How to write your first song

So you’ve gotten your first guitar, learned the basic notes and chords, and mastered a few songs. What’s next?

How about writing a song of your own?

Writing a song on your own might seem intimidating, but it’s not as difficult as it seems. Your first song doesn’t have to be perfect – it doesn’t have to have GRAMMY-winning production or lyrics that will echo through generations. It just has to be yours. A song can be about anything or anyone, and songwriting is a great way to express yourself.

Here are some tips to get started on your own songwriting journey:


Pick simple chords

Lots of the biggest songs only use three chords! If you know just a handful of chords, you can arrange them in a progression that sounds good to you and create a melody over them. Try using a capo to easily transpose your chords to a higher key if it better fits your voice or the melody you’re creating.


Choose a subject for your song

What do you want your song to be about? What mood should it encapsulate – joyful? Angry? Bitter? Hopeful? How do you want your song to make listeners feel?

Write a list of visual imagery and ideas that fit the theme of the song. It can be helpful to start with a title and work from there, even if the title changes by the time the song is finished.


Write from your experience – or someone else’s

No one knows your life better than you, and songs written from personal experience tend to be particularly genuine. However, you don’t need to limit yourself to your own memories – what would a song sound like from the perspective of your best friend? Your second grade teacher? Your mailman? You can write from the perspective of a fictional character, or two different people – there are no rules!


Choose a song structure

The most common song structure is verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. For a beginner, it can be helpful to use this structure as an outline when composing your song, but you can use any structure you like – or no structure at all. Try listening to a few of your favorite songs and figure out what the song structure is for inspiration.



Your verses and choruses don’t need to rhyme, but there’s a reason that so many of the most beloved songs throughout history do – and why writers from Shakespeare to Dr. Seuss used it in their work. Rhymes are helpful when it comes to remembering phrases – probably why you know. The human brain is also wired to recognize patterns, and hearing patterns in the form of rhyme in a song satisfies that urge. Don’t feel like you need to rhyme at all times though. You can use slant rhyme or “near rhyme” – words that sound similar but don’t time, like “rhyme” and “fine”.

You can also use internal rhyme, where words within the same phrase rhyme (or near rhyme). Take these lyrics from Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” as example:

“A singer in a smoky room, the smell of wine and cheap perfume
Working hard to get my fill, everybody wants a thrill
Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues”.


Record your song

Once you have your song written, record it! All you need for a rough recording is the voice recorder on your cell phone. Experiment recording yourself singing and playing from different angles until you have a sound that’s okay. When you’re ready to graduate to a more professional at-home recording experience, check out this course to learn how to set up your home studio.


What’s a guitar capo – and why do you need it?

How to find time to practice guitar each day

Talking guitar with Robbie Calvo 

Robbie Calvo has been working professionally as a musician for over 20 years, performing live and playing as a studio musician, writing songs, and teaching others how to play guitar. 

His course Pentatonic Protocols 1 is available on Fret Zealot. 

Fret Zealot sat down with Robbie to talk all things guitar, his career, and his advice for new guitar players. 


Q.) How did you get started playing guitar?

A.) I started when I was probably 13, studying at an early age. I went to lessons and stuff, and studied in London. I had an apprenticeship as an artist, went to art school and stuff, but carried on studying. I decided I wanted to go to the Musicians Institute in L.A., spent a year there, learned my crafts or some of it, you know – and then you spend years and years developing your own style and technique and stuff. I went back to London, started doing sessions for a big producer there for TV and stuff like that. Then, I was writing songs. I didn’t like the English music scene so I decided I wanted to write real songs and move to Nashville to learn that craft. I ended up working in studios there and writing, co-writing, stuff like that. 

I feel I’ve been put on the planet to be an educator, and as an educator, I realized that I wanted to empower other people with the things that I’ve developed and learned, not only through schooling, but what you develop yourself, your own kind of passions for things. 

I put a program together called “Sweet Notes” about chord tone improvisation. What we weren’t taught in music school was that the notes in the chords, the chord tones, are the strongest resolution points – and guitar players were just playing scales, they weren’t going through any of those tones. I just wanted to empower them with that. To this day, it’s been a bestseller.

I developed my path, then my educational series. I think I’ve done about 28 courses for companies. 

