Creative Songwriting (Part 1)

by Will Landrum

One of my subscribers recently wrote in and asked:

You got me to thinking when you said that "Happy Are Those"
is built around a lick! My teacher even said, that a song
(a successful one) can be built upon anything!

Could you please offer some suggestions on songwriting?
Maybe, spell out the typical songwriting session for you?
Most books teach scales/licks/and-what-have-you, but when
it comes to song writing, they throw their hands up and

"There are no rules!"

That doesn't really help me! Could you please offer some
advice, it would be appreciated.

These are challenges that most of us face when we break away
from imitating our heroes and begin the next phase of
musical maturity by writing and playing all original music.

The more you go your own way, the more you will recognize
your own individual style of playing. That IS the next
step. After all that's precisely what our heroes have done.
That is what separates the good players from the great

Writing your own material can be intimidating
and downright frightening for some. When you seriously
write your first tune, no doubt you have poured your
whole soul into it and you're wondering "is this any good?".
Or you may write your first tune and have absolute
confidence that this is the next number 1 hit.

In any case, there are times when you just can't seem
to come up with something you like.

I want to share with you some of the ways I have come up
with riffs and melodies that I'm very proud of.

One of the things that I remembered the most from studying
with Michael Fath, is that when you write a song, whether
it's vocal or instrumental, make sure it has a hook.

A hook is a catchy melody or riff that stands out in the
listeners mind even after the song is over. If they can
whistle your tune from memory after the song has ended,
you've done you're job!

My debut CD is loaded with this kind of composition.

Inspiration and ideas come to me in various ways.

Just goofing around and discovering a cool riff by accident.

Always...Always...ALWAYS record your guitar playing! You'll
be surprised at what gets recorded! When you review the tape
after playing for a hour, listen carefully in two ways.

Listen for obviously cool riffs and melodic patterns, and
also listen for some bits and pieces that will sound great
with some adjustment.

Driving down the road (Radio off!) and experimenting with
musical sequences in my head.

This is where you may need to quit listening to other
people's music for while to clear your thoughts. This is
actually a very powerful and effective way to compose.

Your mind is totally free to explore any musical direction
you want without being limited to "what you know on guitar".

The only difficulty for me has been remembering what
I like. Once you get it right in your head, repeat it over
and over so when you get back to your guitar, you can
release it.

Learning a new technique and applying it to a song.

This has played a big role in my compositions. Learning a
new technique will inspire you immediately. Once you get
down the mechanics, you can build a song around it or just
fit it into a song that needs that "extra something".

For those of you who have my CD, (Thank you very much! :^) )
you can hear cool techniques throughout the disc.

The first track "Change Your Mind", begins with a right hand
tapping technique that utilizes what I call "Piano Tapping".

In "Mainstay", I use "5th arpeggios" before the solo section.
Instead of playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th of the arpeggio,
I omit the 3rd and just play 1's and 5's.

"Fill In The _____" is written entirely around the "Piano
Tapping" technique that enables large and fluent interval
stretching. You can listen to it here -

Learning a new scale or scale pattern.

This always gives you new ideas especially when you need
to enhance your soloing. Understanding what scales go with
what chords is vital music theory.

Learning a new arpeggio.

When you're comfortable with sweep picking, you can employ
endless "twists" to your standard arpeggios.

A Free Instrumental Guitar CD Download Comes With This!
Playing 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th arpeggios will "open your
sound up and give it a whole new flavor that is pleasantly

Also alternating and mixing up the notes of the arpeggios
will give you great melodic ideas. "Fullness Of Time" is a
good example of this concept.

Learning music theory and applying it when you really get

Once you understand music theory in general, you have the
ability to solve any musical problem that you may have. If
you need a new part to a song, but nothing comes to you by
inspiration, (I seem to have this problem frequently!)

You can solve it like a math problem using techniques such
as modulation. (Changing from one key to another in a
pleasant sounding way).

Recording my ideas, sleeping on it and reviewing it fresh
the next day.

Get a 4 track recorder and track your parts. When you get
it the way you want for the day, forget it and listen to it
fresh the next day.

You will have a different perspective and you may find that
some parts need more work. If it sounds good to you, go with

These are just a few of the composition methods that I use
and I think will give you something to chew on for a while.

True inspiration comes from deep inside you, and it's ok to
let it come out a little piece at a time.

When you put the pieces together, your final composition
will be larger than life!

In part 2 of this article, I'll talk about what I do to
develop a tune once the ideas are flowing.

Until then...

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