How to Write a Song on Guitar


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Want a spark in your playing? Try to write your own song. Even if it's just a few notes or chords...

I don’t know if most people feel the way I do about songwriting, but guitar playing sure got a lot more interesting for me when I started writing with my instrument. Practicing and learning other people’s stuff only got me so far. Don’t get me wrong though. Learning my first song and my first Jimmy Page lick were huge milestones for me. I remember being so excited that I could actually do something on the guitar that other people might want to hear. I have found though, that there is a whole new excitement that comes out of writing something.

That excitement is always accompanied by fears and insecurities about my own abilities as well as a sense of expectancy for what will come from my songwriting efforts.

These days, I’m fortunate enough to be asked to write songs on a regular basis. I just finished writing a theme song for a radio program and you might very well hear me singing or playing. Whether it is a song I get paid to write, or a something I do for my own enjoyment, they all start in the same place.

They start with a simple idea. It is our job as songwriters to take something connected to us in some way (anything really) and make music out of it. What a daunting and abstract concept this can seem like! Like other artists, songwriters are translators, but unlike language interpreters, there is no ‘correct’ way to convert a thought, image or experience to music. That’s great news because it means that we get to act out of pure inspiration and not by a strict set of rules or limitations!

Maybe a favorite song or place inspires a melody of your own. Maybe some words fly in to your head as your hiking in the mountains or walking along the beach. Maybe there’s an issue in your life that bothers you and there’s no good way to vent about it. This is where things start! The hardest step in the process for me is the next one. The ideas seem to start coming naturally or even accidentally after awhile. Moving from idea to actually sitting down and beginning the translation process is where it can get daunting!

Paul McCartney woke up with the classic melody for "Yesterday" in his head, and the lyrics that came naturally to him were about “Ham and Eggs”. Since the lyrics were not where he wanted them to be, he focused on working the music out, knowing that the right lyrics would come to him eventually... which obviously worked out well.

A wise songwriter friend of mine once encouraged me to LET songs happen rather than make them happen. Obviously this worked for the great artists we all love, so why should we be any different?

Starting a song can be incredibly rewarding! So this weekend, I encourage you to START a song. Don’t put a bunch of pressure on yourself. Don’t set any deadlines. Just turn your attention to inspiration. Bring a note pad and sound recorder with you where ever you go, and when you feel like you might have received some bit of inspiration, record it or write it down. You can then can sit down with some starting points later in the evening. Grab your favorite drink and go to your favorite place to explore them further.

In the words of Jon Bon Jovi: “All I have is this guitar, these chords, and the truth.” That’s where great songs begin. It doesn’t take an amazing guitar player to write an amazing song. Use a few chords you know, make yourself comfortable, act on some inspiration and see what comes out!

Bon Jovi also said: “You can’t win until you’re not afraid to lose.” In other words, (for fellow songwriters) no great songs will get written until we overcome the fear associated with taking the first steps! Start a song this weekend and look forward to how your song will take shape! Before you do, see what these veteran songwriters/JamPlay instructors have to say about the songwriting process. They do a much better job of setting the stage for successful songwriting than I have done here.

The Songwriter's Mindset by Dave Yauk

Taught by Dave Yauk

Learn how to get in to the songwriter’s mindset. Get tips on how to recognize inspiration and how to apply it to your music.

What Are You Communicating? by Dave Yauk

Taught by Dave Yauk

Get a first hand look at how to “translate” life into music with a song example written during a JamPlay film session:

Sharing a Message by Hawkeye Herman

Taught by Hawkeye Herman

A song can come from anywhere and be about anything, everything or nothing. Don’t limit yourself. Get a fresh take on sharing your message.

12 Bar Blues by Hawkeye Herman

Taught by Hawkeye Herman

Musically, the Blues is a great place to start when it comes to songwriting. Your song doesn’t have to be a Blues song, but understanding Blues form can spark ideas for your own musical ideas.

I hope these guitar lessons have helped you learn a little bit about songwriting. If you're looking for more, we have another 140 lessons from 8 amazing instructors available to JamPlay members.

Hawkeye Herman

This blues master will teach you everything you need to know about blues songwriting: intros, outros, inspiration, content, and more.

Dave Yauk

Learn Travis Picking and how to combine chords with melody. You'll learn how to take everyday life experiences and turn them into music!

Lauren Passarelli

Lauren is a teacher at the Berklee College of Music and will be giving you her take on songwriting using examples from songs she's composed.

Dustin Prinz

This unique singer songwriter will give you clever ways to present simple musical ideas in an original and complete way. Prepare to be both entertained and educated.

Mark Lincoln

This series will teach you some basic techniques and cover the theory behind songwriting.

David Wilcox

This masterclass from acclaimed guitarist and songwriter David Wilcox, unloads a ton of great advice for aspiring songwriters.

Chris Liepe

You will learn new creative techniques and the basics of putting together with various strumming patterns.

Mark Kroos

Learn to compose from a melody and then the exact opposite; composition from an accompaniment.

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Thanks for reading.

This is my first crack at the Weekend Warrior series. I hope my words have encouraged you to pick up your guitar and start writing a song. It does not matter if it's just a few notes or chords. Find your inspiration and create. I am confident that you'll find it is very rewarding.


Chris Liepe
Content Director

Chris Liepe Content Director Chris Liepe is the content director at JamPlay. He was one of the first JamPlay instructors. His talents were quickly noticed, both on and off camera. Chris and the folks at JamPlay soon realized that he would be a perfect fit for the team. He hopped on board as a full time staff member in 2009 and has since been leading the charge towards realizing JamPlay's mission: providing affordable music education worldwide.

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