 I get to the point with it – “this is what you need to do, don’t waste your time with this”. People are busy! My whole thing as an educator these days is to live a good life, be good to other people and share wisdom with them – and quickly, because they’ve got other things to do. 

One of the things I found very important for me developing as a guitar player is as soon as I started using my voice, I started to understand resonance and how things resonate with the body and the guitar. It’s not just the guitar, I think that’s something that guitar players are possibly missing, they’re not connected to the guitar and when you use your voice you start connecting.


Q.) What made you want to learn guitar?

A.) I’m very introverted, and as a kid, I was very shy, I found it hard to approach other people. My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is INFJ, so I am very introverted. I would advocate for other guitarists to find out what your personality type is, and you’ll find out what’s inhibiting you and what works for you. 

As an introvert, the guitar became my best friend. I was really happy being in my room practicing guitar and becoming a better musician rather than hanging out with four dudes playing music. The INFJ in me also knows how to monetize that, and a lot of musicians don’t understand that commerce is art and art is commerce. 

I’ve always loved the guitar – the resonance speaks to me. The beauty of the melodies you create, the chordal structures – and it’s one of those instruments you can take anywhere. I could go to the park in 20 minutes and sit and write a song or jam with someone. 

You can’t do that with a piano – a guitar is a portable best friend. 


Q.) Who are your inspirations?

A.) The Who, Ella Fitzgerald, AC/DC Journey, Rush, The Beatles, Elton John were some of my early influences, and developed, once I started getting schooled in music, into Steve Lukather, Michael Thompson, John Mayer, and Joey Landreth.  They’re songwriters, great guitar players, and they play melodies on the guitar, they’re not trying to show off. That, to me, is impressive. There are too many people out there competing, trying to be fast, to show off. I just want to hear melodies and I think if you’re a songwriter, you understand that the solo and the fills and the song parts are part of the bigger picture, it’s not about you it’s about the song. I think I’ve developed from loving guitar players to loving songwriting guitar players. 

Q.) What’s your advice for someone starting out on guitar?

A.) Make a plan. A lot of people just think “I’m going to play guitar”,  but it’s a long road. 

The first thing to do is get a good guitar, not a cheap guitar. Get something playable and easy on your fingers. You can always sell it if you don’t carry on. Learn some chords, learn to hum notes over the chords. Dig deeper into them.  If you take a “D” chord, there are four double stops in there, three chord tones, suspensions, and you can move the notes around. When you start doing that and digging deeper into one chord you start realizing there’s a whole world of music in one shape and you can move that one shape. 

If you learn a “D” chord and move it two frets, that’s now an “E” chord with the D in the bass. Move it one more, and it’s an “F” with the D in the bass. You have these movable chords with open strings that can create a song. Learn a couple of shapes, maybe learn a song or write a song then add a chord to it. Start building a repertoire, start building some songs you can sing and perform. I know guitar players who have been playing for 20 years but couldn’t play you a song. What’s the point?

Learn some simple songs, some of the best songs are the simple ones. You can make them as complex as you want. Learn the diatonic harmonies – all the chords in the key of C in the major scale, and then understand if you play “C” “F”  and “G” and it  resolves to “C”, you’re playing Ionian mode. If you play those three chords starting on “F”,  you’re playing Lydian mode. It’s not that hard, it’s very simple once you learn how it works. I’d say start simple, learn the harmonized major scale and start using a capo.  You can go do a gig with a handful of chords and a capo if you learn the songs. Take some lessons, get some schooling and understand what the big picture is. If you don’t know what that is, how do you get there? 

Play with intention, pick up the guitar to do something, don’t just noodle. Have an intention of what you’re working for. When you have intention and a target, you can hit the target. 


Q.) How about for intermediate guitarists?

A.) I think all the information is there, for guitar players, pentatonic is kind of our default scale. 

There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s five great tones, but you have to learn how to use the tones. 

What I would say is you’ve got to start listening. I think a lot of guitar players are not even listening. 

I teach a workshop in Nashville and I was observing people in the class. I’d say to them, “I want you to play an eight-bar solo.” They go into it, and I’m playing the chords, and about a minute and a half they look up and say “was that it?”. Yeah, it was about 108 bars. Some guitar players have no concept of measures, bars, or length. Start listening and understand how long two measures of music are.  

All of this information is small if you don’t expand on it but if you start looking at it, it starts doing this! [expansion gesture]. 

