3 Big Reasons That You Struggle To Write Guitar Music

Author: Ed Cupler

Write Guitar Music
Do you have a strong desire to write great music for guitar but struggle to create anything you like from your songwriting efforts? This can be very frustrating for sure. However, there is good news. No matter how you feel about your current ability to write music for guitar, you can change for the better by learning how to use a more effective songwriting approach (while avoiding the less effective ones).

To start writing songs on guitar that sound the way you want them to, you are going to need to incorporate many creative approaches into your songwriting process. By integrating several methods together, you will have less trouble coming up with interesting ideas since you are not held back by the limitations of merely using a single approach. This will help you maintain a consistent flow of ideas to help you write guitar music more creatively. In order to give you more strategies to use for creative songwriting, I have put together three of the most limiting approaches that are used by guitar players while writing music. For each point, I will describe why the approach is limiting and (with this in mind) how you can write songs on guitar in a way that will bring you more results. Here are three approaches that you will need to improve, change or integrate (with other approaches) in order to become more creative in your songwriting:

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1. Only Writing Music Through Improvisation On Guitar, Without Planning Anything Ahead Of Time

The overwhelming majority of guitarists create their music without spending much time at all to actually think about what they want to write about. Instead, they use the approach of grabbing their guitar and playing through familiar patterns or licks until something starts to sound good. The truth is, if you are using this as your only approach for songwriting, the chances that you will NOT be able to think of great ideas increases significantly. Why is this? The reason for this is that such an approach for writing guitar songs is actually counter-intuitive to the way the natural songwriting process works. To illustrate my point, imagine that you were going to make a painting. If you wanted to paint a great portrait of someone, would you tell them to stay home while you tried to guess what they look like by randomly moving your brush around on the canvas until something resembles a face? Of course you wouldn’t. Instead, you would invite the person you are trying to paint to come to your studio, have them sit in a chair, observe the way the light hits their face and carefully paint until you have expressed your idea on the canvas as accurately as possible. This same concept rings true in music. The better you understand what you are trying to achieve with your music ahead of time, the more likely you will be to accurately convey this idea in the songs you write.

In order to get better at expressing your ideas as you write songs on guitar, focus on writing out the ideas you want to express for about 30 minutes or so before you pick up your instrument. As you do this, organize your ideas into different categories such as "emotions", "events" or any other groupings that you would like to use. Once you are satisfied with the ideas you have written down, choose a few of them to use in your song. Next, think critically about the different ways you can express these ideas by using different musical elements. For instance, think of songs you have listened to before and how you felt during certain parts of the music… what was going on musically that made you feel that way? …how did the lyrics work together with the music being played? Additionally, you can even create a map of how each idea you want to express will be used in each section of your next song. There are many different ways to do this, try to be as creative as possible in this process.

Once you have come up with ideas that you want to express in your music, read through this guitar riff songwriting guide to start realizing your ideas into a song.

2. Only Using Your Guitar To Write Songs While Neglecting Other Instruments

This common songwriting approach used by guitarists is by far one of the most limiting. If you write your songs by using this approach, your musical ideas will be restricted exclusively to the patterns and techniques that come from your guitar playing habits. This means that each time you write a song, it will be made of similar ideas, note rhythms, scale patterns and other things that you usually play on guitar. This will cause you to run out of ideas fast and your songwriting will become repetitive over time. That said, of course you DO want to write guitar music (as a guitarist), but even so, most music that contains guitar also contains bass guitar, drums, vocals, keyboards or various other instruments. In order to write great parts for these instruments, it will be beneficial to not restrict yourself to guitar only during your writing process. By writing your music using a combination of different instruments, you will open up many new possibilities for your songwriting and the overall quality of your music will increase greatly.

To start using this idea in your songs, set your guitar aside and try writing 5 new songs and/or song melodies by using another instrument as your fundamental songwriting tool. As an example, you could use the keyboard to create the overall direction of your music by mapping out the chords of your song. Additionally, you could use drums to think of the rhythms you want to use in each song section or perhaps bass guitar to develop the bass lines that will help carry your song’s rhythm. After you have chosen and instrument and begun writing, you can go back and integrate the other instruments of the song (this includes guitar) together with the ideas you have thought up. By using this approach of writing with alternate instruments, you will quickly improve your overall songwriting creativity and learn how to write better parts for instruments other than guitar.

3. Overlooking The Significance Of Each Note You Use In Your Music

Every great songwriter consistently looks to get the most out of every note he/she uses to create music. As you write music with guitar, it is important for you to use this mindset as well. For instance, in many cases, guitar players overlook the finer details in their music while using ‘chords’. In the mind of these guitarists, chords are simply big chunks that serve the sole purpose of being placed below the melody line as a part of "natural song structure".

This mindset is extremely limiting because chords are much more interesting and useful than this. Chords are essentially made up of several individual notes that function as "melodies" when moving from chord to chord. By recognizing this, you can greatly improve the way the notes of one chord lead into the notes of another; this will make your guitar music flow much better as a whole. In order to do this on guitar, try using the following approaches:

  • If you are using chords that contain one or more notes in common, retain these notes while transitioning from one chord to the next.
  • Don’t use the same chord positions all the time. Utilize the different positions on guitar to the same chords you normally play in a different way. This includes playing "slash" chords (also known as inversions) to help you develop different bass lines.
  • Begin by writing a nice bass line. Next, start adding more and more notes over this line until you have made a chord with at least 3 unique notes. Use this process to complete a progression of chords that contain individual notes moving by 1/2 or whole step from each note to the next note after it.

In addition, here are some more aspects of guitar songwriting to consider as you create music:

  • Don’t use the same positions on the guitar all the time while playing a certain note. You can give yourself many more options in terms of creating great ‘tone’ by playing the same note in different positions. For instance, instead of always playing the 2nd fret of the high "e" string, try using the 11th fret of the "g" string.
  • A lot of guitar players play exclusively with a pick. However, you can add a whole new dimension to your songs on guitar by playing finger style during certain musical situations. For example, if you are writing a guitar part that uses chord arpeggios with clean settings, you can get a much more delicate and soft sound by using your fingers to play the strings rather than a pick.

Becoming a great songwriter will take time; however, by avoiding the common limitations most guitarists place on themselves, you will be able to quickly improve your ability to write creative music. I encourage you now to get started writing music with the various songwriting ideas mentioned in this article. The more you practice, the faster you can progress and begin writing great music!

Start creating creative guitar songs now by checking out the advice in this free guide to guitar riff songwriting.

About the author:

Ryan Buckner is an accomplished guitarist and songwriter who has been writing instructional material about guitar playing, musical composition and music theory since 2006. He helps musicians worldwide learn how to write a song step by step on his songwriting website.

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