How to Record Better Worktapes When You’re Not an Amazing Guitar Player


Sarah Spencer

Feel like your worktapes are lacking some pizzazz because you're not a virtuoso guitarist? Here are some quick & easy ways to add sonic interest to your worktapes! |

Let’s face it, we’re not all Lindsay Ell. If you’re like me, my worktapes sound like someone beating the strings of a poor, pitiful guitar with 4 hotdogs and 1 steak knife. That “steak knife” quality is usually due to one fingernail that hasn’t managed to break yet due to the shear, brute force of my manic strumming.

Nope, I ain’t a great player.

But a worktape isn’t about great playing. It’s simply about getting the idea across. All your worktape needs to do is showcase the song – the lyrics should be clear, the melody apparent, and the chords perceivable. Worktapes are for you to keep track of your songs. They’re also for sharing with other people when you need feedback or are sharing your latest piece.

So even though worktapes don’t need to sound like a million bucks, you kind of want them to sound at least decent, right?

Here are some quick ways to put interest in your worktapes that not only help the listenability, but help communicate your song better:

First: Tune your instrument

Essential! When strings are all out of wack, it makes a perfectly good song sound like an indecipherable soup of notes. If you don’t do anything else, tune your instrument!

For a fuller, bigger sound, strum over the sound hole

This is the kind of strumming you think of when you think of strumming. Big, wide, open, and vibrant. It’s great for choruses and sections of your songs that need some umph. Move your pick (or your last remaining fingernails) in big, open strums directly over the sound hole of your guitar. Using a pick usually gets a bit more sound from your strings, while fingernails tend to sound a little mellower.

Palm mute the verses

This is my go to for verse sections. Palm muting is a super easy way to bring down the loudness and intensity of a verse section. Couple this with open strumming in a chorus, and you immediately have great dynamics in your worktapes. When palm muting, strum closer to the bridge of the guitar, while keeping the palm of your hand gently on the top of the strings. This should mute the sound a little, creating a nice, dark, muffled chug that’s wonderful to sing over.

Learn some color chords

Color chords are fancier versions of the chords you already wrote your song with. Sprinkle them throughout the whole song, or save them for special sections like choruses or a bridge. Essentially, color chords involve adding in an additional note or two to a chord to make it a bit more vibrant. For example, if you use G a whole lot in your song, consider surprising the ear with a Gadd9. Trust me, once you start learning color chords, you’ll be hooked. It’s so inspiring, and a quick way to liven up your worktapes and new songs.

Check out this awesome video tutorial to learn a few color chords. 

Do a little fingerpicking

There’s something very intimate and beautiful about fingerpicking. You can pick a whole song this way (ballads sound gorgeous when fingerpicked), or simply pick the verses while your strum your choruses. This is again a great way to add contrast between the different sections of your song. If you’ve never tried it before, learn a simple pattern and play it over and over again until it becomes second nature. Fingerpicking is a great tool to be able to use when writing songs and recording worktapes.

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Sarah Spencer

Sarah Spencer is an award winning singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN.

Born in the Sunshine State, Sarah Spencer writes vibrant, shining americana/pop music. She works in Nashville TN as a singer/songwriter, as well as a UX designer for a marketing firm.

Follow Sarah on Spotify to get her latest releases.

You can jump on her email list at or purchase her debut EP, "Freshman Year" on iTunes.