“My guitar is not a thing. It is an extension of myself. It is who I am.” - Joan Jett
The guitar is one of the most popular instruments for people to learn. You can start learning the guitar by studying a few pentatonic scales, music theory, basic chords from Hendrix, Clapton, or Rolling Stones songs.
After working out how to imitate the greatest guitarists, wouldn’t you like to start writing your own guitar compositions?
If you’re a guitar player who's reached this stage, we’ve got some advice to help you succeed in writing your own music for the for both rhythm guitar and lead guitar.
General Advice for Writing Guitar Music
Whether you play blues guitar, face-melting rock guitar solos, or strum acoustic ballads, every piece of music conveys a certain feeling.
We often forget when we’re writing music for the acoustic or electric guitar that our main goal as a musician is to share an emotion with the listener through our musical instrument. Be it a feeling, a message, or energy, you can’t forget about the emotion behind it. When we compose for the first time, we tend to forget that and just start putting notes and chords together that sound nice.
However, your composition depends on the fundamental emotion it’s trying to express.
Start by asking yourself what you want from your song:
- “I want a song that makes people cry”
- “I want a song full energy that makes people feel they can move mountains”
- “I want the listener to be moved by my song.”
- “I want to make the listener laugh”
For inspiration, listen to the songs that make you feel the way you want your song to make other people feel. You can then see which guitar techniques they're using and how they're strumming or picking the guitar, for example.
Keep things simple! It might be tempting to throw everything you know how to do into a song. However, it’s better to do something well than several things poorly. Even if your guitar playing is really impressive, not everyone wants to listen to endless riffs and licks topped off with a 20-minute solo!
Remember that the most amazing songs are often the most simple:
- Oasis - Wonderwall
- The Beatles - Let It Be
- Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah
- Edith Piaf - La Vie en Rose
- U2 - With or Without You
- Jacques Brel - Ne Me Quitte Pas
Don’t forget to try things, though. You can show others what you’ve created, too. We’re often scared of showing off our work because it’s so personal. That said, you need to put your ego to one side. Remember that any criticism can be constructive, even if it may be difficult to hear sometimes.
There’s nothing from stopping you creating your own pieces very early into learning how to play the guitar. Don’t stop yourself by saying “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t have any ideas”. Don’t think that all the good songs have already been written. This is completely false as there's no limit to the music that can be created.
Finally, think about recording the pieces you make so that you can listen back to them and improvise over the top of them. Don't forget that if you're really struggling, you can also get guitar lessons london (or anywhere really!) to help you learn to play. Every musician has to start somewhere, so don't feel ashamed about opting for beginner guitar lessons so you can learn to play different styles of music on your guitar..
What Does a Song Consist of?
Before starting, think of what makes a song:
- The words
- The melodies
- The harmonies
- The rhythm
The importance of each part varies according to the type of music you’re trying to create. For example, if you’re making techno music, you probably only need around four lines of lyrics whereas in rap you’ll need plenty. Of course, a guitarist isn’t necessarily a singer and you may struggle when writing these parts of the song.
It’s not a problem, though, it’s just something you’ll have to spend more time working on. It’s better to work on your weaknesses than to just ignore them. If you really can’t manage it, don’t hesitate to ask your guitar tutor or a friend to help you.
Compose an Acoustic Song
There are two ways to compose an acoustic song: either writing the chord progression first or writing the vocal melody first.
Writing the Chord Structure First
You’ll need to first choose a key, such as D major, for example. You can then find the chords that belong to this key. Some of the most common chord progressions are as follows:
- I, II, V, I
- I, IV, V, I
- I, V, IV, I
- I, IV, I, V
- I, VI, IV, V
- I, II, IV, V
- I, III, II, V
You can also find others. The most common in D major would be as follows:
- D, Em, A, D
- D, G, A, D
- D, A, G, D
- D, G, D, A
- D, Bm, D, A
- D, Em, G, A
- D, F#m, Em, A
After you’ve found a chord progression, play them again and again while trying to hum a melody over the top. Don’t forget to write down or record what you create so that you don’t forget.
Finally, put down your plectrum and leave it for a couple days. When you come back to it, you can improve it because it’ll feel like you’re listening to it for the first time.
Writing the Vocal Melody First
You don’t need to attend a music school to start creating your own music.
While playing over a melody is quite a complicated method, it’s a great way to get off the beaten track and create your own song.
The first method creates a solid song but it may feel a little flat whereas this method can allow you to create more nuanced music. If you’ve got a melody that you don’t know in your head, write it down and keep singing it until you can’t forget it.
Now things get complicated: you’re going to have to put a chord progression over the melody. Think chord by chord. Each measure, you need to play a chord.
Don’t forget to include the important notes from the melody in these chords. The first notes and the notes that last the longest are often the most important ones in a melody.
The end of the process is the same: record what you’ve got and come back to it a few days later.
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Composing Music for a Band
In a typical band, you’ll usually find:
- An acoustic guitar or an electric guitar
- A bass guitar
- A lead guitar
The melody is usually played on the lead guitar be it jazz, blues, folk, or rock music. The other instruments accompany the lead. You can use the aforementioned methods to compose your own music for the band.
Write a Guitar Riff
You can also compose a guitar riff like the song Smoke on the Water. Keep it simple! A riff needs to be simple to play so it can be incorporated into a song with the other instruments.
Write a Bass Riff
Sometimes, the bass plays the riff. It’s very common in groove or funk music. If you’re in a band, ask your bassist to help you. The drummer could also help out because the bass and drums are intimately linked, especially in terms of rhythm.
If you don’t have a band, you’re going to have to learn a bit about the bass, otherwise, you won’t be able to do any of this.
Chords that Go Together Well
To compose, there’s a pattern you should learn off by heart:
- Major - minor - minor - major - major - minor - minor
For example, in C major, it’d be like this:
- C major - D minor - E minor - F major - G major - A minor - B minor
Vary the Intensity
To make your song more interesting, consider changing the intensity with a calm verse and a heavy chorus. Don’t forget to use rests, too. Silence is also an important part of music.
Now go for it! There’s no limit to creativity, whether you're playing rock music or flirting with grunge or thrash.
Whether it’s folk, bossa nova, funk, blues, or rock, every guitar player needs to familiarise themselves with the important vocabulary. You can't play guitar if you don't know what anyone's talking about.
These are three notes that make up a basic chord.