There are so many different ways to approach how to write songs on the guitar. In fact the possibilities are nearly endless! But if you’re just getting started, or you’re in a songwriting rut, I’m going to give you 5 simple ideas to help you get your creative juices flowing.
#1 How to Write Songs on Guitar Using Chords
A really great way to jump into writing a song is to just use chords. Some of the best songs ever written have been composed of the same 3-4 chords over and over again in the same order. That means that you are just 3-4 chords away from writing a chart-topping single!
To start, pick a chord quality that you like. In other words, pick either a major or minor chord to start with and give it a few strums. Once you’ve found a good starting chord, find another one to transition to (again thinking about major or minor quality) and give it a few good strums as well. Continue this pattern until you find your desired chord progression. If you need help making solid chord transitions, check out my free lesson on smoother chord transitions right here.
If you decide to pick only 3 chords, a tried and true method is to play the 3rd chord twice as long as you play the first two chords. This helps everything stay well-rounded in regards to musical time.
Once you have your chord progression, work on a desired strumming pattern and throw it in with the chords. Voila! First song down! If you need help learning how to play strumming patterns, here is a free lesson on how to figure one out based on a rhythm in your head.
Playing Guitar and Singing at the Same Time
If you want to take it to the next level and start adding in lyrics, that’s a whole new ball game! In my opinion, playing guitar and singing at the same time is one of the most fun reasons I pick up the guitar every day. In fact, I love it so much that I decided to make it a career and now I play guitar and sing for a living! I’ve written an entire lesson on how to Play Guitar and Sing at the Same Time so check it out and bring out your inner songwriter!
Let’s move on to writing a song using licks.
#2 How to Write Songs on Guitar Using Licks
This brings me back to my rock n’ roll days learning everything I could from Guns n’ Roses, Aerosmith and Mötley Crüe. They are masters of lick-based songs and if there’s one lesson to take from their songs, it’s to create a “hook” which is a lick that captures the attention of the audience. Think about the start of “Walk This Way” or “Sweet Child of Mine” to really understand the premise of a hook.
Once you hear that intro lick, you can’t get it out of your head! Hence why it’s called a “hook” because it sets in and won’t let go. When you’re trying to write a song, make up a lick that acts as a hook at the very beginning to pull the listener in. If you’d like some tips on how to make an interesting guitar lick, check out my free lesson right here.
Once you have a hook, you can come up with some standard licks, power chord progressions or regular chord progressions to supplement it. Or if you’d like, you can just keep ripping away at some awesome licks!
Now let’s take a look at some organization techniques we can use while writing a song.
#3 How to Write Songs on Guitar: Organization
When you’re writing a song on the guitar or any other instrument, there are a couple of basic components to a song that we can focus on to form a song.
Here are some basic parts of a song:
This doesn’t encompass everything (especially not in classical music) but these are some really great parts of a song to consider while writing yours!
For a nice breakdown of all these parts and how to structure them into your song, I would recommend checking out my free lesson on the components to a song right here.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to write something new for every part. In fact many of these parts can be the exact same with subtle changes. That means you can change up your lick or chord progression slightly to maintain a consistent theme while giving a little variety to the song.
#4 How to Write Songs on Guitar Like Jimi Hendrix
Ok, let’s be honest, no one can really write songs on guitar like Jimi Hendrix, right?! However, the basic premise that he encompasses with his songs is to create melody and rhythm at the same time!
“Well Tony, how the heck do you do that?!”
Good question! Let me give you a quick introduction on how to approach mimicking his sound.
One technique you can start adding into your playing is creating a melody over a chord. This means that we are going to add or remove notes from our chord shape as we continuously play it.
Let’s take a look at a D chord for example. If you add on your pinky to the 3rd fret of 1st string, we change the chord slightly and can make a melody from the movement of the note from the 2nd fret 1st string to the 3rd fret of the first string. We can go one step further and remove both our pinky and middle finger from the 1st string to play the string open and create yet another note in the melody.
The beauty of this is, we don’t have to just play the first string when we do it. We can strum the whole chord each time or pick any combination of specific strings to create rhythm and melody at the same time.
You can try this with any other chord shape you would like and see what kind of melodies you can create over them. If nothing else, learn “Little Wing” from Hendrix and take some pointers from what he’s playing.
#5 How to Write Songs on Guitar with CAGED
Trying to accomplish the melodies I mentioned above go hand in hand with another one of Jimi’s tools, the CAGED system. The CAGED system is essentially a system of barre chords that consist of the same shapes as our open chords, C A G E and D hence the name, “CAGED.”
You can also use a combination of the CAGED system and scales to figure out how you can play supplemental notes of a melody in the same or close position of where you’re playing your chord shape, but that will have to be a lesson for another time!
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this lesson, there is no right or wrong way to write a song. In my opinion, the more intricate and delicate a song is, the better – which is why I don’t like much pop music. However, there is beauty in simplicity as well and I encourage you to create whatever kind of song your heart desires!
I look forward to hearing it one day!