Writing Songs for the Acoustic Guitar
Once you’ve gotten some basic theory under your belt and you can play enough chords on your guitar to make a tune, you may already be ready to start writing your own songs. Writing your own songs is a wonderful way to express yourself and – who knows? – you may just write the next great American classic!
A song contains two elements: music and lyrics. Which comes first? There is no correct answer. The fact is that it depends on the songwriter. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on the music first.
The most important tool that you will ever use in your song writing is a recorder. If you have a group of friends that you jam with, make sure that you are always recording. You don’t even have to be any good – just record. You may find that you hit upon an interesting tune, and now all you need to do is add lyrics. Or, you may have run a cool riff that will work its way into a full song with a little bit of work.
Regardless, the first thing you will be working on is the tune. You already have a grasp of guitar chord combinations, so working out different tunes will not be too difficult. As this is your very first song, start with basic chord transitions, like D-G-A or G-C-D and work in different strumming patterns.
Once you’ve got a flow of bars that resonates with you, begin humming to yourself as you play. Hum something that fits the chord progressions. Keep experimenting – and remember to always have your recorder running.
Once you’ve got something that feels like an actual tune, choose which part you think best fits a verse vs. a chorus – or compose another related tune to create the chorus. For instance, if your chord progression is D-G-A for the verse, try A-G-D for the chorus. Play through a few times until you get the chords and timing sounding like what you want. Now you can move on to writing some lyrics.
Lyrics may actually come to you as you play. Often, the way you are playing will set a mood and the words will follow. It helps to think of a specific theme or story to write the song around. The chorus is something you will repeat, so fit it into the verses – but do make it short. Make sure that your words and syllables are distributed according to the beats and bars. Try not to make your rhymes too corny.
Sing and record, and repeat the process as you finesse the song. Make adjustments to both the words and tune, and each time you will find the song getting better. Go ahead and sing the song, making sure the lyrics fit the tune and tempo smoothly. If you are not the best singer, you may envision who you believe would be best to sing it.
This is just one method. Many song writers have the lyrics come to them first and end up writing a tune around them. Again, there is not right way to write a song. The most important thing to bear in mind is that your song will morph and grow as you play it – but always record, record, record! Imagine how many masterpieces were lost because someone didn’t hit the ‘record’ button.