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?

  • 6
    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? Commented Dec 17, 2011 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. Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 14:35
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 14:54
  • 2
    @JürgenA.Erhard: I want to learn how to make music because I want to. I took up Software Engineering because I wanted to make software (video games, to be exact). I joined the Guitar Club (when I was in high school) because I wanted to play the guitar. I entered Japanese class because I wanted to speak Japanese. Is it not enough reason to want to do something in order learn to do something?
    – Lance Gray
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 14:58
  • 1
    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) Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 17:55

8 Answers 8


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 definitely 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 often. 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: http://www.nextlevelguitar.com/pdf/chordsineachkey.pdf

A great video on the topic:

  • 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
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 12:21
  • 2
    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. Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 14:27
  • 2
    @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: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_(book) Commented Dec 17, 2011 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
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 16:16
  • @slim: Oh, I see. These keys/scales also apply to other instruments, right?
    – Lance Gray
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 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.

  • 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
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 16:36
  • Just a different way of presenting the same information. The image is the famous cover of a 1970s punk fanzine.
    – slim
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 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. Commented Dec 20, 2011 at 17:39
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Sep 10, 2012 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.

  • "I only really had that desire to create music." same here
    – Andy
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 15:21

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.


It's really cool you are so interested in writing songs, and I am sure you'll be great at songwriting and music if you keep practicing regularly.

So what I learned as a good way for writing songs is similar to what the best answer here says.

  1. Play some chords you know/like and place them the way they sound nice to you. So if you want them to be C-D-A-F or C-F-D-A (that is called chord progression). First I'd try to make a chorus, it's the main part of the song and some songs just have the chorus chords throughout the whole song.
  2. After you know which chords you want to play you can decide on the rhythm and dynamics. How fast do you want them to play? How loud? You might consult songs you like and check how they've done it.
  3. You must have some inspiration in you, some need for expression. So maybe you are happy and want to express that or sad or melancholic or furious. While playing your chords start singing along whatever comes to your mind. That will be your melody. Some singers say it's easier for them to write the lyrics first. So consider doing so, just a phrase or two should be enough for the beginning. Or add it later or leave it out altogether.
  4. Now you have a melody, words, chords and you know the rhythm and dynamics. The most important thing in my opinion now is NOT TO GIVE UP on the idea ("Oh, it just sounds like another song I know" or "Doesn't sound good" – at least that's what I always think) – just play it once or twice and record yourself. If you keep on doing all these steps regularly, you'll have a good collection of ideas. Coming back to them after a few days you'll maybe have some further ideas for improvement. And with your musical practice, new chords, melodies, and techniques will come into your "pool" of song possibilities. Because there is nothing you can do WRONG when writing a song.

I hope you will find the tips helpful! :) Here is an article with the first 10 steps of how to write a song, might be helpful, too. All the best for all beginning songwriters :)


If you're not an accomplished player of some instrument, with experience of playing a wide range of styles, don't write songs to an instrument. You'll just be locked into the narrow horizons of your (lack of) technique. If you're a words man, look for a musical collaborator. Same if you're a melody genius. (If you're neither, and don't really play an instrument properly, what makes you think you have something to offer songwriting?)

But however you do it, do it a LOT. And FINISH your songs. Tonight's job is to write a song about fish. You have until midnight to COMPLETE it (or at least to complete your contribution to it - words, tune, whatever). Yes, I know some parts could be improved, but get to the end, write a complete song. Tomorrow, start a new one. After a year, you'll have written 100 songs. I absolutely guarantee they will be getting better. A lot better.

Yes, of course you can re-visit old material. Good songs often use ideas from two or more previous projects. But basically, stick to the song-a-day routine. Too many people have just a handful of songs which they've been fiddling with for years. There's no progress that way.


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.


I know your feelings bra, I feel much in the same boat as you. Started playing music maybe way too late in life and I've gotten to the point where I can play bits and pieces of hundreds of songs and I've only bothered to learn a few songs the whole way through but I'm getting to that point to where I feel like I have no originality. I can almost play while reading a tab for most easy going songs if I know the tune and how it goes just like singing but once you hit that feeling like oh I've mastered a few Billy talent songs or a RHCP song you think well I still can't make jack shit songs myself and perhaps thats because I never turned up to music class in school and I don't know how to find a note or really even how to use a chord progression. Then I also feel like half my problem is that I'm used to flowing progression stuff but the covers I like to play are all jumpy and jazzed up and it doesn't feel like its me or what not in the moment, makes me feel like a few buzzes or vibs or put me in a happy state but I want to play that piece that defines me.

However what is slowly getting me there is I've stripped right back to basics, I don't typically sing to the songs I play, in fact I can't multi task like that at the moment. But if you pick something simplistic that you can sing along to or maybe get a singer who can improvise and play with others keep getting fresh ideas, think about the processes they come up to, to bring the vocals they have like are they singing about world issues, is that what you want to be or like are you just going to sing about the random twinkee that you ate the other day for example because you could be all kinds of different and nobody can really tell you how you want to write your song because they don't know you.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.