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Songwriting tip: Start with the bass guitar first

Yamaha RBX170EW TBS Electric Bass with Exotic Wood Top - Tobacco Sunburst Finish

If you want to make the songwriting process go faster, put down the guitar temporarily and pick up a bass.

I recommend that all guitar players pick up a bass not only for recording but also for songwriting. It doesn't matter what kind of bass it is, whether it's the Yamaha RBX170EW above, Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass '70s or whatever you get, just get one as long as it's 34-inch scale 4-string (which most are.) Don't get a cheap 5-string. Just don't do it. A cheap 5-string's low B is a farty, unusable thing. Stick to 4.

It's all about the roots

I'm talking about root notes here.

When you play bass, you're playing root notes, one at a time. No chords. When songwriting, this is actually a good thing because all that matters are the root notes.

As soon as you establish what root notes to use for your verse(s) and chorus, you now have your "foundation" of sorts, and your song gets completed a whole lot faster.

Sometimes a 6-string guitar is not the best for songwriting

You could self-impose rules on yourself when songwriting on a 6-string guitar, such as, "I will only play really basic chords and not go beyond the 3rd fret until the song is finished." But you won't do that because you have 6 strings and 20 or more frets to play around with. That stuff can distract you very easily to the point of never finishing a song.

The 4-string bass forces you to stay in root-note-only territory. True, you can chord on a bass just like almost any other stringed instrument (I certainly have,) but it's very unlikely you would do that.

Restrictions bring creativity

This is another way of saying art from adversity. When you write on an instrument that makes it difficult to solo or do other crazy crap, the only thing left to do is complete the song. And it will get completed, usually fairly quickly.

Some guitar players will do crazy things such as purposely buying a separate electric guitar and outfitting it with ridiculously heavy 12-60 strings. Why? To specifically prevent soloing and string bending so concentration can be placed on songwriting first.

A different (and easier) approach is to just use a bass instead. Big strings, no chords, easy-to-play.

If you've tried everything else but just can't seem to get a song completed, get a bass and write your songs on that. Yes, it really works.

Published 2014 Oct 8

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