We all love good music and good songs. If you're a guitar player yourself, and an enthusiast musician at heart, then chances are high that at some point in your life, you've thought about writing a song.
Now it is not an easy task to do, but also, not an impossible one, and you don't need to be Beethoven or Freddy Mercury of Queen to write a good song, with good lyrics and good rhythm that you can enjoy.
Some people are born with a natural gift of writing, or have a good sense of melody, which makes it easier for them to compose a song, and some have to work harder in order to achieve the same results. Both types of people are capable of writing songs, but one type have to work a bit harder than the other, that's all.
In this article, we'll discuss beginner methods and techniques on how to write a song on guitar. It's ideal for people with no previous experience in songwriting, never wrote a song before, and have no clue where to start.
NOTE: Bear in mind that, songwriting is a huge topic. A topic that can be academically studied for months and maybe even years. People make careers solely out of songwriting, and one article isn't enough to cover all the material needed to be a full complete songwriter. However, take the next material we are going to cover here as your starting point in songwriting, it will give you insight and surely set you on the right track for writing your first song on the guitar. So, open up your mind, and enjoy!
10 steps for your first song
- Step 1) You have to be at least an intermediate level guitarist. Know the basic major and minor chords, can play them and switch between them comfortably. This will ensure that you have a better grasp of basic melody and rhythm, and your ears are more musically-ready, which is the basic foundation for music creation. If you don't learn to develop your musical ears, you will not develop your musical capabilities as a musician and as a guitar player. It affects both your guitar playing, AND your songwriting skills.
- Step 2) Know your style: Are you a Jazz fan? Blues? Rock? Each genre have its own unique “popular” scales, keys, and chord progression. Find out what your favorite genre is and study its basic fundamental melody and rhythm structure. For example:
- Rock: Study the 5 forms of the Pentatonic scale on guitar. The Pentatonic scale is the pillar of Rock ‘n Roll.
- Blues: The most popular form of blues music is called: The 12 Bars Blues. You can start your way there, and follow up with another study on the Pentatonic scale.
- Jazz: The Jazz is another genre of music that is derivative from the Blues, it's a sophisticated genre and rich of musical advanced techniques and theory, and make intensive use of Improvisation. The chords are very different than the ones you are used to for Rock and Blues, and so does the chord progression. The chromatic scale is popular in Jazz. Start with the article here to learn more about it, and follow up with a nice beginner lesson including tabs, video, and 3 fun Jazz licks here.
- Step 3) Study song structure, and apply it to your favorite genre. Normally, the accepted structure of the songs today consist of the following:
- 1) Introduction: Usually a small duration of melody, vocal, or solo that is not repeated anywhere inside the song (a great example of introduction solo is the famous Chuck Berry – Johnny Be Good one, listen to the first 5 seconds approx for the intro solo). Introduction helps build-up a suspense, or some sense of anticipation to what's about to come next, and most of the time, after the introduction, the song starts with its main key (for example the tonic chord in a 12 bars blues composition). There are no specific rules to this, the introduction can also be a combination of chords from the main section of a the song, a vocal solo by the singer, or even some kind of special effects or solo drums. Use your imagination and be creative!
- 2) Verse: The verse is the section of the song which normally contains your story, or the message that you want to deliver. It's repeated at least once and is usually dominant by rhyming lyrics. Each verse section must contain different set of lyrics, and it is where you want to tell your story, express your ideas, emotions, experiences in life, or simply describe an event.
- 3) Chorus (or also called Refrain): This chorus contains the main idea behind your song, or story. It consists of unchanged melody and lyrics throughout the entire song, and can be repeated as much times as you want, especially at the end of the song (sort of like an open ending, with the song fading out to the chorus). Usually, it is played twice or four times after each verse.
If you have a “catch” to give behind the song, or an idea of big importance or intense emotions, you want to put it all in the chorus, while the verse contains everything else which should “lead” to the main idea inside the chorus.
- 4) Bridge: Is an optional addition to the song, it is a section that contains a different melody and lyrics than the verse or the chorus, and its purpose is to break the repetition of the song, add a different flavor to it and keep the audience's attention. Thus, it is almost always added later on in the song, before the ending chorus of the song, otherwise it beats the purpose of adding it.
