How to write songs on guitar

The guitar is a favourite for songwriting as it offers a varied sonic palette but how do you get started writing a song on it.

To start with it helps if you know to some extent how to play the guitar. Even if you only know 3 chords it’s the perfect building block to start writing with. In fact there are hundreds of beloved songs that use just 3 chords.

If you don’t know how to play any chords then it’s a good idea to brush up on some before you get songwriting!

Now decide which chord is going to be your root. The root chord sets the tone for your song. Think of it as the root of a plant, it is from this base that the rest of it grows and is able to flourish into a flower – all held up by the root at the bottom.

The root chord will more often than not set your key. Your key will dictate what other chords sound good and which ones won’t sound so good. If you’re not sure what chords will sound good together then a chord wheel is a super simple way to see which chords work with others.

Here’s one to look at and we have more information you can learn here:
https://routenote.com/blog/understand-the-music-theory-of-chords-easily/

So now you should have some chords to play along with your root. It’s up to you to decide what they are and how you play them. Normally you will choose 2 to 4 chords to play in a sequence and you’ll repeat this sequence until you want to move to another section like: a pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, and so on.

Most of the time you’ll be playing in 4:4 timing. You don’t particularly need to know the intricacies of what this means but the essence of it is that you work on the basis of a structure of fours. So a bar will be in 4 beats and you may even play 4 chords equally in sequence before going back to the first (usually the Root).

When moving to another section bear in mind the Root chord and use the chord wheel if you need to find a new sequence that fits. Most popular songs will have a primary chord sequence repeat a few times and that will make up a verse and they will then move into a chorus section.

If you’re expanding your song then you can overlay different melodies or even place a solo. Use your Root chord to find the root of your key and use the other chords to know which scales will work over it.

For example if your Root chord is A minor then you’ll want to use an A minor scale. If you don’t know your scales then there are resources online to help you.

Of course, the beauty of song writing is that there are no rules. These are all standards that most songs will adhere to up to some point but writing music is a free, creative expression. You decide what you play, how long for, what the structure is and everything else that goes into the final recipe!

So get creative, pick up the guitar and start writing a song. You never know what you’ll create.

Head of Social Media and Marketing, RouteNote

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