Write a Song With Your Guitar!

7 Agustus 2008

by Kathy Unruh

Using your guitar to create a song can be both fun and challenging. Whether you’re just writing lyrics or working out an instrumental piece, the creative process can help to improve your overall ability to internalize rhythms and sounds. Songwriting can also help you to develop a greater sense of feeling as opposed to playing from a merely mechanical or “bookish” approach. This happens because you have to depend more on what you hear than on what you see. As you listen to different tones, rhythms and chord progressions, it’s important to take note of how you feel. What sounds do you like, dislike? Because there are no real rules here, you can try anything you want!

Not long ago I began creating a few instrumental pieces for a guitar workshop I was planning to attend. My husband suggested I compose a piece of music using snow as my theme. This got me to thinking about how I could use my guitar to express the feeling of snow beginning to fall lightly from the sky. I wanted a delicate sound to start with, nothing complicated. So, I began with a few notes played high on the 12th fret. Then I gradually descended to the 5th fret, building intensity as I moved down the neck. I had to mess around with the notes a bit until I got a finger-picking pattern I liked. This changed a few times along the way, but became more consistent as the song began to take shape.

Writing songs with lyrics can be similar. Sometimes I start by developing a musical idea or theme on my guitar, but other times I start with the words. Ideas have come to me occasionally when I am just walking down the road. I suppose this is because my mind is free to wander and play with words when I’m relaxed and enjoying myself. Not long ago the following phrase popped into my head while I was meandering along on a sunny day: “Fire, cold as ice.” It sounds strange, but I liked it and ended up writing an entire song around it.

If you’re wondering how to write a song, here are a few suggestions:

  • Take a chord you are familiar with (such as G, D, A, etc.) and experiment with it.
  • Leave one or two fingers in place as you move a free finger(s) to a different string nearby.
  • Strum or pick each string and listen to the tones.
  • Try a different fret, different string, strum different rhythms.
  • If you hear something you like, play it over and over until you have it memorized.
  • Use this as your starting point, or theme, and write the rest of the music around it.

The most important thing is to relax and enjoy the process. Let yourself sing whatever nonsense comes to mind. It doesn’t need to make sense or even rhyme. If you happen to hit on a phrase or chord progression you like, write it down. Or better yet, record it. Use your cell phone if you have to. It doesn’t matter what it sounds like at this point, you just want to remember what you’ve created so you can continue working on it.

Don’t be afraid to get feedback from a trusted friend or fellow musician. They may be able to give you more creative ideas or even become an important songwriting partner. That’s what happened with Lennon-McCartney right? Well, it might just happen to you too!

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