Songwriting: Piano vs. Guitar

Which is Best for Composition: Piano or Guitar?

Although pianos have traditionally been used for songwriting, many musicians have used guitars for their compositions. Some use both, but typically one primary instrument is used. So which method is best for you? In this article, we will discuss the differences and similarities of the two methods and the advantages of each one.

The Similarities

Music is constructed the same no matter what instrument you use. If you purchase or download sheet music, it is likely going to be exactly the same for both types, unless it contains guitar tablature. Traditionally, you will see the complete melody and the bass line in notation with the chords listed along the top, generally including the most basic guitar fretting for each chord.

In the same way, you compose with the same notes regardless of the instrument being used. In fact, typically you will use the same composition method with either instrument. (There are many different ways to compose a song: starting with melody, a chord progression, or just a rhythm in your head. There is no right way or wrong way, just YOUR way.)

The Differences

The primary difference between the two instruments is their actual construction. A guitar (especially an acoustic one) is simply much more portable and readily accessible. On the other hand, piano is typically much easier for notation and has a classic sound. Pianos are better for more complex composing, while guitar is characteristically better for building a song from chords. (These are generalizations, however. Advanced guitarists can whip up quite a complex composition, and many pianists begin their compositions with chords rather than individual notes.)

Which One Should You Choose?

If you are already playing one of these instruments, it makes sense for you to compose using that instrument. The more advanced you are in your playing the easier it will be for you to compose songs that fit your main genre and playing style.

If you are a beginning musician, try going back and forth between both instruments. You may find you prefer one over the other. In that case, by all means learn to compose on that instrument. If you like both, and intend to play both, there is nothing saying you can’t use both methods.

When Should You Switch?

Sometimes it is best to switch from one instrument to another for composing, particularly if you are proficient at both. When should you do this? There are a few scenarios where it makes sense to switch over.

If you are composing a song, you may feel the need to work out a passage in your head but can’t seem to find it on your instrument. Switch to the other instrument, and see if it can spark the solution. Likewise, if you simply find yourself in a creative rut, changing from piano to guitar (or vice versa) may pull you out of it.

As you can see, there are no hard fast rules for which instrument to use for composition. The important thing is that you follow your inspiration.