How To Write A Song On Guitar

Learn How To Write A Song On The Guitar!

Let’s take a look at how to write a song. I am not a songwriter by any means but I can give you some tips on what chords you have to choose from when starting to write a song. If you know what chords are in a given key, it can narrow down your chord choices and give you a good structure to work with for writing.

For our example let’s use the key of E major. The notes in an E major scale are E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D#. Each note in the E major scale has a chord that goes along with it. In major keys, the 1st, 4th, and 5th notes of a major scale have major chords to go along with them. In the key of E major the 1st, 4th, and 5th notes are E, A, and B. With that in mind, if you were writing a song in the key of E, your basic major chord options would be E major, A major and B major.

In a major key the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th notes of the major scale have minor chords to go along with them. In the key of E major the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th notes are F#, G#, and C#. Now you have three basic options for minor chords when writing a song in E major, F# minor, G# minor and C# minor.

In order to be able to tell what notes and chords are in a given key it takes a bit of hard work and study. You really have to know what chords are major and minor in a key and you have to know your key signatures.

In the example I randomly picked chords out of the key of E major. I started with an F# minor chord and moved to a B major chord. I just moved back and forth between those to chords for a verse. This impromptu verse ended up sounding kind of like Pink Floyd. For the chorus I used the E major B major and A major chords. This ended up sounding a bit like “Knocking on Heavens Door”.

Picking random chords from a key can be a cool way to come up with ideas for new songs. What you should do now is pick a few other keys and see if you can figure out the chords in those keys. Remember the 1, 4, and 5 chords will be major and the 2, 3, and 6, chords will be minor. Don’t worry about the 7 chord for now, we will cover it in other lessons. I will write out the keys of G major and A major for you so you can have some more examples to look at.

The notes in the G major scale are G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#. The major 1, 4, and 5 chords for the key of G major are G, C, and D. The minor 2, 3, and 6 chords are A, B, and E.

The notes in the A major scale are A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#. The major 1, 4, and 5 chords for the key of A major are A, D, and E. The minor 2, 3, and 6 chords are B, C#, and F#.

This Lesson Has 49 Comments

  • Jake says:

    hey nate, just wanna say you do great guitar lessons, ive found really helpful, but im a little confussed on using a key to write song, does the chords from a particular key have to be used, or can you use random chords??

    • Aaron says:

      Hey Jake, to answer your question: When writing a song, you do need to use chords from a certain key. Nate’s method of identifying the major and minor chords in a given key is the best way to do it. It can be done with any major scale. Just list the notes in a key and 1, 4, 5 are your majors and 2, 3, 6 are your minors. Some songs change keys, but this is a slightly advanced technique. the vast majority of pop songs stay in one key and use these basic chords. Here’s a link that might be helpful:

  • DJ(DENNIS JR) says:

    every time i watch your guitar lessons i don’t understand what you are teaching and i am an in the middle guitar player and a guitar teacher and he tells me to look up various things about the guitar

    • Richard says:

      Hey Denis…..
      You just concentrate you will get him. There is something very important you can get when listening carefully.This is almost accademics requires your mind 90%. Tchao

    • Ric says:

      Put the bong down. Wait an hour. Watch the season again. Simple.

    • Junior says:

      Can i have this lessons

  • moahid asif says:

    hi nate!
    i am so much confused whenever i watch the signs with the notes in a scales like “#”. plz tell me what is its use and how they are different from others?

    • jake says:

      # is the sign for ‘sharp’. all this means is that the note that has this sign on it is up one half step (or one fret). Hope this helped!

  • mia says:

    i love this <3

  • Richard C-H says:

    i have made up a string song. Two highest srtings. First and second strings. First string frets 2,3, and open. 4/4 a b e/ a b e/ a b e g/ e/ . now second (2) and first(1). 4/4 2d 2e 1e/ 2d 2e 1e/ 2d 2e 1e 1g/ 1a g e 2d/ 2d/.add part1 and 2.

  • Louise says:

    I found this short lesson on how to identify major and minor chords for a major key to be very clear, simple and straightforward, and it was a lot of help! Thanks…

  • Alycesha says:

    how soon can a beginner start writing songs

    • Stephen says:

      you can start at any point. experiment with what you were taught and maybe you will get a masterpiece.

  • diranu says:

    This is a great lesson! Music theory was never my forte so I avoided like the plague. A couple of years ago I picked up a lesson book by the name of “The Chord Wheel” and avoided that too. With this lesson and “The Chord Wheel” I’m started to see a dim light at the end of the tunnel.
    Years ago my band director explained all of this verbally but it didn’t stick. My advice is to get “The Chord Wheel” book and follow this lesson from Nate with the wheel. It has made a huge difference with my understanding of the correct chords in any key. And now I understand how the chord wheel on the book works (which I had avoided learning!). It shows all the major and minor chords with a turn of the wheel. It also shows how many flats or sharps are in a particular key.
    Thanks for the great lesson Nate!

