Q&A Getting Started With Songwriting: Bite-Size Guitar Podcast Episode 21

Episode 21 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at how to get started writing your own music as well as practical exercises to work on songwriting skills.

This episode answers a question sent in from a listener. If you have a question you would like answered in a future episode, record it below in the ‘Ask a Question’ section.

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Ask a Question

If you have a question about this episode or any other question about learning or playing guitar, ask it here and I’ll answer it in a future episode.

Use your Android/PC/Mac (iOS doesn’t work) to record your question below and send it to me to be included in a future episode.

Tips for asking a question for the podcast:

  • Introduce yourself at the start (eg: Hi, I’m Aaron from Australia …)
  • Try to record in a quiet environment to avoid background noise
  • You have up to 90 seconds to record, so take your time providing any details you want

If you want to send me a question in text instead of voice, you can send it here.

Useful Resources

Here are some handy resources related to this episode:

As explained in the episode, songwriting is a skill and the more you work on it, the easier it gets. So use the above resources as tools to help you to practice in different ways.

Podcast Episode 21 Transcript

Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 21 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.

In this episode, I’ll answer a question sent in from a listener. Here’s the question from Amir.

My question is about songwriting. What is the best or most efficient practice routine for someone who has a songwriting goal?

Thanks for your question Amir. I really enjoy songwriting, so I’m happy to talk about it.

Now songwriting is a hard topic to talk about, which is why there really isn’t that much practical advice out there compared to advice and lessons on technical guitar skills. You can look up countless lessons and exercises online to help you learn and practice chords, scales, and techniques, but not so much on how to write music. I just Googled “songwriting exercises” and “songwriting lesson” and the results were pretty appalling.

I noticed this early on when I was first learning to write music. Whenever songwriting would come up in an interview with a famous guitarist, the guitarist would usually give vague answers talking about finding inspiration. If you’ve read or watched any interviews like this, you probably know what I’m talking about.
You’ll hear guitarists say things like, “oh, inspiration can come from anywhere, so you need to jump on it when it hits”. While that might be true, it doesn’t really help anybody wanting to get into songwriting.

Can Anybody Write Music?

Songwriting often comes across as some sort of mystical thing that you tap into. The first point I’ll make with songwriting is that it’s a skill like any other skill on guitar.

Songwriting may not feel like a skill like alternate picking feels like a skill, but it’s still a skill you can work on.

The more you practice the skill of songwriting, the easier it gets. If you actively and consistently work on your songwriting skills, you will gradually get better at coming up with ideas and piecing songs together.

The other important point to remember is that everybody can learn to write their own music. Just like some people mistakenly believe they’re tone deaf – something I talk about in episode 7 – some people also believe they’re not creative people and that they can’t write music.

If you think of songwriting as some mystical thing that some people can tap into, then it makes sense why some people believe they can’t write music. But if you think of songwriting as a skill – or more specifically – a set of skills, then there’s no reason why someone can’t learn to write music.

So if you have any doubts over whether you’re even able to write music, just remember that everybody has the ability to write music. You just need to learn the right skills first.

Getting Started With Songwriting

So let’s say you have a goal of writing your own music but you’ve never written anything before. How do you get started?

I’ll go through a few steps you might want to try to gradually ease you into songwriting and gradually build up your songwriting skills.

The idea behind these steps is to teach you the basics of structuring a song, coming up with parts, and thinking creatively.

The very first step isn’t to try and write a completely original song from scratch. That’s a daunting task if you’ve never tried writing anything before. That’s how people get writer’s block or they start to believe they don’t have what it takes to write music.
Trying to write a completely original song on your first attempt is like running a marathon on your first day of training. It’s just going to discourage you when you fail.

So instead, it makes sense to ease into songwriting.

A far better approach is to start with a song you’re already familiar with and learn to slightly change it. Pick a song you already know how to play and use that song to experiment with changing the guitar parts to something different, change the key, add new sections to the song such as an extra verse or solo, change the lyrics, or add other instrument parts to the song.

The basic idea is that your first step into learning songwriting is to learn to take a song you already know and create your own unique cover version of that song.
Try taking a guitar riff or chord progression in the song and changing those parts to something different that still fits with the rest of the song. Or if there’s a guitar solo in the song, try writing a new solo or do something completely different during that section.
Or you can cut out a section of the song and replace it with something else you come up with.

Start with simple changes, then keep trying to change more and more parts as you get used to experimenting with the song. If you keep this up, eventually you might end up with something that sounds nothing like the original song.

The reason this is the best way to get into songwriting is that you’re not starting from scratch. You already have a complete song with a certain style, tempo, and feel to guide you along. It’s far easier to come up with new parts for an existing song than it is coming up for parts for a completely new song from scratch.

Once you do this to one song, you can try it again with a different song. Each time you do this is practice for your songwriting skills. Try changing slow songs, fast songs, complicated songs, easy songs, and songs in different styles.

It might not feel like you’re writing music when you modify and change existing songs, but you’re working on the same skills you’ll need later on.

