A Songwriting Tip from Pete Seeger (via Woody Guthrie)

Explore what Pete Seeger, citing Woody Guthrie, called "the genius of simplicity."

Posted by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Excerpted from Songwriting Basics for Guitarists


Since Acoustic Guitar’s debut in 1990, I’ve had the privilege of talking with scores of songwriters—luminaries like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Elvis Costello as well as younger generation talent like Jakob Dylan, Erin McKeown, and Jason Mraz—about the role their guitars play in the writing process. And though each artist’s process is as individual and idiosyncratic as their songs, there have been recurring themes in these conversations about how to use (and, sometimes, not use) the guitar to discover and develop new song ideas.

Here’s a tip from 21 Songwriting Tips from the Masters:


It’s tempting to show off your chops and use the trickiest moves and voicings you know on the guitar. But what feeds the guitarist’s ego isn’t necessarily what listeners are seeking in a song; a simple melody, a good beat, and emotional clarity tend to connect much more directly and powerfully than clever or fancy accompaniment. This is what Pete Seeger, citing Woody Guthrie, called “the genius of simplicity,” and it’s a quality of traditional music that’s been passed along for generations.

Jakob Dylan talked about occasionally coming across “melodies that seem like they’ve been around forever but you can’t place them.” When this happens, don’t second-guess yourself and feel you need to be more complicated—get out of the way and let simplicity speak.

For 20 more tips, download Songwriting Basics for Guitarists.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, founding editor of Acoustic Guitar, is a grand prize winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter, Beyond Strumming, and other books and videos for musicians. In addition to his ongoing work with AG, he offers live workshops for guitarists and songwriters, plus video lessons, song charts, and tab, on Patreon.

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