Songwriting as a Guitarist

By Paul Whitehead
In Apr 8, 2013
Songwriting as a Guitarist

Songwriting as a Guitarist

Songwriting as a guitarist can be seen as one of the most important elements within music, if not the most important. This is because most of the music we listen to today is presented within the song format, in the form of an album of songs or even just a single. Songwriting is also considered to be a form of story-telling through music.

If songwriting as a guitarist is something you wish to pursue, listen to your favourite songs and ask yourself why they are your favourites. What makes them interesting or intriguing to you? Most often, it could have to do with the lyrics, but the music is a huge contributing factor to how the song’s emotional value is received.

In order to become a great songwriter, look at the greats out there and figure out, or look into, what they did in order to become the proficient songwriter they are today. Songwriting is also something that can be developed and practised over time, just like the way in which you develop your guitar technique. Often, songwriters find criticism rather hard to deal with, which is understandable because you’ve ‘slaved away’ trying to create something that could be very personal to you.

Your songs can become like an extension of your soul, however, the first step to becoming a great songwriter is looking at your work objectively from the point of view of an outsider who knows nothing about your work.  Then ask yourself this question, ‘Would people actually be hooked and like your songs?’ This can be harsh at first, especially if you are dealing with a commercial market. But don’t be discouraged, as this market can bring great financial reward.

An example would be Diane Warren, who has written songs for artists from Aerosmith to Whitney Houston and received countless award nominations and awards. The songwriting royalties to songs sold to the aforementioned artists could be and have been more than the performance artist earns on a song, meaning, often the songwriter could be wealthier than the artist. On a less commercial front, songwriting is a most rewarding and therapeutic experience because, whether you feel down or uplifted, you may feel like putting these feelings into song.

Tips in writing songs, specifically on guitar, could include looking at different chord voicings, other than your usual barre chords and open chords. This is due to the fact that although at first normal chords would be fine to fit the songs you  write, you may find that your melody becomes stale, and richness can be created by knowing the notes on your fretboard and using unusual voicings. As with knowing your chord voicings, it could also help a struggling songwriter to try some different tunings on your guitar.

This could be simply to just drop your low E-string to D, or even to consider some open tunings, such as the two low strings being tuned to E and the fourth to the first string being all B. An example of this tuning is in the song “The Day I Tried To Live” by the band Soundgarden. Knowing your key signature and basic key theory can also help to create interest in your songs in order to look at maybe changing the key halfway through or at the end of a song.

Often what sparks a song’s inspiration is not the music but something that happened to you or the way you feel. So keep songs in mind when going about your daily life. This is where some form of recording device could be of assistance. Many songwriters find an idea sparking into mind but ten minutes later they have forgotten it, so try recording the tune or song as soon as possible. This is also great to hear it back afterwards and see if it’s still as good as you initially thought.

Try to write as much as possible, just like you would probably practise your guitar technique every day. If you are unable to write music every day, then try to keep a diary and make notes of your day or write poetry and this could be reviewed at a later stage to accompanying music and crafted into songs.

Give another instrument like piano a try, as so often guitar can be a little frustrating and difficult to write on. This is just because of the way the notes are placed on the fretboard, but if you feel most comfortable on guitar, that’s fine too. Give writing with others a try as this can not only be fun but rewarding as often people will brainstorm an idea and have different ideas, emotions, and tempos to add to it.

Now, what are you waiting for? I suggest that you listen to some great songs, get inspired, live your life and write about it. Go!

Further reading & Bibliography

  1. Drozdowski, T. (2012). 10 Tips for the Songwriting Guitarist. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 4 February 2012)
  2. Leiken, Molly A. (1990). How to Be a Hit Songwriter: Polishing & Marketing Your Lyrics & Music. Milwaukee WI. Hal Leonard.
  3. Perricone, J. (2000). Melody In Songwriting: Tools & Techniques for Writing Hit Songs. Boston MA. Berklee Press.
  4. Pattison, P. (2010). Writing Better Lyrics: The Essential Guide to Powerful Songwriting. Boston MA. Writer’s Digest Books.
Profile photo of Paul Whitehead

*Completing a BMus (Hons) at COPA *Plays for “Layla Scar” and “Book of Thieves” *Is a beginners specialist *Knows the secret Pat Metheny chords *Plays in the Rhema Young Adults Band *Also plays keyboards *Can even play Jonas Brothers songs *Has completed a Higher Diploma in Guitar and Keyboards from The Academy of Contemporary Music in London

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