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Songwriting On Guitar

Glenn Bourdot (61) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3

I recently browsed across one of those annoying instant messenger "neighborhoods" where someone was asking how to write a song on a guitar. Responded with something like what follows...thought it might interest some of you Whole-Noters.

The melody-first approach is often dismissed as impossible (go tell Paul Simon), but if you identify more as a PLAYER than a poet, it just might be your way into songland. I know in my own case I have nothing to say until the mysterioso Muse shows up singing.

So get your guitar out (acoustics generally work better, something about using your muscles boots up your nervous system more effectively), and bang some chords until you find one (or two) that sound especially fresh in the moment. Use capos, dropped tunings, a friend's guitar, whatever it takes to come up with something that sounds cool to YOU. Very often it'll sound like something you "must have heard on the radio", but whatever it is play it with a feeling of enjoyment.

Notice that little warble in the back of your throat? That's the melody trying to happen--HUM something...use vowels sounds. Do this for a few measures of strumming, and without THINKING about it, change to another chord (don't worry about the key just yet), and keep humming and strumming.

At this point, you're looking for a unique or unexpected combination of chord and melody that instantly establish a mood and a rhythm that EXCITE you. Go back and forth with your chords, warble some more, shake your butt, and stay down in the groove, even if you've uncorked a slow soft one today. Notice how the rhythm "snowballs" and creates more feeling and emotion (and more groove), and how certain vowels keep popping up that perfectly express your mood and propel the rhythm along.

These vowel sounds usually turn out to be cornerstones in your finished song, and if you're lucky they'll resolve themselves into a cool phrase as you're standing there warbling. Again, the MOOD of what you're playing is SAYING something, and the more specific you can be, the better. It's like carving- first you stumble across an amazing piece of wood, you have the vision of what you could make out of it, and then you have to whittle it down. Most of us give up right about here, covinced that we just don't have the "gift", but I say (ptew!), don't give up- ther's no percentage in it! Remember what Michaelangelo said: "They wouldn't call it genius if they knew how much work went into it".