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I am recently being interested in writing my own songs/my own music. However, I'm a newbie when it comes to music. I am not really musically talented nor inclined. I only know basic guitar chords and strum patterns. I know how to locate notes in the keyboard but that's about it (I don't even know proper finger position). I don't know how to read sheet music (I'm learning, though). I know the scale goes like CDEFGAB but that's about it. I am not tone deaf but I can't identify notes (tone deaf is not being able to identify if the notes being played have changed, right?)

So, aside from learning a main instrument, what else should I learn before I start making my own music?

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Just a comment: why do you want to write songs? Sure you can learn to "write songs" (and people even claim you can "learn be creative"). But why? It's cool? It gets the girls? It's something one is supposed to do? Or do you want to learn to write them because you just have to? Because they are in you, and want to get out? Because they're clamoring to get heard, for you make them get heard? Since you say you're not even musically inclined (I take that as "Music doesn't really mean that much to me". Wrong? Correct please), it doesn't sound like this is an "inner urge". So, why? – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 17 '11 at 14:32
Let me compare this, just for explanation, with writing books. You shouldn't "want to become a writer" because of prestige, or money, or any such thing. Because it's hard work (yes, @Silver :D), and it's not that rewarding in the mentioned aspects for the vast majority of "writers". The Stephen Kings of this world are a rare exception. So: if you want to become a writer (or any creative occupation at all), do it because you have to. Because you feel drawn to it. To it, not to the "side effects" of it. – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 17 '11 at 14:35
Disclaimer: the above is my (strong, obviously) personal opinion. – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 17 '11 at 14:42
@JürgenA.Erhard: By not being musically inclined, I meant I was not raised/did not grow in a music-filled environment (none of the members of my family knows how to play any kind of musical instrument, except the mouth, if that's an instrument). Sorry if it gave the wrong idea, English is not my mother tongue. – Lance Gray Dec 17 '11 at 14:54
sorry, the thought of your mother tongue crosse my mind briefly, but your name made me go "Nah, he speaks English" ;-) Oh, and the voice is musical instrument (it's called "singing", but I'm unsure if that's what you mean with "play the mouth" or if they're just very talkative :D) – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 20 '11 at 17:55
up vote 13 down vote accepted

First and most important thing you need to know: there is no such thing as "talented" or "not talented". Everything boils down to hard work and practice, so you definetly can do it!

It is quite easy to start composing your own songs if you know a few bits of theory. Particularly, you will need scales and chords that are formed within a scale. This is quite a big topic to learn, but you don't need to be a scale master to start. All you need to know, is that notes from one scale will sound good together if you put them in almost any order and the same goes for chords that are formed from those notes.

Let's take C major scale, that you mentioned in your question:


There are 7 basic 3-note chords that can be formed from those notes:


For mainstream music, you, most often, can forget about the Bdim chord - it is not used so ofthen. So, you have 6 chords at you hands, that sound good together, no matter how you place them. You start experimenting and make up a chord progression by moving the chords around. For example:

C / Am / F / G

Do you like how that sounds? If not, then just change the order of the chords or use others:

C / Em / G / F

Continue this, until you have a chord progression you like.

Then make up a rhythm. This might be some basic strumming or picking pattern, depending on what kind of song you are composing. For the last chord progression a good simple picking pattern will do:

$5.3 $4.0 $2.1 $3.0 $2.1 $1.0 $2.1 $3.0  $6.0 $5.2 $2.0 $3.0 $2.0 $1.0 $2.0 $3.0  $6.3 $5.2 $2.0 $3.0 $2.0 $1.3 $2.0 $3.0  $6.1 $5.3 $2.1 $3.2 $2.1 $1.1 $2.1 $3.2

That's it, you are a song writer! Start simple and than turn on your imagination.

Here is a PDF document with all the chords in all the keys, it's a great place to start:

A great video on the topic:

Good luck in your creative work!

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Thank you very much for this information. I really appreciate it(even though it'll take some time to digest all of these lol)! I have a few questions, though. On the C Major scale, am I only limited to those chords (C-Dm-Em-F-G-Am)? If I change one of them, say C to Cm, is it still C Major scale. And another one, will you suggest electronic music (virtual instruments)? (Second question seems like a whole new topic so it's okay not to answer) – Lance Gray Dec 17 '11 at 12:21
Disagree with the "there's no such thing as 'talent'". Strongly. It's popular, sure, because "everyone can be anything" is nice to hear. But it's misleading. That's not saying that working on your talent (however much it is, it's not all or nothing) doesn't have its place or isn't important. But talent exists. – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 17 '11 at 14:27
@Jürgen A. Erhard that's strongly subjective. I'm saying this successful people never say "I am successful because I'm talented", they always say "It's because I worked hard". Losers, however, really like to say "I have no talent, what can I do?". That's my point of view, of course. Really recommend this book: – Silver Light Dec 17 '11 at 14:42
Cm is straying outside the key of C major. That's not to say you can't do it. There are no rules, only conventions. Sticking to conventions is good for beginners because they're conventions that have become common for a reason. – slim Dec 17 '11 at 16:16
@slim: Oh, I see. These keys/scales also apply to other instruments, right? – Lance Gray Dec 17 '11 at 16:38

Short answer:

enter image description here

(Note that this is in a different key to Silver Light's answer; the "three chord trick" in A major is easier for beginner guitarists because it doesn't involve a barre chord)

The long answer fills countless books. I quite like Rikky Rooksby's "How to write songs on guitar", which as well as covering a good amount of music theory, also includes tips on lyrics.

