You’re sitting at home, with just your voice and your guitar, writing a song. You have the lyrics and the chords down, and it feels like you have something good. You jump to record it in your phone or in your DAW, but it just doesn’t sound AT ALL what you imagined it could.
Videos by American Songwriter
It actually sounds a little boring and thin.
Instead of getting discouraged, what are your next steps? How do you make a single guitar and single voice sound great?
I get asked this a lot; technology has it so we can hear ourselves more than ever. Recording is more accessible than ever, and musicians are exploring this very useful tool.
Being a songwriter with an ability to record, is a very powerful tool but not everyone has the option to record full demos with hired musicians, or some just want their song to be as simple in instrumentation.
So to answer your question, yes, we can make it sound good, but there are a few concepts we need to explore.
When you think about it, a band brings lots of the energy and range to a song. If you don’t have that, the challenge for you is to represent those missing pieces somehow.
How do you best create those missing pieces with a single guitar? Do you need to be a virtuoso? No, it certainly helps, but all the strength for your track will come from layers.
Layers will make your track sound bigger, they will even help you potentially address the lows, mids and highs of an entire band, and highlight different sections of the song.
Within the layers, you can get really creative using different voicings, strumming patterns, sounds and techniques to fill out your track.
Voicings are a great tool and they don’t have to be complicated. Let’s say I’m in G and I’m playing a chord progression of I, vi, IV or G, E minor, and C. I’d capo up to the seventh fret. That way, I could play in G using the shapes of C, A m, F. They are different shapes giving a different vibe, so I’m filling out the chord but still using the same progression.
Next, say we’re trying to pitch to a pop country artist, that guitar needs to be tight, and be strong rhythmically. I could talk for days about this, but please just take my word for it for now, even if you aren’t going to have anything else on the track besides yourself and your voice – always track to a metronome. It will make the timing and track automatically stronger, not to mention so much easier to layer.
Finally, your recording has to be interesting dynamically. As musicians, we need to take the listener on a journey. The best way to do that is in the verse and chorus structure. It can’t be the same strumming pattern and the same peak volume in each section.
If not, your listener will easily become disengaged. Your structure needs dynamics to build- if you don’t have dynamics in a single guitar, it’s going to be very boring
When it comes to vocals, I love treating it similar to the guitar, and having doubles of the lead – for the voice it really thickens up the track.
Play around with these ideas and if you start to layer basic guitar and your vocals, and you realize you might need to use a few more things to fill it out, then at least you’ve got a good start to giving your track a strong identity.
Mike Meiers is an Emmy Award-Winning songwriter, producer, and guitar coach. Mike currently writes for indie artists, has had placements for MTV, VH1 NPR, FOX Sports, History Channel, Showtime, and Target. He’s also the founder of Songwriting For Guitar, helping songwriters enhance their guitar skills so they can write better songs and get them out into the world! If you love fun and educational podcasts with caffeinated hosts and insightful guests, visit and subscribe to the Songwriting for Guitar Podcast.