Do Write Songs On Your Cigar Box Guitar?

Do you write entire songs on your cigar box guitar?

Listen to the spoken version of this blog post here.

Do you write songs to be played with a slide or fingered notes (or both)?

Do you write lyrics?

Do you write multiple parts for the song or one simple three-chord progression throughout?

Most importantly, do you write entire songs on your CBG?

I don't.

Once in a while, I'm inspired to write a little riff that's fun to play.

Kind of like the one in this video...


The riffs I write have a few notes strung together with a beginning and an end, but that's about it.

But writing a song?

Forget about it.

Songwriting is Intimidating

The whole idea of

  • thinking up a story
  • writing lyrics for the story
  • creating a chord progression and melody that fit the story
  • and piecing it all together for an entire song

is bananas to me.

Bananas because of how complicated it all seems.

Plus, as someone who doesn't sing but in the most private moments, the thought of performing a song with vocals for anyone else is terrifying.

And all I really want to do is have fun.

Playing Should Be Fun

Sure, it'd be awful nice if I played like so many of the guys and gals with videos here on the Nation and beyond.

You know the folk (perhaps you're one of them): despite whatever hangups they may have once had, these performers have worked hard to improve their playing, their songwriting, and their singing.

Some of them write their own songs, too.

Since the rest of us enjoy their songwriting, hopefully, the performers enjoy sharing their work. 

Every day, new videos featuring all sorts of players with varying tastes and styles are uploaded to numerous internet platforms. 

While I love seeing what other people are capable of doing -- creating and sharing their own art, even if it's a song they haven't written -- part of me watches the performances with envy.

Envy, as you know, is a slippery slope.

Once on it, tumbling to the bottom where I'm not enjoying the guitars I've built is pretty quick.

For the most part, those performers I envy seem to be having fun.

And isn't that the point? 

Define Fun for Yourself

I mean, isn't the reason why the majority of us cigar box guitar builders and players do what we do is because it's fun?

So, while I sometimes enviously watch a CBG performer, I try not to turn his or her enjoyment into expectations of how I should enjoy playing my cigar box guitar. 

Perhaps my version of fun is exactly what I need:

little riffs, here and there;

little bits of music created as an expression of whatever I felt in a particular moment. 

There's nothing deep about this subject, just an honest admission that perhaps writing entire songs isn't what I need to have fun.

Perhaps all I need is a little riff.

Just a little something to enjoy the guitar I've built.

What about you? 

Do you write entire songs on your cigar box guitar?

Last thing --

here's tablature for the riff played in the above video

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Comment by Uncle John on March 5, 2019 at 9:24am

Good eye deer, Doughboy!  Neatness counts.

Comment by Blind Doughboy on March 5, 2019 at 8:30am

I don't write entire songs on my cigar box guitar.

But, I do write them on a sheet of paper.

Comment by Donkey on March 4, 2019 at 7:37am

Uncle John,

I don't think there's a more succinct way to describe songwriting than what you shared here. Thank you! I've admired your video performances here on the Nation, especially your original tunes, so I'm grateful you took the time to lend your experience and advice here. 

Don Craig,

I think your formula holds up well. Personally, I may find success in writing about going back to bed after I lost my lady, truck, dog, and drink...

Comment by Don Craig on February 26, 2019 at 10:50am

I think a good blues song should start off with "I woke up this morning..." and then add references to dog, truck, woman, whiskey, etc.

I woke up this mornin'

Ain't got no luck

My dog took my whiskey

My woman and my truck

Comment by Uncle John on February 26, 2019 at 9:31am

Yes, I do.  Usually a simple blues formula.

Song writing Lesson.
Recipe for an easy blues song.

3 lines per verse.  First and second lines are the same words.

The third line ends in a word that is a rhyme or near rhyme for the last word in the first lines.

The third line resolves or answers or somehow completes what was said in the previous 2 lines.

The first line is often about 12 syllables give or take a few syllables. The third line is about the same.

Classic example from John Lee Hooker

The chord structure shown can be used for many songs/
Here, I is a G, IV is a C and V is a D.

I read your (I) add this morning,
you said you want a real good man.

I read your (IV) add this morning,
you said you want a real good (I) man.