Still, you have enough to write a song right there.

One tip I would give right away is - don't get too hung up on being original. Hundreds of successful and popular songs follow the same 12 bar blues chord progression. It's better to start writing derivative crap, than to write nothing at all. You can get sophisticated and original later.

Writing something good > writing something bad > writing nothing at all.

Since you're not going to write something good right away, don't be afraid to write bad songs until you get better.

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Thank you very much for the answer and advice. I'll be sure to look that book up. I have a question, why, in that image, is the G chord marked on the frets and not on the usual places (the space between frets)? – Lance Gray Dec 17 '11 at 16:36
Just a different way of presenting the same information. The image is the famous cover of a 1970s punk fanzine. – slim Dec 17 '11 at 16:55
"you're not going to write something good right away"... you know, all generalizations and absolutes are wrong, 100% of all cases. Just as here. The likelihood is very, very, very small, but it's not impossible. – Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 20 '11 at 17:39
@lance: when you play the guitar, the strings' anchor/vibration node is on the fret, not on your finger. It doesn't matter where you finger is, as long as the string is held firmly on the fret. Hence that representation. – naught101 Sep 10 '12 at 22:44

I'm an amateur singer/songwriter who only recently started writing music. Before that, I only knew how to sing (choir) and play some basic guitar chords. I really didn't know anything about scales (still don't have a solid grasp on them), I didn't read sheet music (I still don't!)-- I only really had that desire to create music. In short, I'd say I was at a stage similar to where you are now.

Fast forward about a year - and I've been able to write and record (demos) a fair number of originals. Still a long way from professional, but both the results and process of my songwriting make me happy.

Here are the things that helped me in my own journey:

1. Keeping a scratchpad of thoughts and tunes. I keep a journal for writing memories, rants, dreams, inspirations, random thoughts, etc. I did this even before I started songwriting-- eventually I realized that it made a good repository for material for writing lyrics. In addition, whenever I get sudden bursts of inspiration for a tune (this usually happens in the car!), I make sure to record it right away. I just use the voice recording utility on my phone or laptop, whichever's at hand. This way I have a repository of little song snippets.

2. Having a convenient songwriting tool. In my case this is Garageband on my laptop! The interface is intuitive enough for me to be able to easily compose songs even without knowing how to read sheet music. I don't mean to say that this is the "best" music composition software or anything-- it's just that I personally found this to be the most convenient tool to use for my own songwriting. Each composer will have his/her own favourite tool, and it doesn't even have to be digital, it could just be a guitar and a pencil and paper. It just has to be something easy and comfortable for you.

3. Learning and performing my favourite songs. "Good artists copy, great artists steal." Every time you study a song and practice performing it, you can learn something about rhythm, melody, and/or harmony, plus you develop your "ear". I don't know if I'm wording this correctly-- but when you develop your "ear", you're able to notice more subtle nuances in the music, and you can tell if it sounds "right" or if it sounds even slightly "off", and then you can figure out why and fix it.

4. Taking voice lessons. I'm assuming that when you write your songs, you intend to have vocals? If so, I would also advise taking some voice lessons (or at least regularly vocalising with scales), even if you don't plan to perform the songs yourself. Voice training develops your "ear" as well.

And lastly, this is cliché but, I think the most important thing was that I just kept at it, and I put in the hours. I agree with the answers above, start simple, and writing something bad is better than writing nothing. Good luck and enjoy! :)

P.S. Glad you asked this question because I'm learning a lot from the answers here too.

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What the total newbie needs is to partner with someone who is experienced at songwriting. Be willing to be the experienced person's apprentice and discard your ego. Be willing to learn, collaborate, and share ideas

It's hard to find good people who will let you work with them, but it is very helpful.

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If you can sing then you can go to Ujam [google it ] ; it is a fantastic site on the web. You can hum in the mike and get chords and its melody. This is a rough start. It will give you confidence. Do not stop here. Ask yourself .... how are the chords constructed? how can I construct my own chords and my own melody....? Go to that site and learn the elements of music. I have just found it and it is very good. The pointer to Ujam The site that teaches song writing;

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The answers given above are good, however, for the beginning you only need what you already know. One way to write a simple song is:

  1. Write some lyrics.

  2. Find the chords on the guitar that sound good together. Usually 4 chords at most are enough.

  3. Play the chords and try to sing any melody that sounds good while playing those chords. If you are happy with it, with the melody, you just made a song.

Bonus: to make a song more interesting, try to use (all or some of) the same chords, but in different progressions for the chorus. Then of course because you have different chords, try to fit there a different melody.

Later you may become interested on how to compose better and better songs... My advice is:

  1. Play on a musical instrument as much as possible because often a moment of the inspiration arrives after many hours of playing and then record it and you will use it in your next song.

  2. Play different musical instruments to boost the creativity, especially the ones that make you develop a good hearing. I often find that after playing several hours on the violin (creatively and improvising, not reading from the music sheet) I have much better ideas when I grab the guitar again.

  3. Learn the theory. This will help you understand your ideas in a more coherent way and you will be able to get most out of them, but without the first 2 points, I find the theory quite limited in helping to compose music.

So who am I that I give you advice? I am an amateur musician who never had any music lessons apart from those at my primary school. I mainly sang and played for enjoyment on the guitar, violin and piano. I still do not know much theory, but would like to learn more. And here is an example of what I composed with the advice I give you: With Respect. As you can see, the channel is new because I started composing only recently. I believe that with my advice you can also make a good progress. My friend followed those steps and after 1 hour, she almost had her first song ready - when she played it at the concert, people really liked it.

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