Music

How to Write a Song on Guitar: Guitar Chords and Songwriting Tips From Tom Morello and Herbie Hancock

Written by the MasterClass staff

Last updated: Aug 26, 2021 • 7 min read

Songwriting is a very personal process, and no two writers work exactly the same way. Some compose music in their heads and only later adapt it to fit an instrument. Others write with an instrument in hand. However, in many popular music genres, writing songs on the guitar is among the most established approaches.

Indeed, some of the most legendary songwriters have been guitar players by trade—from folk-based guitarists like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, to rockers like Pete Townshend and James Hetfield, to country pickers like Townes Van Zandt and Brad Paisley. For these and other artists, the initial guitar choices—the riffs, the strumming pattern, the tempo—serve as building blocks for the entire composition.