Now I’m (V)here for you honey and (IV) I wanna
know your (I) plan. (V)

Comment by the anonymous pick on February 19, 2019 at 4:37pm

Cheers Donkey , it's posts like yours that  allow  this stuff to  come out . or even self realize   ;-)

Comment by Donkey on February 19, 2019 at 7:42am

Don Craig,

Thank you for reading this post and the comments, and especially for responding with your own thoughts.

I appreciate what you mentioned about having to think outside of the box built around you in your school years.

That idea, I think, fairly represents what most of us in the cigar box guitar community are doing: thinking outside the box (no pun intended).

Contrary to the impoverished people who built their own musical instruments out of necessity, most of us contemporary builders do so out of DIY leisure, or at least that was likely the impetus for most of us starting to build. 

And it's thinking outside the box that, in part, is what makes building such a challenging, and therefore fun and satisfying, endeavor. 

Good on you for writing your own riffs, itself a challenging thing. And if you do record yourself, I hope to hear it hear on the Nation, Don.

the anonymous pick

I love what you shared here and can't even begin to unpack all the awesomeness contained therein. 

But I can say this -- I agree wholeheartedly with your perspective on community and what it can mean to anyone willing to engage with, learn from, and teach to other members.

Although I've popped in and out of this particular website-community over the past few years, it remains the one that is clearly head-and-shoulders above all other online communities for education, support, encouragement, and inspiration.

It really is a special place, virtual or otherwise.

About the other point you made -- with the number of hats many of us wear -- I simply hadn't thought about that before now, and really dig your thoughts on it.

Especially for those who are as involved in building as some here, who perhaps even rely on income from building, playing, and/or teaching, the number of roles an individual takes on really is impressive.

I, for one, relish the opportunities to try on different hats, albeit as someone whose livelihood isn't dependent on a solo entrepreneurial effort. 

For those who must spin numerous plates in order to make a living, I have the deepest respect. 

Thanks for your insight, pick. Yours are thoughts that are always good to read.

Comment by the anonymous pick on February 18, 2019 at 12:58pm

Responses here  indicate another  good  reason and use of the " community " here. Some folks  play .. and don't sing , some sing  but can't play at the same time , some write and don't play ,  some play and don't  write.. etc etc .. Get together  with others that  do what you don't , and  colab  a masterpiece  from combined efforts . ,  Heck . it's the true essence of a "band ".  We can't all be expected to be one man bands . or every riff to sound like a full backed guitar solo.  ;-)

We wear enough hats as builders .  we  also  have to be , shipper/ receivers , artists , makers , wood workers , luithers , hobbyists , painters ,  recording artists , marketers , bloggers, email secretaries , product quality control inspectors , photographers , videoagraphers, video producers , / editors,    public relation reps , etc .. etc .. and that's just building and selling ,  ;-) It would be hard to fit  "one man rock star" in there too ;-)

Comment by Don Craig on February 18, 2019 at 10:00am

Great thread, a little late but I'd like to chip in.  Donkey, your post shows you have an ability to write and so does everybody else who responded.  Same goes for discovering riffs and remembering them the next day, done that.  I find I have to get my head out of the box they built around me in school.  I remember that some well known tunes are extremely simple or even nonsensical - "I wanna hold your hand..."   "You got to move"  "3,6,9, the goose drank wine..."  Beethoven's Fifth seems to me to be a simple riff turned every way but loose.  I've worked out a few riffs, wrote words for them, likewise wrote words for songs when I can't remember all the original lyrics, none of them bear repeating in polite company.  But it gets me out of the box and keeps my creativity going.  I haven't tried recording yet, but thought about it.  Anyway, keep at it, don't be intimidated by writing something long, write something short.  Cheers.

Comment by Donkey on February 17, 2019 at 4:16pm

Hello, Dennis.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject. Like you, I may conjure a short riff for an instrumental song (again, it's best if I don't sing) but, unfortunately, I may forget it. And I'm not in the camp that thinks the riff couldn't have been that good to begin with if I can't remember it. I'm just forgetful as the days go on. And I too, after years of noodling with a six-string guitar, am having a blast playing the simple CBGs I build.

ILL GREEN,

I really dig your perspective. I reckon I need to put a little more time into experimenting, just to push the boundaries of what could be fun. And no matter what, after pressing record, I too will blame the guitar any time I can't get through a simple riff I've played a hundred times, otherwise. It's some sort of strange black magic that trips me up.

Thanks to both of you gentlemen for joining this conversation!

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