Your musical information and understanding, that one five-note scale and those four chords is probably 50,000 songs rearranged in different orders, with different rhythms.  

The info you have in the four chords is thousands of songs, four tonal centers, scale types – you can use that to create a solo, melody, double stops, all those things. I would say to anyone who already knows some things, you don’t necessarily need to know another scale, you need to use the one you know. 

To me if you want to be really good at what you do, you have to really understand the intricacies, the ins and outs, invert the scale, do whatever but dig deep. In society, we are on our phones where everything is surface level. When I was learning and getting into guitar, we used to analyze records and theory and things, have deep conversations, who does that anymore? I think you have to start looking inside, start digging a little bit. I’m a bit of a taskmaster that way, like no, do the work. 

Q.) What can someone expect from your course, Pentatonic Protocols 1?

A.) The reason I put this course out is because we learn these scales, these five notes, and we then don’t know what to do with them. I thought if I put together a series of protocols, here’s a way of approaching a solo – i.e. start on the root note and play your first lick, second, phrase from that scale go to the second note in the scale and start your phrase there – you can start anywhere in the scale to do that. What you’ve just done is you’ve progressed melodically cause you’ve ascended up four notes. You can’t not play something different because you started somewhere else and now you have a protocol for your solo. So, when someone says “play an eight bar solo you go “oh, I can do that” instead of “what the heck am I going to do”. 

I think if you start with an idea and a protocol, big picture, you can achieve it. If you don’t know, how do you go on the journey?

I use it at my gigs all the time. “What am I going to do in this solo?” I know what key I’m in, I’m going to do this, and nine times out of ten it’s going to be great. 


Q.) What other advice do you have?

A.) If you can dream it, you can do it, you just have to do the work. 


Follow Robbie Calvo on Instagram, YouTube, and find his website here. 

Check out these other Fret Zealot interviews! 

Talking guitar with Jake from At The Helm

Talking guitar with Tigress

Talking guitar with Jess Novak

Want to play guitar like Jimmy Page?

You’ll have a “whole lotta” fun learning how to play like the legendary Led Zeppelin and The Yardbirds guitarist, including lead and rhythm playing, major chord riffs and octave parts in the Jimmy Page Player Study course.



Page grew up in a suburb of London and found his first guitar, at a house his family moved to in 1952. Page said that no one seemed to know where it came from. He started playing at age 12, taking some lessons, but was mostly self-taught, listening to records and playing what he heard. Page would practice six to seven hours a day, sometimes taking the guitar with him to school, where it would be confiscated until the end of the day. 


He played guitar on BBC1 in 1957 at age 13 with a skiffle quartet (skiffle is a genre of music that was popular in Britain at the time). When asked by the host what he wanted to do after he finished school, Page said he wanted to do research to find a cure for cancer. He did later interview for a position as a lab assistant, but decided to pursue music instead. He toured with a band called The Crusaders for two years before becoming sick with glandular fever, which forced him to put his music career on pause and focus on his other passion, painting. 


He eventually was able to pick up the guitar again and performed on stage, as well as working as a session musician for bands like The Who, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones. He briefly played with The Yardbirds before forming a new group, Led Zeppelin – one of the best-selling music groups of all time. 


Page helped create innovative methods of playing and recording while a member of Led Zeppelin. He used effects in new, different ways and unique arrangements of microphones and amplification. Page is famous for creating iconic power riffs – like “Heartbreaker”, “Black Dog”, “Kashmir” – and bases many of them on the minor pentatonic scale. Page utilized alternative tunings in much of his work, and employed creative methods to get sound including using a cello bow on his guitar strings. 


In 2015, Page was ranked number three in Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. His work both as a guitarist and a producer has inspired many other musicians – guitarist who have cited Page as an influence include Eddie Van Halen, Ace Frehley (KISS), Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Slash

Once you nail down Page’s signature style, you can find dozens of Led Zeppelin tabs on the Fret Zealot app to rock out to!

Fret Zealot Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are right around the corner! Fret Zealot has gifts for everyone on your list, from young aspiring musicians to seasoned pros looking for their next guitar!

Check out the Fret Zealot Holiday Gift Guide.

For the first time guitarist:

Epiphone Starling Acoustic Pack

Available in pink pearl, starlight blue, and wine.

