Writing songs on guitar can be easy. Writing great songs on guitar can be nigh impossible. We asked veteran songwriter, recording artist, and guitar maestro, Matthieu Brandt to offer up the skinny on how you can start writing better songs now.
1. Songs Start in Silence
Writers are observers. They watch, absorb, and in silence, reflect. The result of that creative reflection is their song. Find a spot in your life – a location, a day or time during the week – where there is silence. No noise, no disturbances, no children running amok, no spouse yelling, no dishes waiting- nothing. Just you, your guitar, a notebook, and a recorder.
2. Write it Down and Record it
You think you’ll remember that great hook, keep tabs on that funky groove, recall those hip chord changes, and retain those insightful lines? You wont. Writing guitar songs is a state of mind, and sometimes a way of life. Support it with a notebook, or a small recorder if you can and have those handy – always. Write your ideas down and record them. If you record musical ideas, make sure you explain to your future self what you played. Even brilliant ideas can be forgotten.
3. Cut and Paste
Think about songs in sections. If you have a verse-like section, go look in your archive and see if you have a section with a chorus feel. Stick them together and see if it works. Many hit songs with interesting energy changes were created like this (see Strawberry Fields, by The Beatles)
4. Use the Internet
Lyric writing is often a creative puzzle. Sites like rhymezone.com and masterwriter.com are phenomenal sources that can assist you in putting together your puzzle. Aside from the obvious rhyming dictionary, they can help you do many things to, and with, your lyrics. Even if you’re not in a rut, I’d suggest you visit at least a few of the many lyric sites out there for ideas and reference.
5. Write About Things that Matter to You
Avoide cliches. Nobody’s waiting for another song featuring, ‘river deep, mountain high, the way I feel inside, I woke up the morning, dream come true, like the stars above…’ Try to be original by coming up with creative connections, alliterations, places, things that happened to you. And it won’t hurt to read poetry and lyrics from other writers for inspiration. Just remember that your life is rich enough to be an inspiration to others. Use your own experiences, views, words and insights.
6. Watch the Hands
YouTube is a great source for learning guitar tricks. When searching for chords, tabs, grooves, and song ideas, always check out live performances of the guitar players you like. Closely watch their left and right hands. Pay attention to where they are playing on the neck of the guitar, what strumming pattern are they using, are they using original chord voicings, odd shapes, or are there any open strings ringing etc,. Often their complex chord grooves, lighting fast hooks, and impossible finger stretches are easier to play than you think. Use that info in your writing and fill your toolbox with these tricks.
7. Disregard Other People’s Opinions
The most frightful, exciting, and nerve wrecking moment in a song writer’s life is when they proudly present their new baby to an audience. Often, these are close friends, relatives, and fellow musicians. You’ll ask them for an opinion and sometimes they’ll give you just that. They will either like it for the wrong reasons, or hate it for the wrong reasons.
You can’t expect an audience to be involved in your song as much as you. This means that they’ll judge your creation based on almost random elements they percieved during your presentation. The song might need to grow on them (or not). But don’t let your creative energy be bogged down by what other people think. Art is not democratic. Idols, Popstars, and TV shows have nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with making money. And they do it with middle of the road horse manure, in my opinion.
So What’s Your Excuse?
Let me leave you with a song lyric I wrote back in 2009. It’ll be on my next (fourth) album, to be released in the summer of 2011. I was fed up with a few artists in my surroundings giving me all kinds of reasons why they couldn’t write. The truth is that if you’re a writer you write. If you’re a creator, you create. If you’re an artist, you make art. You don’t do those things because you have to or want to, but because you can’t not do it.
LISTEN: “Not My Fault” by Matthieu Brandt
Matthieu Brandt is a guitarist, songwriter, recording artist, and bandleader based in Amsterdam, Netherlands where he has a highly successful teaching practice that emphasizes songwriting. Visit his site to learn more about Brandt, his music, and to check out his line of TrueFire video lessons, including the monumental Songwriting On the Guitar.