This is the basic structure of songs. there are more of course which can be inserted to spice up the song, add more flavor, prolong it, and make it stand out. This could be:
- Instrumental solo in the introduction, end, or somewhere in the middle. Mostly acoustic or electric guitar solo.
- Instrumental fills, which supports the vocal lead. It could be a bar or two of musical notes done by the lead guitarist or keyboard.
- Pre-chorus – a small section of music that connects the verse to the chorus, and is optional as well.
- Step 4) Pick an idea, a story, and know what you want to convey with it. Is it a personal story? Historical story? Does it convey mainly angry emotions? Sad? Happy? Love? Figure this out by now.
- Step 5) Choose a main key for the song: Could be Em, Fm, D, or anything you want. Play around with the basic chords until you reach a chord where you feel that it fits the theme of the song, and make it your main key.
- Step 6) Choose your chord progression: How many bars to play the main key chord, how many bars to play the dominant one, subdominant, and so on. In a 12 bar blues it is unchanged, but for anything else, it is up to you to decide the number of times to play each chord, where to put them in context, do you strum them or play them as arpeggios, or perhaps a combination of both, simply use your imagination and be creative, there are no restrictions as long as it “sounds good”.
- Step 7) Choose your structure: Let's give some examples:
- Introduction -> Chorus -> Chorus -> Verse – Chorus -> Chorus -> Verse -> Chorus -> Chorus -> Fade out
- Introduction -> Chorus -> Chorus -> Verse -> Chorus -> Chorus -> Verse -> Bride -> Chorus -> Chorus slowing down to finish
- Introduction Solo -> Chorus -> Verse -> Chorus -> Verse -> Instrumental Solo -> Verse -> Chorus -> Chorus -> Chorus -> Fade out
- Introduction -> Chorus -> Chorus -> Verse -> Instrumental Solo -> Chorus -> Verse -> Instrumental Solo -> Chorus -> Verse -> Instrumental Solo to finish
- Etcetera Etcetera …
Again, be creative and don't limit yourself to one structure with all your songs, a structure is like a home or a frame to your song, so choose it wisely.
- Step 8) Write your lyrics: Depending on what you want to convey, you can get ideas from your own experiences in life, ups and downs, love and disappointments, real events, imaginative events, war, peace, history, or ask your friends around you and family for more ideas. Make several versions of the song's lyrics, sing them with the song and make changes if needed on the go. Sometimes you'll need to change some words in order to make them rhythm, or you'll feel the need to add more words somewhere in the verse, or delete them.
Don't restrict yourself. If anything Rock music has taught us, it's that you can sing about ANYTHING in your mind and express it.
- Step 9) Record it: Finished the song? It's wise to record yourself playing and singing it, the camera of your smartphone is enough for the job. Record and then listen to your song, see if you like it, if not, ask yourself what you did not like about the song, is it the lyrics? The chorus? The solo? Make corrections accordingly.
- Step 10) Share it: Be proud of yourself and share it in social media and with your friends, and even upload it to Youtube. If you get a lot of likes and views, you might consider creating a channel dedicated to your original songs, and then monetize it. A good Youtube channel with daily or weekly successful videos, generates a HUGE amount of revenue, and who knows, you might be the next youtube sensation (if so, make sure to mention us in your channel 😉 ).
You might want to consider joining Bandhub.com and find musicians there that like your style of music and start making music together.
Taking your songwriting skills to the next level
After having a basic understanding of songwriting and the tools needed to start and finish your first song, maybe you want to take this to the next level, learn further about songwriting, how to improve your songwriting skills, how to be more creative and think out of the box, how to choose unique chord progression that feels original and entirely yours, and more.
You don't need to have a degree in music from some respected university (although one helps for sure), there are some paid but very cheap courses online that you can take, that will help you achieve better songwriting skills and capabilities, check the list of courses in the link below:
Check each review, and pick the program that suits your needs, make sure you find the songwriting course first, and you can file for a trial period to test their content first. All the programs from the above link are tested and examined by me personally, and I think they are really great, I highly recommend them.
Should you need more assistance regarding songwriting or guitar playing, do not hesitate to ask in the comments section below, I'll be glad to answer you whenever I'm available.
Good luck and have fun writing those songs!
P.S: If you managed to write a song and record it, let us know by throwing a link to the song (preferably Youtube) as a comment below, and tell us if this article have helped you in creating it or not.