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I can't write!

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Honorable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 271
Topic starter  

I can come up with chord progressions okay, but they always sound boring to me. They always end up like with 3 chords that just repeat.

My big problem though, is vocal melodies. I cannot come up with a vocal melody no matter how hard I try.

Any advice on vocal melodies?

Or creative strumming patterns?

One chord is fine.
Two you're pushing it.
Three and you're into jazz.

Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 4472

One thing that's hard to get across to new songwriters is the importance of just getting a song completed. Doesn't matter if it's simple, trite, same-old-three-chords-as-every-other-song or anything. What matters is getting one done.

A lot of writers, not unlike a lot of musicians, spend a lot of time not writing because of worrying about whatever they are working on being the best thing to ever happen. Just like you can't simply pick up the guitar and play like "insert your guitar idol here," you can't just jump into writing and come up with a winner every single time. Good songs are often retooled and rewritten and re-edited several times in order to get things just right. But you have to start somewhere, and that sometimes means just finishing something that you know may not be great or that sounds suspiciously like songs you listen to.

A good way of getting going on vocal melodies is, silly as it sounds, simply to sing. Many people find it easier to come up with things for singing when doing other things. Take a walk and start humming to yourself. The rhythm of the walking often helps you to keep the beat and to get a feel for the type of melody you might want. Another good exercise it to take a phrase (could be one you've written, could be from a book or a letter or a recipe) and just try out different ways of doing it. Go for something simple to start, maybe using a range of only five note, and then try something with a wider range.

For strumming patterns, it helps to listen to all sorts of different types of music. With all the music that's available at one's fingertips these days, it's hard to narrow choices down. Don't only listen to the guitar - for strumming it's better to listen to the drums and percussion and bass. They will give you lots of ideas.

If you ask five hundred writers how they come up with songs, you'll get a lot of different answers. We've got a lot of great articles on songwriting, from coming up with chord progressions to working out melody lines. You'll find them on our Songwriting Lessons page:

Maybe some of these will help get started, or at least asking even more questions! :wink:

Hope this helps and look forward to chatting more with you on the topic.


Estimable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 123

Another trick is to take a song that you like and it's chord structure - then make up a new melody to fit the words / chords.

Record your new melody on tape / pc/ dictaphone with the chords and then add your lyrics. There's no copyright on chord progressions :wink:

Prominent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 630

1. What are you listening too? If all of the bands that you listen to only use three chord songs then its no surprise that it is all you are writing!

Take the white stripes song "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground." Jack's version is rather simple, but then look at when Chris Thile covers it, he makes a complex intresting arrangement out of the basic shell.

2. Learn songs that other people have written, the best way to learn is to see what other people were thinking. Knowing some basic theory will help to analyze other people's music, and allow you to figure out which chord your hearing in your head.

3. Write music in your head, not on your guitar. Its ok to get the begininng down just fooling around on guitar, but once you have a start take a step back and THINK about what you want to hear NEXT. Sometimes it will take me a day just to figure out that what I want is to play NOTHING, a rest is hard to figure out when your just randomly trying sounds! there are a million bad guitarists out there, probably more then any other instrument, but there is no such thing as a bad musician.

4. Personally I think it is much easier to fit words to music rather then music to words. Once you have music, decide what the emotion of the song is and write the words accordingly. Again think about it, don't feel like you must write the words today. If your a really good composer then either one isn't hard, if I write the words first then I always end up writing AABB rhyme scemes that go with folk progressions.

"And above all, respond to all questions regarding a given song's tonal orientation in the following manner: Hell, it don't matter just kick it off!"
-Chris Thile

Estimable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 136

There are some great songs with only three cords repeating over and over.
Rhythm also plays a big part in keeping the song interesting.

Famed Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 3454


I often use Raystrack's suggestion of taking an existing song progression and doing something else with it. Of course it's bound to work well if you happen not to know the song, and you just get a chord progression from a songbook. But it's easy enough even if the song is familiar.

Another approach is to take a basic scale - such as the C major scale - and just noodle around with it. To start with, TRY and find a song you know. You'll come up with plenty of alternatives before you find what you were looking for! :shock: Some of them will have potential for further development.

When I first started playing the C major scale, I was well aware that you can make thousands of songs with it, including a great many that I already knew by heart, from childhood. I was somewhat surprised that they weren't as easy to find as I had imagined. There seemed to be a huge number of combinations that were NOTHING LIKE Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, for instance, when I first looked for it. :roll: But with practice I got quicker at finding what I was looking for, and also better at seeing the potential in all the 'misses'.

It does seem at first that all the good combinations must have been already found, but in fact the possibilities are vast.

When you add the other factors to the basic note selection - things such as note length (whole note, half note, quarter...sixteenth,...triplets, dotted notes... etc), what you might call 'style' (bend, slide, vibrato, hammer-on, pull-off, etc) plus 'tone or character' (distortion, wah, reverb, chorus, delay, compression, flangers, not to mention the differences between various pick techniques, finger-picking sounds and effects, and on and on.... even a rest - silence - for a beat .... :shock:) and you can get into the millions of possibilities in the first bar alone.

In practice, it's not quite that bad, as many of your choices will follow through and not change every note. But the possibilities are still huge. The good tunes haven't all been written already, and there's still room to find something unique that's just waiting for you - or me - to find. Approaching it all mathematically or logically seems to just cause my brain to boil, so I believe that noodling (improvising) rules. 8)

Happy hunting. :D


Illustrious Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 5349

Get a basic keybord. Play the root of the chord in your lefthand and build a melody with the right. Then just add syllables to each note, or stretch them out if legato.