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I've been learning guitar (fingerstyle, not strumming) myself by just using sources on the internet: youtube, ultimate-guitar, etc.

So far I've managed to learn and play a few songs. But somehow I feel like I am missing a lot of basics. I want to be able to make my own music too. What do I actually need to learn to improve my guitar skills?

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By "make my own music" do you mean creating your own compositions and/or arrangements? How good is your grasp of music theory (knowledge of scales, keys, chords, progressions, etc...)? –  Caleb Hines Jun 9 at 18:25
    
yup, I want to learn to create my own compositions and arrangements. I did not learn any music theory, I can only read guitar tabs...more like a copycat. –  alextanhongpin Jun 9 at 18:36
    
A lot of people skip the music theory, but it gives you insight into why you're doing what you're doing. I highly recommend learning it! There are some starting points right here on music stack exchange, for example: music.stackexchange.com/questions/1439/…, music.stackexchange.com/questions/7606/…, music.stackexchange.com/questions/17221/…, music.stackexchange.com/questions/19038/… –  Caleb Hines Jun 9 at 19:09
    
thanks for the links! I'm checking it out right now. :) –  alextanhongpin Jun 9 at 19:17
    
Learn music theory. It is that simple. –  Neil Meyer Jun 11 at 5:58

2 Answers 2

There is no right way to learn guitar or music for that matter.

If you want to be able to make your own music, then start writing music! Again there is no right or wrong way, but there are certain things that you can do to improve your songwriting and become better at the craft.

First and foremost, the most important thing to do is start writing. You make no mention of how long you've been playing guitar or what sort of music experience you have, nor did you mention whether or not you wish to write songs that are sung or instrumentals.

Some of the most important things for you to know when beginning song writing is chords and scales. I started writing my first song within the first few minutes of picking up a guitar. My friend taught me Eminor and Amajor and the rest is history! Learn some chords and start putting them together and try to come up with melodies to them. Some people will suggest coming up with a melody first and then adding chords to it afterwards, but I feel that coming up with the chords first is easier especially when you're just starting out, since it gives you a bit of constraint.

Learn as many major/minor chords as possible, and definitely learn barre chords. Look up chord progressions and begin by writing songs with generic chord progressions that are popular. Namely start with writing a few songs that use the I, IV, V progression. After you've written a few songs using pre-established chord progressions, start trying to come up with your own chord progressions and then create melodies to that.

Learn about scales and their relationships to chords and chord progressions.

Once you feel that you're ready, start coming up with melodies and then picking chords that go well with the melody.

In order to learn how to write songs, you have to do it often, and be prepared to write some bad music before you start writing some good stuff. A lot of people learn music by imitating the music of others first. It's a great way to learn. I learned music by songwriting. I knew that I wanted to write songs more than I cared about being a great instrumentalist or being able to play the songs of others, so that is what I focused on. Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory is a great starter text and should provide you with some decent musical foundation. I wrote at least a dozen songs before I tried to learn any covers, so there is no right or wrong way. Just start writing and learn songs that really interest you so that you can obtain techniques from them.

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:) great tips! Thanks! But I don't know how to read or write musical notations :( –  alextanhongpin Jun 9 at 19:16
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You mentioned being able to read guitar tabs -- so use that method. Plenty of guitarists prefer those to staff notation anyway. Staff notation isn't that difficult to learn, but don't let not knowing it prevent you from writing out what you come up with! –  Caleb Hines Jun 9 at 19:21
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As Caleb Hines said. Use Guitar tabs, or learn to read and write musical notations, it's really not that difficult to learn. –  MrTheBard Jun 9 at 21:26
    
The term 'writing a song' is rather a misnomer. It doesn't actually mean writing it all down as an orchestration. Composing is a better term, in that one 'makes up' a song, and gets it onto paper in any way, shape or form. Or not. McCartney, of Beatles fame, 'wrote' songs, but couldn't, apparently 'write' music. Didn't hold him back! A recording of your efforts will suffice for now. –  Tim Jun 10 at 6:37
    
Very true. Paul is one of my favorite song writers, although I highly doubt that he could not write music. Honey Pie is much too advanced of a piano piece for some one who could not write music. I have only recently gotten in the habit of getting my music on paper. Prior to this, it was strictly recordings. –  MrTheBard Jun 10 at 11:33

If your talking about classical guitar, I highly recommend a tutor. I struggled with guitar throughout high-school, all I could really do then was keep up my sight reading skills. When I started college and took an applied guitar class all my questions we're answered. How to sit (got my first foot stool), correct arm and left hand placement, how to file your nails, and a lot more. It's very overwhelming until you sit down an hour a week one-on-one with someone who has a masters degree in classical guitar performance.

But if that's not an option, I recommend these books:

  • Pumping Nylon (NOT tab, cd and dvd if you want them. You might need them if you don't have a tutor)

This isn't a book to read cover to cover, but flip around and find good info. Most classical guitar majors all over the United States have a copy of this book. It's almost the classical guitar bible.

  • Sight Reading for the Classical Guitar, Level X by Robert Benedict (preview the books to fit your level)

  • Diatonic Major and Minor Scales by Andres Segovia (focus less on the scales, but on your left hand posture)

  • Suzuki Guitar School, Volume X: Guitar Part (again, preview a few pages to fit your level)


For music theory, even beginning piano classes offer more theory than any guitar class will. I wish I had took piano in high school, maybe harmony class in college would've been easier. Music theory will take effort if you're going to be serious about it.

It is more intellectual than most people think. Famous composers sometimes work their whole lives to make a great song. There are rules, known as conventions, that will take lots of study to understand. If you really want a look into it, look here. I know most of what's on that page, because I took two semesters of harmony and theory.

Sorry if Classical guitar isn't what your interested in, but as classical guitar hobbyist I'm partial to it. Good luck with your music!

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that is very helpful, thanks. I will definitely take a look into it :) –  alextanhongpin Jun 12 at 15:22

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