  • justin says:

    your the best i used to not play a eletric guitar at all but now it can

  • malika says:

    hey everybody

  • James Waterhouse (10yrs) says:

    hey nate

    im sorry i just dont get it

  • James Waterhouse (10yrs) says:

    im getting really good i cam play adele rolling in the deep,seven nation army,eye of the tiger,harry potter,firework,chasing cars and use somebody. lol

  • James Waterhouse (10yrs) says:

    luvin v lessons :)

  • Noel says:

    I thought this was a good lesson. I have the chord wheel and didn’t really understand it, but after watching the lesson and reading the comment (thanks Diranu) it is much claerer..

  • Ian says:

    Hi…a question. Where does the 7th chord belong. You cover 1, 4 &5 as major chords. 2, 3 & 6 as minor chords. What about the poor old number 7?

  • Justo says:

    How do you get that sexy electric guitar tone?

    • Ric says:

      The output from the guitar goes to an “Effects Rack” then into the amp. The Effects Rack can make his guitar sound like anything from a eukalele to a helicopter.

  • Ashley says:

    I loved the lesson, but how do u come up with words that go with it well enough? Plz help!!!

    • RachelBaby says:


      In my opinion writing lyrics is easier than writing music!! :) However, I would say first establish your tune and then writing the words to it will just come easy!! Plus, theres not really any such thing as “words good enough”. Any song you put your heart and soul into will be amazing! :)

  • Ric says:

    Yo, Nate,,,
    What wireless system are you using in this video?

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  • priya says:

    The last part of this lesson i didn’t understood.what it is all about?

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  • dusk says:

    i’d like to know what other chords can i use instead of, for instance B, maybe sth like B7, Bmaj7?

  • Pratap says:

    This is a terrific post and explains the entire concept very lucidly. Thanks for taking the effort and posting it online.
    I do have a query please. suppose i wanted to play an instrumental solo between verses.
    Will this solo comprise of the same notes in the E maj scale?(does a song’s key and solo have to be in the same key?)
    Also will the notes in the solo have to played in any particular sequence or is a little mix-n-match allowed?
    And finally, is there a rule that says yu have to play the solo in the same octave as the song itself? Suppose the song was in Gmaj key (no capo), could i play a solo that starts from the g note on the D string 5th fret (or even higher)?
    Thanks a ton.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hi Pratap,

      Generally, the solo and song have to be in the same key. If I am soloing over a song in the key of E major, and that song is only using chords from that key, then I can use the E major scale to solo. Some other options are arpeggios and pentatonic scales. The notes are not necessarily played in a particular sequence. It’s up to what you want to hear and express, but certain notes out of the major scale go better over certain chords out of that key. (Playing over chord changes to emphasize the notes in those chords) There is no rule about playing in a particular octave but it is usually nicer to start low and end high to give the solo some dynamic feel and forward moving direction. :)

  • Pratap says:

    Hi nate,
    Thanks for such a promt, to-the-point reply. Its answered my queries perfectly.
    Do let me know if you have a facebook group page going on.
    You’ve rightly touched upon another subject that’s as vast as the pacific – scales!
    I’d rather not labour you with a barrage of questions of gat scales! But yeah, I have been working on scales lately (which led me to solos). Altho I dunno why there are so many patterns to each scale!? Answering your own questions is sometimes the best way to learn!
    Cheers mate & keep rockin’!

  • aiboklang says:

    hi nate,
    thanks for the idea u have given to me…it realy help me..but i have some question..i can undeerstand and use only the major and minor chords..what about the 7,aug,dim,etc…how to use them?…which one is hhigh and which one is low?…please nate help me with this….

    • Nate Savage says:

      hey aiboklang, have you gone through the other lessons on chords here on All of this information is easy to find out there on numerous sites. The Guitar System actually teaches you how to understand music and build chords and scales along with learning the shapes. :)

  • LFCLaird says:

    Hi, thanks for this as it has helped me so much to understand music as a whole. But its very confusing.

    Firstly, I have no idea about these sharps and flats, where do you get them from. I understand why why some are minors and majors but in different keys, different degrees have sharps and others dont.

    Secondly, say if, for example, if I wanted to use the key of C major to write a song, does that mean I can also use chords like Csus and Fsus?

    Thirdly, when writing a song, do I have to only use the certain chords in a key or will it sound awful? Or can I sometimes switch keys after each verse?

    Fourthly, by using keys, can It also be used to write riffs and solos? By playing a certain chord on a string and then playing another chord from the same key on another and so on, can it create a good riff?

    Thanks again.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey LFCLaird, I think you should sign up for The Major Scale Master Class here on the site. It covers most of the questions you asked here.


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