Composing Guitar Music With Handicaps Round 3: Go Guitarless

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Put Down The Guitar, Grab A Pen

When it comes to writing music for the guitar and handicaps I don’t know that there is any better way to handicap yourself than to write without the aid of an instrument.

What got me thinking about this was the fact that I actually tend to write better without the aid of an instrument, but yet it seems everyone I talk to is the opposite. There are pros and cons to this approach which I will also get to in a bit, but first let’s talk about the art of pen and paper writing.

There are several ways to write music these days. The old fashioned pen and paper which has stayed strong for centuries. Programs like Guitar Pro, MuseScore, Finale, or Sibelius, or other programs like Garage Band, Reason, or my personal favorite FL Studio.

On top of that what you’re writing can also vary. Are you going to write down tabs? Or are you going to go for staff notation?

Your own approach to this at home is ultimately up to you, but if you use a program to write things down then the rules I’m presenting are you have to turn the speakers off. If Beethoven could write symphonies without even having the option to hear them then surely we can competently compose a few melodies under the same conditions.

Ok, now we have our pen in our hand, our speakers off, whatever. What now? Pick a letter or a number and jot it down. I’ve chosen… Eb apparently. There’s my starting point. Why Eb? Because I don’t typically use it as a key.

Habit Squashing

Therein lies pro number 1. When you hold a guitar you can fall into habits much more easily. When you have blank paper it’s saying to you “paint me with whatever you like.” It’s beckoning for you to smother it with your tasteful choice of staff notation so that you may. It’s aching for you to soak it with your nigh aimless sense of better judgment. The staff officially has an itch only you can scratch and you need to use a pen to do the scratching.

Anyway. Here’s what I have so far.

Melody Guitar Tab
Click to Enlarge

Keep It Simple

Doesn’t look like much, does it? It also doesn’t sound like much, but that’s not really a problem. I didn’t want to over-complicate it immediately for a couple of reasons. The first being the more strict I am with how it’s written now the less elbow room I feel I’d have in later stages. The second being I’m not viewing this as it’s written as a final, unchangeable melody. As I play it on the guitar it lends itself as a guideline to build off of rather than just fidgeting around and hoping for the best.

It doesn’t have to be something complicated. In fact that’s where this approach leads into a potential con. I personally prefer to write away from a guitar, but it’s very easy to write something that is so ridiculously beyond anything you’ll ever be able to play that you might very well spend the rest of your life hunting down a freak of nature guitarist that actually can.

So for this example I have kept things relatively simple. I initially decided I would use no notation shorter than 1/8, but ended up not going shorter than 1/4. As for the scale I took an Eb Major and flattened the 6th and the 7th.

The real trick here is you are left to just think your way through, or perhaps you have a tendency to overthink things and this is your big chance to put that all aside. You have to think about what it will sound like, or you can just write things down in about 10 seconds and see what happens.

Stick around. Next time around we’re gonna see about adding more to this. Give it a whirl yourself. It’s a perfect way to pass the time if you’re bored at work or trying to distract yourself from conversing with your wife. Stick around and we’ll see what we can do with these melodies.


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Kyle Smitchens

Kyle Smitchens is the Guitar-Muse Managing Editor, super hero extraordinaire, and all around great guy. He has been playing guitar since his late teens and writing personal biographies almost as long. An appreciator of all music, his biggest influences include Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Vai, Therion, and Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy.

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