Songwriting Shouldn’t Be Hit-or-Miss: Improve Your Odds!

Music ListenerNon-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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[Continued from above..]
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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Posted in songwriting and tagged , , , , .


  1. I will definitely spend more time on this. Could you give some examples of decriptors I might use when trying to explain why I like the melody/lyrics, etc. I seem to be stuck on yes I like it, but I can’t explain why. I am not formally trained in music or composition, but am trying to learn more and commit more time to songwriting. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Scott:

      I find that people are either melody-focused or lyric-focused, even though most people haven’t really thought about it that way. So in my opinion, people might appreciate a good melody first, and then be wanting lyrics that support that good melody; or they appreciate a good lyric first, and then be wanting a melody that supports those lyrics.

      For me, I definitely appreciate a good lyric first and foremost, and so I look for qualities in a melody that make that lyric come alive. It’s what I’ve described in this lesson.

      When you say that you’re looking for descriptors, I think what you’re really looking for are qualities of melody and lyrics that work well together. That page should help as a starting point. The other thing you might do is to listen to a great song, one that you really enjoy, and try to come up with words that describe the melody and lyric. It may take a while, because it’s hard to get beyond the “I really like that” stage. But if you spend time, even with a pen and paper to write down specific qualities of melody and lyric that you like, the words will come.


  2. i like the idea of blueprinting your song out or even your process for that matter. A consistent thing i have noticed of why i have so many half finished songs is I’ll either have a verse or a chorus and ill go to write the counterpart and i fail. It’s not that i can’t do it, I can it’s just not what i want to hear. Particularly melody wise. I can’t seem to find any helpful dives into the process of making melody alone. I did read some where to say the phrase in a talking manner until you get a rhythmic motif , then apply contrasting pitch, which is very helpful but what if a song is in it’s early stages? utttering syllables sometimes is helpful. The main thing is i want to enjoy my verse melody as much as i do the chorus melody. So, i spend lots of time listening to songs i admire thats verses and chorus both are very pleasing to me and try to dissect to see why. i can’t put my finger on it. Any melody tips? I also understand that there should be contrast amongst the verse and chorus but i don’t believe that one has to be necessarily “more catchy” or pleasing than the other., even if the chorus is the repetetive pay off. a few bands i have studied are morning benders, band of horses, annuals, mgmt, and bright eyes new album the peoples key. any advice?

  3. This blog post is quite important. The more I know about songwriting the more I’m sure that daily practising makes you a better songwriter. A much better songwriter.

  4. Pingback: Songwriting Link of the Day June 7, 2011 | Creative Music

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