This all-in-one set has everything a beginner guitarist needs to get started! Available in three stylish colors, the spruce-top Epiphone acoustic provides great tone for those learning their first chords. It comes with Fret Zealot pre-installed, a gig bag, strap, tuner, and picks.

For the teenage rocker: 

Yamaha PAC112V Pacifica

Available in Sonic Blue, Black, Old Violin Sunburst, United Blue, Vintage White, and Natural.

This punchy guitar is perfect for the young person in your life who is interested in starting a band – or just rocking out in their bedroom! Available in six different colors, it has a lightweight body and delivers a variety of tones, perfect for playing everything from pop to punk rock. Fret Zealot is pre-installed.

For the folk music enthusiast:

Dean AXS Dreadnought 12 String

Available in Mahogany

For the person in your life who loves rocking out to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. This steel-string guitar has a huge sound that will delight the acoustic guitar player in your life. Fret Zealot is pre-installed.

For the experienced guitar player:

Gibson Les Paul Tribute

Available in Satin Tobacco Burst

The longtime guitar player in your life will be thrilled to add this classic-inspired Gibson guitar to their collection! The Les Paul Tribute is a nod to Gibson’s legacy of tone, and is a versatile and beautiful guitar guaranteed to be loved for years to come. Fret Zealot is pre-installed.

For the person who always talks about learning bass:

Fret Zealot for bass

Preorder available, estimated ship date Dec. 5

For the person in your life who has always wanted to learn bass but hasn’t had the time – get them Fret Zealot for bass! It fits on any regular-sized bass, and will help them learn bass with light.

For the person who already has their dream guitar:

Fret Zealot LED strip and/or All-Access Pass Subscription 

Fits any regular sized guitar! 

For the person who already has a guitar, help them finally learn to play – or take their skills to the next level – with the Fret Zealot LED strip and All-Access Pass subscription! The paper-thin LED strip fits all regular-sized guitars and is easy to install. Pair it via Bluetooth with the Fret Zealot app, and they’ll be ready to jam through thousands of songs and lessons!

Want to play guitar like Slash of Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver?

You’ll be well on your way to “Paradise City”, picking up Slash’s signature licks and style with the Slash Player Study course. This course includes the scales and techniques that the “original guitar hero” uses, and shows you how to incorporate them into your own solos. 



London-born Saul Hudson moved to L.A. with his father at the age of five. He was born to parents who were both in the entertainment industry – his mother, Ola J. Hudson, was a fashion designer whose clients included Janis Joplin and David Bowie, and his father, Anthony Hudson, was an English artist who created album covers for musicians including Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.

Hudson sometimes went with his mother to work, and was given the nickname “Slash” by actor Seymour Cassel, because he was “always in a hurry”. He formed a band with friend (and future Guns ‘N Roses bandmate) Steven Adler in 1979, originally playing bass. Hudson switched to guitar after hearing music teacher Robert Wolin play “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones. He started taking classes with Wolin, playing a one-stringed flamenco guitar gifted to him by his grandmother. Hudson was a champion BMX biker, but started devoting up to 12 hours a day to playing the guitar.

Hudson played in several bands before joining Guns ‘N Roses and auditioned for the band Poison. He was the lead guitarist of GNR from 1985 to 1996, then played with several other projects including Velvet Revolver until rejoining GNR in 2016.



Slash is the owner of over 100 guitars worth about $1.92 million, but he calls the Gibson Les Paul “the best all-around guitar for me”. In the studio, he uses a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard replica. He has collaborated with Gibson on 17 signature Les Paul guitars, including the Epiphone Slash “AFD” Les Paul Special-II.


Slash has cited Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Keith Richards, and Jeff Beck as some of his biggest guitar inspirations. He often utilizes harmonic minor, pentatonic and full scales in his playing, and favors open chord progressions along with picking, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, so even his “rhythm” parts have melody to them.


After you’ve mastered Slash’s signature style with the player study course, check out these Guns ‘N Roses songs that are available on the Fret Zealot app.

Sweet Child O’Mine

This 1988 song was Guns ‘N Roses’ third single off of Appetite For Destruction, and was their only number-one hit in the U.S. The song was born when Slash began playing a “circus” melody during a band jam session, and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin asked him to play it again.

Welcome to the Jungle

Slash describes “Welcome to the Jungle” as one of the first songs the band fully collaborated on from 1985 to 1986 while they were finding their sound. He says the song was written in about three hours.