Skills beginner/intermediate guitar players should start developing in order to write songs

Playing guitar and writing songs are different subjects that complement each other but require different skills.

One may be a good guitar player but unable to write songs, as well as the other way round - a great songwriter who is not very proficient on any instrument.

However, the two areas do intersect, and if you’re a beginner guitar player, developing the following skills will not only help you play guitar better but will also be very useful when it comes to writing your own songs.


Most popular songs are made from the same few chords.

The most commonly used chords are those you usually learn first on guitar such as C,A,G,E and D major and Am, Dm and Em in the open position.

If you know only those chords – you can already start practicing to write songs! There are millions of songs that use only those chords.

That said, you need to learn more chords unless you want to restricted to those few options.

The next chord you will need would be the power chord, which is easy to learn and use, and is frequently used in Blues, Rock and Heavy Metal music as well as in other genres

The next step would be to learn barre chords which are a bit more difficult to learn since your index finger has to “barre” a whole fret.

In relation to songwriting, barre chords are very important for two reasons:

a)     Not all Major or minor chords can be played in the open position

b)     Variety: Barre chords make it possible to play the same chord in various different positions. This will, among other things, produce different “shades” of sound from the same chord and increases your choices when writing songs.

Also important to learn are Dominant 7th, Maj 7th,,  minor 7th chords, diminished and half diminished chords as well as suspended chords, both in open position (where possible), or as barre chords.

There are more chords you could learn besides those mentioned above, however with these chords under your belt, you have very wide array of possibilities to choose from when you start writing songs.

Music theory

Read <a href=””>this</a> article to learn what music theory is not – and what it is.

When writing songs, music theory comes very, very handy because it explains things. It connects the dots for you, it tells you where to go and why you’re going there.

This does not mean, by any means that you will become rigid and have to obey its rules, it is usually through creatively breaking music theory rules that breakthroughs in music are made and new genres are born.

When writing songs, I think of music theory as a map – it gives me direction where to go but, since I’m writing songs, not searching for a buried treasure, I can choose to deviate from that map at will.

Scale patterns

Music theory will show you how scales are built and what their role is. The next step is to memorize scale patterns on your guitar, so that when you’re improvising or songwriting, your fingers know beforehand on which notes they can to go to.

Through music theory you should also understand the relationship between scales and chords, which will prove vital when you start writing songs.

Ear training

Music theory helps you understand, chords and scale patterns help you implement but your ear will always remain your best guide.

The chord and scale patterns you are learning shouldn’t just to be memorized as a shape or a pattern on your instrument but also as an organized sound in your head.

Once you know enough theory to understand what intervals, scales, and arpeggios are, start memorizing their sounds.

There are many great online courses and software you can use to train your ear. Many guitar students don’t give much importance to this subject, but if you want to write songs, you should start developing this skill earlier on.

Reading and playing rhythms

Though you can create your own rhythms without learning how to read them, I found studying and playing different rhythmic patterns very valuable to my songwriting skills.

The more rhythmic patterns you have read, and executed on your instrument, the wider the array of rhythmic ideas you have when you want to create.

Memorizing the name of the notes on the fretboard


To put it simply, if you want to write a song in the key of A, knowing where every A is on the whole fretboard will help you navigate with ease instead of having to interrupt your creativity flow and search for the notes.

Guitar players who just want to learn songs from tabs may get away with not memorizing the notes on the fretboard, but if you plan to write songs, you should start spending a little (but regular) amount if practice time memorizing notes.

Positive mindset

Needless to say this is not an actual musical skill but it is so important that I had to include it here.

A positive mindset, one that is goal oriented, optimistic, and sees mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than something to feel miserable about, will take you a long way in anything in life including playing guitar and writing songs.

In fact, songwriter’s block, the worst enemy of songwriters is something psychological. Its cause is not lack of musical skills but a negative mindset, as I explain in this <a href="">article</a>. article.

Once you start gaining a few of these skills, the next step is to start writing your first songs – no matter how stupid or crappy they sound.

And they probably will be crappy at first because songwriting has its own learning curve. But by writing those crappy songs, you will have made the first step towards mastering this highly rewarding craft.

Robert Callus is a guitar teacher and songwriter from Malta who loves writing about anything related to guitars, songwriting, and the pursuit of happiness.