The Songwriter: Why Guitar Players Should Write Their Own Songs

Now that you are on your way to become a better guitarplayer you will need an outlet for all those scales and chords you are learning. It is fine to play scales up and down the fretboard, to create jangely sounds with glassey 9th chords, but the best place to demonstrate all your skills and artistery is still within songs, and you are the one who should be writing those songs.
Up and till now you may have been playing coverversions of some of your favourite songs. Most guitarplayers start off like this as it is a good learning ground to let your fingers go with all the tricks and riffs you have learned. Ain’t it now time to start writing your own songs? Why? Because only YOU know how you would like to play those solos and chordsequences. When you create your own songs you can make them sound any way you like: You can go for obscure songs, no problem, as you can make them as weird as you like. On the other hand you may want to write hit songs. Songs which need to be heard by listeners from all over the globe. Even though you want those songs to be commercial, you also may want them to be full of original guitarsounds and solo ideas. You will have the freedom to create these songs because you are the guitar player who will be writing them. When you are playing covers you will be restricted by how the song was written. Yes, you may want to change the arrangement fo the song to suit the style of your band  or your style of guitar playing. Truth is you will still be bound by the chords and melodies of the coversong, simpley because you are playing someone else’s song, someone with a different taste and a different take on guitar playing compared to you.
Let us  first have a quick look at some of the well-known guitarplayers from around the world to see how they went about their business , and why they started writing their own songs:

                                     Eric Clapton:
Started out with John Mayall in the 1960s, became quite successful as a guitarplayer, but his starstatus rose dramatically when he started composing his own songs which he sang himself. Eric has written quite a few classic songs, and it is for these what he is remembered for, yes it does help that he can play guitar as well, but the songs are first.

                                     Jimi Hendrix:
The Classic example which demonstrates my case: He did get kicked out of the coverbands he was playing with during the early 1960s, because he was playing too much, and his playing was too way out for the songs he was performing. Jimi just liked it that way, but noone cared untill he started writing his own songs. Ironic maybe that his first hit was a cover, but he would demonstrate very soon that he was capable of writing much better material than that particular  coversong. 

                                    Eddie van Halen:
Started out with covers, but their manager at the time suggested they should write their own material. By that time Eddie already had developed his own distinctive guitarstyle. Think of Van Halen’s cover of the Kinks “You Really Got Me”, but it would still take their band’s own compositions which would show the world what an amazing Rock band Van Halen really was. Eddie’s guitarplaying would serve as a template for the a lot of Metal and Rock players of the 1980s, some of those guys would become an influence in their own right, later on.  

                                    Pete Townshend:
Being able to write funny pop songs is one thing, Pete would prove he could write in the style of an Opera. The idea was born with the concept album. Pete was not the only one to experiment with this form of writing, but he certainly was one of the first ones to realise that so much more could be done with the standard 3/4 minute popsong of the day.

                                   Joe Satriani:
Joe was fed up with the band he was with. The band was not going anywhere and he realised he had to do it himself to get the world to recognise what kind of guitarplayer he really was. So he did, but it wouldstill take him a couple of years before people started to see his potential. On Joe’s second album: “Surfing with the Alien” he pulled out all the stops: “The sounds had to be bold, the playing had to be over the top, so nonone in the guitarworld could really miss him. Joe is still today at the top of his game, he only got better over time, and yes, he too had to do it himself.

                                  Steve Vai:
Was taken on board by Frank Zappa to perform Stunt Guitar Tricks, what a job that is eh? Zappa’s stint gave Steve the break he needed to establish himself in the musicworld of the 1980s. Like Joe, Steve is still there, he even now does run his own recordcompany, not bad eh? For a man who just started out playing guitar!

                                 Mark Knopfler:
Wrote all the songs for Dire Straights. He had been writing long before the band started, and he would still write after the band split up. Mark is still going strong, and is still at the top of his game. Check out his albums!!

The musicworld is full of songwriters, some work on their own, some in teams think of people like:

                                Mick Jagger and Keith Richards:
The Rolling Stones played in their early days a lot of blues songs. Like with a lot of bands from the mid 60s, the Stones were told that writing their own songs would be better if they wanted to increase their success as a band and as recording artists. Over time the band developed its own sound with Keith’s particular way of playing guitar. Having said that, it took Mick Taylor to get the band to sound the way they did in the 1970s. Mick Taylor may have been responsible for writing most of those well-known riffs of that time. Fact is, after he had left, the band’s sound was changed forever. 

                                The Beatles:
Not just one songwriter, but four. Like so many other 1960s bands, the Beatles started out with covers, but soon would be writing their own songs, and it is these songs which people remember most of all.

                                Ritchie Blackmore:
Worked with bands such as Deep Purple and Rainbow. Was the main guitarplayer in those bands, and the main person who contributed the riffs. Most of Rainbow’s songs do have songcredits for various people: The vocalist [for writing the lyrics] the Bassplayer and Keyboard player. All in all, it was a teameffort, but still Ritchie had to provide the main blulk of the riffs and chorsequences before the others could run with it.

                                David Bowie:
Not a guitarplayer as such but more a musician and songwriter. Yes he knows about the guitar, is able to use it to flesh out songstructures with. When it came to reccording his songs he would  often hire guitarplayers, sometimes these guitarplayers would become part of the band for while, while on other ocassions guitarplayers would just stay for one tour.

As a guitarplayer and musician you need to set yourself goals where you want to be and what you would like to do. It does take time to find out, and it will also depend on the people you will meet. On the other hand I think it is a wise desicion no to be too dependable on other people around you. I hope that some of my previous examples have demonstrated that point. If all those guitarplayers would have waited for a band to pick them up we may have never heard of some of those guys.

When it comes to making the choises you need to make you could aim for being a songwriter who writes [and Sings] his/her own songs. The writing of the songs will certainly give you a better understanding of what is going on musicwise within the songs. It will also make you a better musician and leader. On the other hand you may want to become a specialst who is good at one particular genre of music. You may be lucky and get hired by a band or soloartist. It is just another way to get yourself a break in the industry.

For next few blogs: How to get inspired to start writing your own songs, and all about setting goals for yourself as a musician and guitarplayer.

Get busy writing now,
See ya,