The very point of playing an instrument is to have a new tool for expression. Aside from just performing music, some beginner guitar players dream about making their own stuff. However, this might not be that simple and there are a few things one should be informed about before attempting to write their own music.
How to Write a Song on the Guitar
Learn Music Theory
Before setting out to do anything on pretty much any instrument, it’s of crucial importance that you should be familiar with at least the basic concepts of music theory. Without it, you just won’t be able to “navigate” and write any melody or a chord progression. You need to be familiar with how the tonalities work, what are major and minor scales, and preferably even modes, in order to know how to create a good song.
Of course, there have been many arguments about music theory ruining one’s creativity. The main argument here is that many great musicians, especially between the ’50s and the ’80s, were not that familiar with any of these concepts, yet they created good music. The thing is, not that many people are capable of this. And while you’ll be able to come up with something on your own, knowing music theory will definitely be of immeasurable help. It’s like having a compass and a map and knowing how to navigate outdoors.
As we mentioned, it’s a good thing to know how scales work with all their intervals, how notes correlate to each other, how chords are built, and, above all, how all of this translates to your guitar fretboard.
See our list of top theory books for guitar beginners
Know and “Feel” Your Genre
Next up, it’s important to know what kind of music are you aiming for. Whatever kind of genre that you’re into, you need to be aware of the melodies, the intervals used in certain situations, as well as whether most of the songs are in major or minor keys. Only then will you be able to write an appropriate melody and then accompany it with an adequate chord progression.
While we’re at it, most of the musical styles have their own specific chord progressions. For those who are not familiar, chord progression represents a set of chords that are used in a certain key, or a few different keys in some specific genres (like jazz). You’ll often find similar or exactly the same patterns within one style of music. After all, this is one of the things that define a genre.
Other things that can define a genre are the rhythm and tempo. The tempo represents the speed of the song and is expressed in beats per minute. The rhythm and groove represent the rhythmic patterns. In the case of guitar, it’s about how your picking hand strums or picks on the strings.
The only way to get into this is to first be familiar with the basic concepts of music theory.
Start with a Melody and then Add a Chord Progression
The best idea is always to start with the melody. Whether this is a guitar line or a vocal line, or any other lead instrument, it’s always good to start there. After all, the melody will be what grabs people onto your music. The chord progression and other accompaniment, like drums, will only be there to support it.
While there’s a high chance you’re very interested in more complex and intricate styles of music, we would rather advise that you start simple. You can always use the basic scales, like major, minor, or pentatonic minor, and then write main melodies within these bounds. With this approach, it will be really easy to add a chord progression to any melody that you come up with.
Know Your Structure
In the end, you’ll also need to be aware of your song’s structure. As you may know, many songs of almost any genre have the intro, verses, choruses, and the outro. In some cases, there are certain interlude and other sections, along with proper transitions between parts.
While you don’t have to follow these exact structures, you should be aware of how exactly are you going to build your song.
How to Harmonize a Melody
Many guitar players want to know how to harmonize a melody. It’s a songwriting technique often used in many genres, and even in guitar-oriented stuff like rock or heavy metal. Again, you’ll need to be aware of the basic music theory.
Harmonizing a melody is done by using third intervals over the original melody. Now, there are two types of third intervals – minor and major third. And when harmonizing, you can’t really use just fixed minor or major thirds over the melody. This is why you’ll need to know about scales and how diatonics work.
Let’s say that your melody is written in a minor key. A minor scale has its specific distribution of intervals. When playing a third above the original melody, you need to play within the notes of this same scale. This is the only way to properly harmonize any melody.
For instance, let’s say that you’re playing in A minor, and you have five notes in the melody – A, C, B, D, A. Playing a proper third interval over it would be C, E, D, F, C. Of course, all of this requires that you know where each note on the fretboard is located. It’s pretty easy to figure out when you know your scales and proper fingering positions.
Sky Is the Limit
At the end of the day, you are free to do as you wish, and there are no strict rules that you should follow. You can make melodies, chord progressions, and structures the way that you want to.
On the other hand, knowing music theory and writing within the boundaries of a specific music style will definitely be of help. But whatever path you choose, always be sure to add something that’s unique to the song and to know music theory. This will surely make things easier for both you and the listener.