How To Improve Your Songwriting For $100

One of the best investments that a beginning or early stage guitarist can make for improving their songwriting is to buy a 4 or 8 track recorder. This item can be found new or used for around $100 and will enhance your songwriting skills immensely. I highly recommend purchasing one of these recorders as soon as you have the funds to do so. If you have the money to get a better recorder do so, but for most of you beginners the $100 is plenty.

Here are only some of the benefits that this $100 investment can offer you:

  1. Laying Down Ideas- Recording riffs, melodies etc will give you an aural format on which you can listen back and put together a song. Because most beginners have a hard time tabbing out their song ideas, recording will give you a great way to listen back to what you created without having to memorize every single part.
  2. Arranging- Now that you have a device to record your ideas, you can work on arranging them and putting together a song. Arranging is vital to how your song will flow and come across to the listener. The better you get at hearing where your music sections should go, the tighter and more powerful your songs will come across to the listener.
  3. Here is a tip on how to visually arrange your tunes in conjunction with your recording device. With every riff or main melody part, give the part its very own number. For example, the main riff could be given the number 1. On a piece of paper or tab paper, put the number 1 above that tab of the riff. If you have any slight variations of that riff, you can name it 1a. Continue to do this throughout your songs main sections. After each section has been labeled, arrange the song's part numbers on the page so that you can see them. As an example, 1 1a 2 3 1 2 3 3a 4 2 2 5. If you are not happy with that arrangement, it's easy to fix, as all you have to do is make another grouping of the part numbers again and then listen back.

  4. Layering- This is one of the biggest skills that will get honed by using a recorder. Due to the fact that you have 4 or 8 tracks to work with, you can experiment with adding melodies over other musical parts. As time moves on and your ear gets better, you can easily write 4 guitar parts that all intertwine with each other. This aspect gets expanded upon even further when you throw in any music theory knowledge.
  5. Harmonies/Theory- The fact that now you can hear harmonies in real time is very valuable. If you plan on doing any singing or back up vocals, this will help you hone in on your aural skills chops. And most importantly, you can find out before the crowd does if you need some more practice time before hitting the stage and singing out of tune at the gig. Harmonies are a big part of songwriting, but I am not only referring to just singing harmonies. One important aspect the recording devise increases is making the harmonies line up rhythmically with each other. This is very valuable and will go a long way with developing your inner rhythm abilities and when you are ready to record your very first CD. The theory end of this is that now you have a way to apply what you have learned in school or from your guitar teacher. You can now hear what a 3rd sounds like over a chord or what dissonance sounds like when you're not aware of what you're playing over. Being able to apply any musical knowledge and judge how it sounds when listened back to make your own personal style corrections in itself is worth well over $100. The fact that you get to judge and make corrections to your musical style of writing and the music theory applied is an invaluable commodity to own for only $100.
  6. Improvising- With a recording device, you now have a way to hear back the countless takes you did over a riff. It would be impossible to remember every improvised line you made up over a solo or melody section. But with the recording devise, you can make up as many as you want over the section and hear it back in real time to decide on which takes were cool. You can do as many takes as you want, and even use bits and pieces of takes to put together the master improvised track. By being able to hear back your improvising, you can get a great sense of what you really sound like, and find any patterns or overused ideas that you never knew you were creating over and over again. And a side benefit is that you will most likely become very good at improvising!
  7. Recording Efficiency- A long term benefit to getting and using a recording device is that you will become a pro when it comes time to do this in a professional recording studio. The fact that you are going to be paying by the hour (not always, but most studios have hourly rates) will mean that you will want to be as prepared as possible to minimize your recording expenses. And because most recording studios are $50 + an hour, your $100 recording device will have paid for itself ten fold after you get done recording your parts very quickly on your first CD. I always have every song I am about to record already laid down multiple times on my digital 8 track. By the time I go into the studio, I will have already recorded the parts many times, leading to my session getting done very fast, which in return saves me money.
  8. Recording Techniques- Another benefit is the usage of effects, punch ins and other professional studio techniques. After a while, just laying down raw tracks will become stale to you. You eventually will start to venture off into the world of effects. Learning how to use delays, reverbs, compressors, noise gates, equalizers, panning effects etc will really help you in your creative processing. As you get deeper into recording with these effects, your music will open new and unexplored doors to venture through. There are a lot of cool sounds, tones and moods you can discover when you learn how to record using effects. Pannings alone are usually never discussed, but are vital to how a CD feels and sounds in the stereo field. Just by learning how to pan two rhythm guitars, one hard left and the other hard right can have a very profound effect on how your guitar sounds in the mix. Pannings are just the beginning of your recording discoveries and it will hopefully work its way into your guitar rig and become a part of your every day guitar sound. When you start purchasing rack gear for your guitar, you have just walked into the one of the early stages of developing your guitar tone. What used to sound ok to you might now sound weak or thin because you have found all of these new effects and equalizers to add to your guitar tone.

To summarize, I have yet to find anything at or around $100 that can help beginning players find their inner musician and develop it with constant usage over time. The resulting effect is that their songs will be more mature and hopefully result in a lifelong career creating many great sounding CD's to listen back to, and maybe even a record deal. So, before you go out and purchase that huge half stack and $1000 signature series guitar, take a step back and invest $100 in something that just might make YOU the next endorsee with a signature series guitar.

Mike Walsh is an internationally renowned progressive guitar virtuoso, composer and teacher. For more information about Mike Walsh, his bands Sage and Hess, to hear samples of his playing/music, and to read more articles, visit his web sites.

His latest CD with Sage is entitled "Lightning Strikes".

Mike Walsh