Yes, You Can Learn a Lot by Studying BAD Songs

by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:

Years ago, when I was studying at university to become a music teacher, it was a requirement to visit many different schools and observe the teachers of music programs in action. I kept a journal of those visits so that I could read about my observations later. And it occurred to me at a certain point that I was learning as much about teaching by observing the bad teachers as I was by watching the good ones. It was very helpful to know what *didn’t* work, and to have that proven to me right before my eyes.

Similarly, you can learn from bad music, and even the world’s best songwriters will write bad songs from time to time. And I know that you have written bad songs occasionally, because everyone writes a dud once in a while. Even the best batters with the highest average will strike out once in a while. But here’s the point: if you aren’t learning from those mistakes, you’re missing a great opportunity to improve your songwriting skills.

Once you’ve been looking at songs for a while, you’ll come up with certain basic errors of songwriting that seem to occur more than others. My website and blog have been focusing on those errors. Over the years, I’ve been able to pinpoint seven basic errors, and here they are:

1) The form of the song is confusing; (verse/chorus/bridge sections need melodic shpes, lyrics, chords, etc. that define them.)
2) The melody lacks shape; (melody moves up and down with no regard for lyric, emotion, etc.)
3) The chords seem to wander aimlessly; (chord progressions are like a walk: they need to show direction.)
4) Strong and fragile chord progressions are used haphazardly; (verses usually use primarily fragile progressions, while choruses often use strong ones.)
5) Lyrics are not supporting the form of the song; (and in general, lyrics just seem to be cluttered, too wordy, or too poetic to be “real”)
6) You’re relying on a hook to save a bad song; (hooks make songs memorable, but won’t correct basic errors.)
7) Waiting for inspiration; (this error shows up in songs with strong openings but weak endings… they seem to fizzle. Write even if you don’t feel inspired – it allows you to hone your songwriting craft.)

Don’t throw out your bad songs. Keep them so that you can study them, and use the lessons learned to improve your next song. Don’t let anyone fool you into believing that good songwriters never write a dud. They do. But the best songwriters will learn from mistakes.

FOR A LIMITED TIME: Gary’s newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books. Read more..

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One Comment

  1. I keep a binder with damn near everything I’ve written, and whew, I can attest that sometimes there are real stinkers. Especially the early ones. Every once in awhile, I’ll review old songs. Having not played them for years, you get a fresh perspective. Often I find there is something redeemable in the song, it was just badly executed. There was a reason I though it good at one time. I find it worthwhile to rework old songs. Cut all the things that weren’t working (bad lyrics, weak verses, etc), keeping the good things to act as a seed for new material.

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