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Writing music without the guitar

If you’re a guitar player, and you write music with the guitar, you will only be able to write what you’ve already written.

Playing the guitar is a set of learned muscular responses. It’s a hard instrument to play, and it’s necessary to repeat the same movements over and over when learning it. So when you pick it up, your body will naturally make those movements.

In fact, those learned movements are the only movements that are possible. If you want to add to what you can do on the guitar, you have to repeat a different movement on the guitar a bunch of times.

You can only write what your body is able to do.


What to do?

So how do you write music if the only thing you know is the guitar?

Sit in a comfortable chair with a notebook. Leave the guitar in another room. Draw some vertical lines until you have 8 empty bars.

Now think of how much activity you want in each bar.

Maybe there’s a chord on the second beat and the rest of the bar is empty. Maybe there’s a strumming rhythm that goes through the whole bar. How does the sparseness of the first approach make you feel? What does the busyness of the second approach do for you?

While the song may have chords, that doesn’t mean that it excludes electronic sounds, environmental sounds, etc. That doesn’t mean that the chords are playing all the time. Are there any other sounds, instrumental or otherwise, that you think would work?

After you’ve filled the 8 bars (without picking up the guitar), play what you’ve written. Revise as necessary. Working this way, you often come up with stuff you don’t normally write.



You can learn new chords, or you can change the sound of the chords you already know. Try playing a chord that you know, and take one of your fingers off the fretboard.

With an open string C chord, you need three fingers. Take one finger off the fretboard. Strum, then arpeggiate. Do this for each finger you take off. See if you can write an entire song by manipulating that one chord.

Learn a new chord, and go through the same process.

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