An important lesson this practice teaches you is it helps you figure out what it is in the music you listen to that you want to incorporate in your own songs. By experimenting with changing parts of songs you listen to, you gradually learn what elements and parts you want to include in your own songs.

My recommendation is to practice creating one unique cover version per week. After a few weeks, you’ll start to feel confident in deconstructing a song and changing it to suit your own style.

A good program to make this practice easier is to use Guitar Pro. Download the Guitar Pro file for the song and you can directly edit, delete and change the parts for any of the instruments in the song.

So you can try deleting the bass track and come up with something completely different. Or you can try swapping some chords in the progressions and listen back to how the new chords fit with the song. Or you can edit the drum beat then change the guitar parts to fit the different rhythm pattern.

Once you get to the point where you can choose any song and start changing parts with ease, you can move on to the next step.

Writing Your First Song

The next step I suggest is to create a rip-off version of a song you like. I know this sounds like a strange suggestion, but it’s a great way to ease into songwriting. You’ll hopefully progress past this point, but for now, it’s a good way to learn about song structure and piecing a song together.

The idea is that you take the structure of a song, the style of the riffs or chord progressions, and use all of that as a starting point for your own song.

The goal is to come up with a song that sounds similar to the song you’re copying, but different enough that it doesn’t sound like a cover version.

To do this, you simply work on one section at a time and try to write riffs or chord progressions that sound similar to the original song, but with your own spin on them.

Again, try to work on one song per week. The more songs you work on, the faster you’ll pick up the main skills and concepts needed to write your own completely original songs.

Remember that songwriting is a skill, so even if you’re writing something that is clearly a rip-off of another song, you’re still practicing your songwriting skills. Once you build those skills up, you can put them to work on completely original songs.

Working on Original Songs

The next step is to start coming up with original song ideas that don’t start with other people’s music as inspiration. This can seem like a daunting task at first, but if you’ve taken the time to work through the other steps I’ve covered, it’ll be a lot easier.

Instead of starting by listening to another song and using that to inspire similar sounding parts, the way you come up with original ideas is to just jam on your own until you notice something interesting. You might accidentally play a wrong chord that grabs your attention, or you might play a sequence of notes that sounds interesting.
Just sit and jam and pay attention for anything that stands out.

When something does stand out, immediately record it. I can’t tell you how many song ideas I’ve lost over time because I didn’t immediately capture them.
Use a looper pedal or an app on your phone or tablet to quickly record any part that sounds interesting. I talk about this in episode 3 if you want to learn about your options.

The first few times you try this, you might not come up with anything that sounds interesting. You might even feel worried that you don’t have any creative abilities. But the more often you do this, the more things you notice in what you come up with. You gradually start to try new things and come up with more interesting ideas. As I said earlier, this is a skill just like any other skill. The more you work on it, the better you get.
If you’re new to this skill, then you shouldn’t expect to come up with amazing ideas on your first attempt. You need to work on it first.

Over time you’ll build up a collection of recordings you can use as starting points for writing your own songs. Each idea could end up in different songs, or you may find a few ideas that work well together.

Once you find a couple of ideas that grab your attention, you’ll already know how to piece a song together from all the practice you had creating rip-off versions of other people’s music.
If you work through the steps I’ve covered, by the time you get to this point, you’ll understand what you need to do to write a completely original song.

Songwriting Practice Routine

So now to circle back to the original question. The original question was what type of practice routine should someone follow if they have a goal of writing their own music.
What you include in your practice routine depends on where you’re already at when it comes to learning songwriting skills.

Are you able to take a song and modify the guitar parts to something different? If not, add that into your practice routine.
If you can do that, then are you able to write a rip-off version of a song you like? If not, add that to your practice routine.

If you can do that, then how are you with coming up with original ideas on your own? I’d say this is where most people struggle.
If that sounds like your current situation, add some time every day to just sit with your guitar and experiment. Try coming up with chord progressions and throw in random chords to see what works and what doesn’t. Try coming up with basic riffs and experiment with throwing in notes that you normally wouldn’t play.
Aim to practice for at least 10 minutes per day of just sitting with your guitar experimenting. Have a looper pedal or an app handy to instantly record anything that sounds interesting to you.

Once you come up with a few ideas, spend time working on those ideas to polish them up and try to piece a song around those ideas.

Songwriting is a big topic, but hopefully this episode has given you an idea of how to get started from ground zero. If you’ve never written a song before or you struggle to come up with ideas, try following the advice I’ve talked about here.

I love writing music and I’m quite happy to share more songwriting advice in future episodes. If you would like me to talk about songwriting in future episodes, jump on the website and record your question about songwriting. I can talk about specific steps for writing songs, coming up with other instrument parts, or anything else.

I really like featuring listeners in episodes like this one, so send in your questions. Check out the page for this episode at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-21
I’ve included links to useful guides and resources to help with your songwriting.

Thanks to Amir for sending in your question and I hope this episode has given you something you can start working on right now.

If you’ve ever thought about writing your own music before but you feel you’re not creative enough, try following the steps I’ve covered. You might be surprised with what you’re able to come up with if you work through this process.

Try this out this week and I’ll talk to you next time.


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