LA School of Guitar

Beginning Songwriting

Song Writing for Beginners (first part in a series of three)
Many of my students take guitar lessons with the intention of writing their own original songs. Composing original music and/or lyrics is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have with your instrument. The guitar is practically a song writing machine. I’ll introduce three main concepts to help get you started: Key Center, ambulance Chord Progressions, medicine Song Structure. In this first article, shop we’ll discuss Key Center. Stay tuned next week as we dive into Chord Progressions.

Key Center
What key is your song in? Establishing a clear key center is a good practice for beginning songwriters because it allows you to tap into all of the chord possibilities associated with that key. If you don’t know what a key center is, allow me to explain:

There are 12 Keys. Each Key has 7 chords that fall within that key.

Let’s start with the key of ‘C’ because it’s usually the key most people are familiar with.

C major | D minor | E minor | F major | G major | A minor  | B diminished | C major

It’s important to note that the order of the root notes of these chords also follows a ‘C’ major scale.

Once you know  voicings for all the chords in the key of ‘C’, begin by playing them in order backwards and forwards.  Notice how when you land on the C major chord it feels like you’ve landed on “home base”.  That is what your key center should feel like. It’s your resting place.  Now try going back and forth from C major to every other chord and repeat these 2 chords a few times. Listen for the special relationship or ‘feeling’ that each chord has when it’s played next to the C major. You want to train your ears to recognize this sound.

Once you’ve become familiar with all the chords in the key of ‘C’ it’s time to get creative!  Experiment with writing your own song using only the chords from ‘C’ major key.  Just play around until something starts to sound interesting to you.  Here are some tips:
- Start with a C major chord to establish the key center right off the bat.
- Start with chord sequences that repeat in groups of 2 or 4.  These are the easiest musical phrases to start with.

Once you’re comfortable playing in the key of ‘C’, try exploring some other keys.  I’ve included some common ones below:

Key of ‘F’:
F major | G minor | A minor| Bb major| C major | D minor | E diminished | F major

Key of ‘G’:
G major | A minor | B minor | C major | D major | E minor | F# diminished | G major

Next week we’ll learn more about what to do with all of these chords when we dive into Chord Progressions.


First Guitar: Acoustic vs. Electric

Acoustic vs. Electric
A question I’m often asked by beginning students is whether it is better to learn on an acoustic or an electric guitar. My answer is that it always depends on the guitar player. My advice is that you should choose a guitar you are excited to play. It should feel comfortable in your hands and make a sound you’d want to listen to. The bottom line is that the more inspired you are to play your guitar – the faster you’ll progress.  The type of guitar is not going to make you play better, remedy it’s the amount of time you spend with your instrument that will make you better.

What style of music do you love?
I often ask students who their favorite guitar players are and who they’d like to emulate. If your list includes names like Slash and Jimi Hendrix, cheap then I’d recommend starting with electric. If you’re trying to play rock and roll riffs and solos on acoustic, stuff it just won’t feel the same. On the other hand, if you’ve fallen in love with folk guitar and like to listen to Iron and Wine and other singer songwriters, then I’d recommend starting with an acoustic. Now go write down a list of your favorite 5 guitar players!

Personal Experience
As a child I started learning on my parent’s old acoustic.  It was such a bear!  The body was too big for me and the strings were so hard to push down that it made my fingers hurt.  I was still able to learn a few basic open chords on that guitar, but it wasn’t until I got my first electric that I really started to see my playing progress.  When I was 14 Metallica was my entire musical world, so I spent countless hours learning almost every one of their songs.  I was so happy to finally able to play with a “rock sound” that I probably practiced ten times as much as I did on the acoustic.

Additional Considerations
Keep in mind that with an electric guitar you’ll also need an amplifier to generate the sound or else you won’t hear much of anything when you play. I can’t stress enough how important it is not to skimp on the purchase of your amp. The type of amp you use has a huge impact on your tone. You’ll definitely want an amp that has a dedicated gain channel if playing rock music is your thing. Adding effects pedals or “stomp boxes” to your rig are also a fun way to change the color of your guitar sound. There are so many toys and related products to spend money on when it comes to guitar, but sometimes a new toy is just the thing to re-inspire your guitar playing. Really anything that makes you excited to pick up your guitar is a good thing!  


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