I´ve been playing Guitar for over 16 years now and I always find it hard to write songs, I have an idea and think “ oh, this is actually a great piece of music” but as soon as I grab my guitar and actually try to transform that idea into something real, it gets hard… I get some kind of writers block and it takes a lot of time to get it flowing.
The reason I´m writing this is because I assume that many of you have a similar issue, otherwise you wouldn’t be searching for this on Google.
I have found a Couple of Programs and also Plugins that you can use to at least alleviate the whole process. To create interesting chord progressions, sounds, edit the whole song easily while changing the tempo, key, etc.
ACID Pro 8
One of the first programs I ever used was ACID Pro 7, which I absolutely love! It has its flaws, yes, but I find it great for writing music.
Of all the Programs / Plugins on this list, this one is my absolute favorite.
ACID Pro 8 came out recently and has a couple improvements on the earlier version but not really that many, you can still use the ACID Pro 7 just fine, I would recommend any of them.
What do I find so great about this program? Well apart from being just as good of a mixing software as any of them are, what really stands out to me on ACID Pro is the ability to completely change the whole song in a matter of seconds.
You can do Key changes, Tempo Changes, lay down a cool Drum track, move everything around really easily, which when you are trying to write a song, is really useful. Plus you don’t even need to mix the song on any other software (although I prefer Cubase for that, since I´m already used to it), since you can mix everything perfectly in ACID Pro.
The stock VSTi Instruments are a lot and of great quality! I have to say I really like how they sound, you can actually create great sounding songs with them, although I mostly use them as a creative tool.
You can buy the full program for $149 or you can pay a subscription, 3 Months for $9.99 a month or 12 months for $7.99 a month.
Official Website: Here
Cthulhu is a Chord and arpeggiation plugin where you can create really nice chord progressions fast with single note-playing.
You choose a preset and it analyzes which chords you can play, you hit a note and it will play the full chord, making it sound harmonious.
When trying to write songs, we usually fall into the same patterns and play the same progressions or chord inversions, etc. with Cthulhu you can choose different presets and simply press a note and it will play a chord that is right for the key you are in.
Basically the point of using this Plugin is that it allows you to play around with chords / progressions that you may not be familiar with, which makes the whole writing process a lot easier and also quicker, allowing you to get inspired more easily, focusing more on the emotion aspect of it and not so much on music theory.
Apart from having a huge library of chords, you can also record your own chords in it, so you can play around with your own ideas.
It also has the Arpeggiation function, which will play single notes of the chord in a pattern that you can chose, like an arpeggio. For instance starting on the lowest note and ending up on the highest note (when it runs out of notes, it starts back on the first one). You can choose whichever pattern you like, sequence them super fast and in no time you have the basic structure of a song. This of course is just a jumping off point! But it helps quite a lot!
Additionally you can get the ADSR bundle which comes with over 140 chord presets and 50 arpeggiation presets which are quite good, since the presets that come with Cthulhu have names like BachChorale_001 and so on, which can be a bit confusing. With the ADSR Presets, you can see the key that the preset is in, which makes it easier to use.
This Plugin is great, really fun and easy to use, the only down side is that it´s not free (It costs $39), and the ADSR bundle also costs a bit of money ($24).
Get Cthulhu: Here
The next one on the list is Captain Chords 2.0
Just like Cthulhu, Captain Chords 2.0 is a Chord generator Plugin. You select the key and then you simply play notes on your keyboard (can also be used with regular PC keyboards, where each key will represent a different note) and it will play the appropriate chord for that tonality. A nice feature is that you can play chords on your MIDI keyboard and Captain Chords will add them to your progression.
If you don´t like using the keyboard, you have the option to add the chords by clicking on the top of the screen. You can also increase the “complexity” of the chord, which simply means adding more notes or intervals to it to make it sound different, being able to change the flavor, the inversion types, etc.
Once you have your chords set up, you can add rhythms and then drag the chords around to change on which beat they actually start playing. Also you will be able to add a melody and a bass line.
From an interface point of view, I have to say that I prefer Captain Chords over Cthulhu. It looks a bit nicer, cleaner and more intuitive.
One BIG drawback this program has is that you always need to be online to be able to use it.
Just like Cthulhu, this Plugin isn´t free, it costs $79.
When you buy it you get Captain Chords 2.0, Captain Deep and Captain Play 2.0 which combined, end up giving you the final product that I described above.
Get Captain Chords: Here
Next one is Helio Workstation
Helio Workstation is a lightweight, minimalistic music sequencer.
How it works is, you can create custom midi sequences that you compose and then you can play them through a VST. What makes this program better than all the midi writing tools that we get in recording software like Cubase, Protools, etc. Is the ability to create full chords, you don´t need to click on all specific notes of the chord. Then, like with all MIDI writing tools, you can a add melody to those chords.
It´s a standalone program, not a plugin, but you can export the midi file you created and import it into any recording software.
At first I found it a bit complicated to use, but once you get the hang of it, it´s pretty nice!
The best thing about Helio Workstation is that is completely FREE.
Other Helpful Plugins
There are a couple more Plugins you can use, mainly to make everything sound better which also helps when writing, but isn´t really necessary. Let´s say you wrote a melody within a chord progression and you think it could become something, but it doesn´t really sound that great, you could play it through other Virtual Instruments, instead of a piano sound you could make it sound like a Clarinet, Trumpet, Guitar, etc.
You can Use Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra for that, which is a FREE Orchestra sound library and is capable of producing impressive sounding compositions. One problem is that it comes in .sfz format, so you need to download the Sforzando VST, by Plogue (also FREE), which will allow you to use the Orchestra sound Library on any DAW, but other than that, it´s great!
Here is the Download Link for Sonatina.
Yes the website looks a bit sketchy but it works just fine!
And here is the Sforzando Download Link.
If you don´t want to change your whole Guitar setup to try different sounds and see how they work in that new song you are writing, maybe you want something like Guitar Rig.
This is actually the first VST i ever tried, i didn´t even have an external audio interface… i got a Plug to Mini – Plug adapter and connected it to the 3.5mm line-in jack on the back of my PC.
It works as an Amp Simulator. You can Switch between many Amps, Cabinets, Pedals and you can edit everything on each part you choose.
I would use it to record over backing tracks, or to record my ideas onto Cubase. It will never sound like a good Guitar+Amp Setup but it´s not really intended for professional recording, it´s just a tool to try out different sounds on your songs. It can also be used as a Standalone Program, which always comes in handy.
The biggest downside to Guitar Rig is it´s Price, it´s about $200, unless you own a previous version, then you can upgrade to the latest one for $69. BUT I have some great news, they have a Stripped down version, with less effects but this one is free! and it sounds just as great!! It´s called Guitar Rig 5 Player.
If you want to check Guitar Rig 5 out, Click Here.
And here´s the link to Guitar Rig 5 Player, which is it’s free version: Click Here.
Personally I love ACID, it´s my favorite one on this list and I use it either to write songs or just to have some fun creating weird music.
If you ask me, I would get ACID and Helio Workstation, since it´s free, plus Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra. Of course if you are a guitar player like me, download the free version of Guitar Rig also. Cthulhu and Captain Chords are better than Helio for writing songs for sure, but it all comes down to your budget. Try Helio and if you don´t like it maybe try those other two!
I hope this was useful! Have a great day!