Songwriting Tips – Getting Started

Personally I love just grabbing my guitar… and noodling.

I’ll pick a key, whatever strikes my interest at that moment, and start noodling just for enjoyment… and often times, I’ll end up coming up with a cool progression or something that could be turned into a song.

This lesson will give a few of the nuts and bolts that can help you build a framework for creating progressions or songs on your own. You need to know what guitar chords work together, and you need to know what scale you’re working with, and you need to have some idea of how those work so that you can use them to start getting creative. For instance, one of the most popular chord progressions of all time is simply a 1-5-6-4 progression. When you break things down into numbers like that, it becomes simple to build new progressions.

Video Problems? Watch it on YouTube

Leave a Reply 16 comments

michael - July 21, 2010 Reply

What type of guitar are you playing, can’t quite see its name , could it be a Martin?

    Jonathan Boettcher - July 22, 2010 Reply

    Good guess – but actually it is a very old Takamine, from back when they had the headstock & logo that looked like Martin. In fact, Martin threatened to sue unless they changed it, which they did.

      michael - July 22, 2010 Reply

      It sounds great,and answers my question as to why I thought it was a Martin, the headstock and labeling on it looked like it …not that I’m stalking you but also noticed a les paul in you’re collection, or is it strike two and another look a like, actually I enjoy you’re playing and love the fact you are willing to share you’re knowledge for free…a very wise man once told me the meaning of life is to find you’re passion, and the purpose of life is to give it away…live long and I will prosper, thanks Jonathan

        Jonathan Boettcher - July 22, 2010 Reply

        Haha, strike two my friend. That one is a Hagstrom Super Swede.. but yeah, looks very similar. Sounds & plays just as well as a Les Paul.

Abner Solano - December 15, 2010 Reply

Hey Jonathan, I have a friend who is looking for a guitar for her daughter. What should she look for? Do you have a post for this? Thanks buddy!

Jak - February 23, 2011 Reply

Hey Jonathan, the 7th chord in the key of Gmajor (or any major key) is a diminished chord (as it has a flat 5th), not a minor chord, as you played in the above lesson.

Jak - February 23, 2011 Reply

Re my above comment, the 7th chord in a major key is a diminished chord with a flat 5th and flat 3rd which actually makes it a diminished minor. As in the key of G, the 7th chord consists of F#, A (flat3), C (flat5).

Joe Bocker - June 21, 2011 Reply

Hey Johnathon, simple idea but gives me real inspiration for adding a bit of colour to simple chords and progressions. How about using two strings eg. 1 nd 2 up to fret 5 back to 3 and off and on while using a G chord etc. Sounds quite cool i think thanks

Yaakov Esral - January 3, 2012 Reply

There’s no F#m is in the key of G, I think you mean an F# diminished chord?

    Jonathan Boettcher - January 4, 2012 Reply

    You’re right – however we often swap a minor chord for the diminished on the guitar… usually as a passing chord or something like that. Try it out, your ear will tell you whether or not it’s going to work.

Steven - February 4, 2012 Reply

Any songwriters out there?

    BillyT - May 18, 2012 Reply

    That Depends’    What kind of songs are you looking for?

Douglas - November 17, 2014 Reply

Good ideas. I am hopping that I may very near future try to get something written down. I’m a very bad at writing as well at rhyming which I know is important to song writing as well. Anyways great lesson and hope to have some more to this subject.

Sylvia Edwards - December 14, 2014 Reply

Jonathan, In learning how to write your own songs, it would be simple to give people the actual chords that follow each other. This system apples to songwriting and doesn’t work with all songs that have been written. Say you’ve pick the key of G. The first chord of the key G can go to any chord you pick on the scale. lets say the next chord you’ve picked is Em that is the 6 chord of the G Scale. the next chord has to go to the second chord of that scale. that would be the 5th chord of that scale and then back to the first chord that is G. Here is the system I am talking about.
First chord of any key can go anywhere on the scale.
Second chord of that scale must go to the 5th chord of the scale
Third chord must go to the 6th chord of the scale.
fourth chord of the scale must go to the first or the fifth chord of the scale.
Fifth chord of the scale must go the the first chord
and the sixth chord of the scale must go to the second chord of the scale.

In writing a song if a chord lands on the 5th you must go the to first chord and to continue the song remember the first chord can go to any chord on the scale and continue to work from there.
Songwriting System
C Dm Em F G Am B C
1 2 3 4 5 6

1 = anywhere
2 = 5
3 = 6
4 = 1 or 5
5 = 1
6 = 2
This would be a lot better then just picking any chord that sounds good together in the chosen scale to write a song. Learn this and then you will be able to write songs by just choosing any chord that sounds good together. This system will make since and then you will be able to go further in songwriting. I am not telling you how to teach but a lot of people don’t know this system for songwriting. I hope I made myself clear for I do have trouble writing what I am trying to explain.

    Jonathan Boettcher - December 30, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for your thoughts Sylvia – the system you’ve mentioned is definitely one way to go about song writing, although there are many examples of course that would go against that as well. For instance, many songs use chord ascending or descending chords scales in the progression, which isn’t accounted for in the system you’ve mentioned. But it is as good a place to start as any – thanks! And yes, I found it laid out clearly! Regards, Jonathan

Leave a Reply: