Writing Songs FAQ

So you want to be a songwriter? If you approach songwriting the same way you approach practicing guitar, it is something you can get better at with a little work. We have too many resources on songwriting to list them all on this page. Be sure to check out our Songwriting Lessons page as well.

  • Musically, songs consist of chord progressions. This is not a universal truth, but a fairly convenient generalization. The Talking Heads’ song Houses in Motion, for example, consists solely of an Em7 chord, but if you simply sit and strum an Em7, I can pretty much guarantee that what you’re playing will not sound remotely like the song. What makes this particular song work are the various riffs and rhythm patterns (vocal as well as instrumental) that the band members are tossing about – it’s almost like a game of catch. Again, you will always be able to find exceptions to any generalization in music and music theory.

    But the generalizations will help you immensely if (a) you know them and (b) you can recognize them. This is where your practice with interval recognition can pay big dividends.

    In order to help us out, I’m going to set out a few of our primary and secondary chord charts for the five major keys guitarists tend to play (bonus points for noticing that we’re using the given scale’s minor seventh and the root of the VII chord!):

    Primary and secondary chords

    You can read more about popular chord progressions in Unearthing The Structure.

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