• The Imaginative Guitarist

Compose Your Own Tunes

Compose Your Own Tunes

Why compose your own tunes for contemporary guitar when there are so many beautifully written jazz standards out there already? No reason, it’s just a nice idea.

Actually it’s important to contribute to the progress of the musical instrument that is the guitar. And one of the ways to do this is to write contemporary progressions on this musical vehicle of enjoyable sound-making potential.

Where to start? The two-chord vamp is a good place to start, just two chords that sound good together. Like in A Dorian mode, you could play A min7 to D9 and back again. After a while, this starts to get a bit lacklustre, even though it’s heaps fun to improvise over. Mega-solo!

So the next option is a four-bar chord progression. With three or four chords in it. Starting chord, next chord, play the starting chord again and then play a different chord for the fourth bar.

And yet again, there is a sense of needing to change to something else. Chord progressions and song compositions deal with this in different ways.

An interesting way of writing a chord progression is using 8 bars. Play the first two chords for bars 1 and 2, 5 and 6.

This sets up a harmonic “call-and-response” musical scenario and provides a type of interest that is slightly different. Actually it’s quite similar to the four-bar compositional idea, only just a bit more interesting and requires memorising a few more chord maps. Quite achievable though for the genuinely motivated guitarist, especially if they write the chord progression. Although it is easy to forget in the moment, so, if necessary, download some chord map templates from and use those to quickly document your work. Or use your phone or laptop to make a 90 second video, to then re-watch and transcribe, as it were, your cool idea to a chord chart with the accompanying maps. So you may revisit the musical space you found another time, with a confident sense of navigation.

Let’s look at a potentially cool example of what I am talking about here. I just wrote this tonight, and so shall call it Saturday Evening Jazz.

| A min11 | G11 | C Maj9 | B min11b5 |

| A min11 | G11 | F maj7 | E min7b5 |

Every chord progression is a potential learning experience and conversation starter. The main point here is that I use A min11 and G11 to make a musical statement. If the chord progression were a structure, bars 1 and 3, 5 and 6 would be the walls and the roof.

The other chords provide the interest, the interior decoration and the furniture choices. They are responses to the structure of the walls and the roof. They complement, they contrast, they move outside and inside. Those two A min11 and G11 chords though, they provide the stability of the progression, providing the potential of the chord progression having a sense of logic and character.

Musical logic and character is often bound up with the concept of call-and-response. Although musical call-and-response is usually about melody, I believe it is valuable to think this way about chord progressions also.

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