regularly and see if they speak to you in different ways. It’s very common to hear songwriters talk about how they threw an idea on the trash heap and it later ended up inspiring a hit song. The way you are feeling today might not lend itself to the kind of music you have around, but you never know what the future holds. Keep it all, and when you are feeling particularly uninspired, give it a play. You might be surprised what you find.
Change Your Approach
It’s easy when doing creative things to get in a rut. That’s why you have to keep it fresh. Maybe you usually strum chords and try to find a progression that moves you. Not working lately? Change it up. Start by finding a bassline groove instead. Or play with some riffs. Make a lead lick first and then try to plot some chords around it.
If you have been going at it all acoustic, maybe picking up an electric guitar with a little drive might lead you in a whole new direction. Don’t limit yourself to one way of trying to write songs. There are so many ways to approach it, and if you keep some variety in your process, you can help yourself stay out of a slump.
Change Your Environment
Everyone has a special place where they mostly do their writing, but sometimes a change of scenery can lead you on a whole new adventure. Get out in nature. Sit on the porch swing. Go to the park. Hang out by a waterfall. People-watch on a street corner. Take your guitar out into the world and see if it summons up new things as you try to create your next masterpiece. A change of scenery can sometimes change your attitude.
Don’t Be a Loner
If you look on any CD jewel case you have around the house, you’ll often see two or maybe even three or four names as songwriter for some of your favorites. That’s because more often than not, creating like this is a community effort. Sure, people do write songs alone, but the roundtable style is very popular, especially in songwriting meccas like Nashville. If you know other people in your circles that are into songwriting, seek them out and get together. There is no better way to challenge yourself creatively than to be social about it. Be open to criticism, but more importantly, be open to creating even stronger ideas by bouncing them off of someone else.
There is no sure, definitive way to write a song with a guitar. Fortunately, there are many, many non-definitive ways, so don’t let this get you down. Try some of these tips to see what you can come up with, and always set aside time in your busy schedule to try to be creative. The results could be a song that you cherish forever, and sometimes it feels like there are special moments where that song had to hit right then. Otherwise, it would have never been a song. So, when you are wondering if just sitting down and playing around for ten or fifteen minutes when you should probably be doing something else is worth it, just remember the potential payoff and the potential lost opportunity. Now, get to strumming, and make sure your phone is charged up in case you need to record some of these fresh ideas.