Top 4 Things Every Songwriter Should Know About the Guitar

songwriting Nov 04, 2023


As a passionate songwriter and guitarist, I've always believed that music transcends borders and connects people from all corners of the world. While Nashville may be synonymous with songwriting, the truth is, there are talented songwriters everywhere. In this blog post, I'm excited to share what I consider to be the top four essentials for aspiring songwriters. These fundamental aspects can help you become a more proficient songwriter, whether or not you're a skilled guitarist. Let's dive into these key elements that will undoubtedly elevate your songwriting game.


1. The Nine Essential Chords

When it comes to songwriting, chords are the building blocks of melody and harmony. The nine essential chords are your gateway to countless musical possibilities. These chords are not only the most commonly used in songwriting but also the easiest to play. Memorize them and their finger placements, and you'll have a powerful tool at your disposal. These chords are:

  1. G
  2. C
  3. D
  4. D minor
  5. A minor
  6. A
  7. E minor
  8. E
  9. B7

Learning these chords will allow you to play a vast array of songs. In fact, COUNTLESS hit songs have been crafted using just three of these chords. It's the simplicity and versatility of these chords that make them essential for any aspiring songwriter.


2. Mastering the Use of the Capo

The capo is a small device that can make a significant difference in your songwriting and playing abilities. It's not just about placing the capo on your guitar's neck; it's about understanding how to use it effectively. Here's why it matters: 

Let's say you're composing a song in a challenging key, like D-flat, and you're struggling with barre chords. Knowing how to use the capo can save the day. Placing the capo on the first fret allows you to play those same chords in the key of C, which is much more guitar-friendly. This knowledge empowers you to adapt and transpose your songs effortlessly.

Additionally, when collaborating with other musicians, explaining that a chord feels like a C, even though it's technically a D, makes communication smoother. Mastery of the capo is essential for flexibility and versatility in your songwriting journey.


3. Understanding Strum Patterns

Strumming patterns provide the rhythmic foundation for your songs. Early in my songwriting career, I didn't pay much attention to strum patterns—I strummed what felt right. However, I soon realized that I had fallen into a pattern of using the same strumming technique repeatedly.

To become a great songwriter, you need to diversify your strumming patterns. Whether you're aiming for a reggae, island, country, or rock feel, your strumming technique plays a crucial role. One of the most common strum patterns is "down, down-up, up-down-up” or 1  2+  +4+.   It's the backbone of many pop and rock songs. Learning various strumming patterns will enrich your songwriting and make your compositions more dynamic.


4. Understanding Chords in Different Keys

To become a versatile songwriter, you must understand how chords work together within a specific key. While there is some theory involved, it's not as mysterious as it may seem. Let's simplify it:

In the key of G, you have the following chords: G, A minor, B minor, C, D, E minor, and F# diminished. Knowing these chords allows you to write songs in the key of G effortlessly. Similarly, in the key of C, you have C, D minor, E minor, F, G, A minor, and B diminished. Familiarity with these chords enables you to compose in the key of C with ease.

Using your knowledge of chords and the capo, you can play an extensive repertoire of songs. In fact, by mastering the key of G and C, you can tackle nearly 99.9% of songs out there without breaking a sweat.


In conclusion, as a songwriter, your journey is a blend of creativity and technical skill. These four essentials—knowing the nine essential chords, mastering the capo, understanding strum patterns, and grasping chords in different keys—form the foundation of your craft. They will empower you to express your musical ideas more effectively, collaborate with other musicians seamlessly, and unlock your true songwriting potential.


So, whether you're a budding songwriter in Nashville or anywhere else on this planet, remember that music knows no boundaries. Embrace these essentials, and let your creativity flow as you embark on your songwriting adventure. Your songs have the power to touch hearts and bridge the gaps between us all.


To learn more about Songwriting, click here top check out our course with hit songwriter Melissa Peirce.



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