Compositional Inspiration

  • Having trouble writing new songs?
  • Having trouble writing your first song?
  • Having trouble being happy with what you just composed?

These are challenges that most of us face when we break away
from imitating our heroes and begin the next phase of musical
maturity by writing and playing all original music.

The more you go your own way, the more you will recognize
your own individual style of playing. That is the next
step. After all that's precisely what our heroes have done.
That is what separates the good players from the great players.

Writing your own material can be intimidating
and downright frightening for some. When you seriously
write your first tune, no doubt you have poured your
whole soul into it and your wondering "is this any good?".
Or you may write your first tune and have absolute
confidence that this is the next number one hit.

In any case, there are times when you just can't seem
to come up with something you like. I want to share with
you some of the ways I have come up with riffs and melodies
that I'm very proud of. One of the things that I remembered
the most from the studying I did with Michael Fath, is that
when you write a song, whether it's vocal or instrumental,
make sure it has a hook. A hook is a catchy melody or riff
that stands out in the listeners mind even after the song
is over. If they can whistle your tune from memory after
the song has ended, you've done you're job!

My new debut CD is loaded with this kind of composition.
You can listen to some clips at
and even more at

Inspiration and ideas come to me in various ways. Here are some that work for me:

1) Just goofing around and discovering a cool riff by accident

Always...always...always record your guitar playing! You'll
be surprised at what gets recorded! When you review the tape
after playing for a hour, listen carefully in two ways. Listen
for obviously cool riffs and melodic patterns, and also listen
for some bits and pieces that will sound great with some adjustment.

2) Driving down the road (radio off!) and experimenting with
musical sequences in my head

This is where you may need to
quit listening to other people's music for while to clear your
thoughts. This is actually a very powerful and effective way
to compose. Your mind is totally free to explore any musical
direction you want without being limited to "what you know on
guitar". The only difficulty for me has been remembering what
I like. Once you get it right in your head, repeat it over
and over so when you get back to your guitar, you can release it.

3) Learning a new technique and applying it to a song

This has played a big role in my compositions. Learning a
new technique will inspire you immediately. Once you get
down the mechanics, you can build a song around it or just
fit it into a song that needs that "extra something". For
those of you who have my CD (thank you very much!),
you can hear cool techniques throughout the disc. The first
track "Change Your Mind", begins with a right hand tapping
technique that utilizes what I call "mirror octaves".
In "Mainstay", I use "5th arpeggios" before the solo section.
Instead of playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th of the arp,
I omit the 3rd and just play 1's and 5's. "Fill In The _____"
is written entirely around a "Cross String Tapping" technique
that enables large and fluent interval stretching.

4) Learning a new scale or scale pattern

This always gives you new ideas especially when you need
to enhance your soloing. Understanding what scales go with
what chords is vital. For a lesson on modal scales, visit

5) Learning a new arpeggio

After mastering sweep picking, you can employ endless
"twists" to your standard arpeggios. Playing 7th, 9th, 11th
and 13th arpeggios will "open your sound up" and give it a
whole new flavor that is pleasantly surprising. Also alternating
and mixing up the notes of the arps will give you great melodic
ideas. "Fullness Of Time" is a good example of this concept.

6) Learning music theory and applying it when you really get stuck

Once you understand music theory in general, you have the ability
to solve any musical problem that you may have. If you need a
new part to a song, but nothing comes to you by inspiration,
(I seem to have this problem frequently!) you can solve it like
a math problem using techniques such as modulation (changing
from one key to another in a pleasant sounding way).

7) Recording my ideas, sleeping on it and reviewing it fresh
the next day

Get a 4-track recorder and track your parts. When you get it
the way you want for the day, forget it and listen to it
fresh the next day. You will have a different perspective
and you may find that some parts need more work. If it
sounds good to you, go with it!

These are just a few of the compositional methods that I use and I think will give you something to chew on for a while. True inspiration comes from deep inside you, and it's OK to let it
come out a little piece at a time. When you put the pieces together, your final composition will be larger that life!

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Will Landrum is a guitarist and composer from Virginia who dabbles in heavy rock Instrumentals with blues and neo-classical influences.

His latest CD is entitled "Living Digits", which features eight compositions produced by Landrum and Michael Fath.

Will Landrum