Non-musicians can be forgiven if they think that composing music is kind of magical. That it just sort of happens. But what shocks me is the number of songwriters who take that approach to writing music. In case you need this point hammered home, here it is: If you aren’t practicing your songwriting craft, you’re probably only 10% the songwriter you could be. If you’re only writing when you feel inspired, you’re wasting a lot of time, and you’re probably not even half the musician you could be.
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Songwriting isn’t a hit-or-miss activity. We need to take a lesson from Classical composers on this point. The famous composers of our world – the Bachs, Mozarts, and Beethovens of music history – devoted enormous amounts of time to studying the craft of musical composition. And they did it by studying the music of others.
And as they studied, they became inspired. They used that inspiration as a starting point for writing their own music. Behind every piece they composed was years and years of examining the music of earlier composers whose music they loved and admired. It was those years of study, more so than inspiration, that led to finished compositions.
You need to be studying the music of songwriters that you respect. Find out what it is that you love about it, and let the ideas permeate your own musical compositions.
Don’t worry that this will lead to plagiarism. The likelihood that you’ll unintentionally steal musical fragments for your own songs is actually quite low, particularly if you study the music of many songwriters.
If you find that you only seem to be able to write when you feel inspired to do so, I can almost guarantee that you’ve got a ton of songs sitting around in a half-written stage. Inspiration will only take you so far. You need to learn from others.
So here are four quick ideas that will help improve the odds that the next song you start will lead to a finished song:
- Devote at least an hour every week to listening to the music of great songwriters. Make notes. Focus on each element of the songs you choose. Ask yourself what it is about that melody, or that lyric, that you like. Don’t just think about it: write your answers down, and read your thoughts later.
- Schedule at least one day every week to doing songwriting exercises. On this day, don’t worry about trying to compose a song. Simply give yourself some short exercises designed to improve specific abilities. (The9-lesson course that I provide as part of my songwriting 6 e-book bundle will give you some ideas.)
- Draw a map of your song as a starting point. This can be a timeline that shows the form you’ve chosen (intro… verse… chorus, etc), or write out in words how you want your song to proceed. That’s not to say that you can’t change your plan as you work, but having this sort of diagram in place as you work can focus your musical mind.
- Devote at least an hour every week to listening to a musical genre you don’t normally enjoy. This will probably take some online research, because if you’ve never gotten into country music, for example, it may not be easy to determine who the great songwriters are. Be sure to write your observations down. You’re going to surprise yourself when you realize that you can have great admiration for musicians who compose in a style you’d never consider.