If You’ve Got Good Songwriting Instincts, Why Study Songwriting?

Talent is fine, but if you’re not actively honing that talent, you may be missing your full potential.


Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle, and solve your songwriting problems TODAY.

Student of MusicI’ve spent a good deal of my career teaching music, both in grade school and university. A good deal of my time, particularly at the end and then the beginning of a school year, has been spent listening to students perform auditions. The ones at the end of a year (March-April) are usually entrance auditions, used to determine if someone can be accepted to our program, while ones at the start of a year (September) are used to determine a performer’s suitability for the various ensembles offered as part of the curriculum.

For me, the March-April auditions have always been the most interesting because I’ve had the opportunity to hear some wonderful new talent, some great young people that I’ve never met or heard before. There is always been somebody that has amazed me with their flair and ability, and it’s exciting.

In those entrance auditions, faculty are usually trying to determine two things, one of them rather easy to gauge, the other not so much. First, they try to measure basic performance ability, and that’s an easy task. The second task is to determine teachability, and that’s a tough one.

Some students play extremely well, but they go mainly on musical instinct. With those students, it’s discovered, usually by asking them to alter their playing style and play something in a different way, that they are unable to alter how they perform. The panel then has to make a quick determination as to whether the student is teachable. Usually it’s a tough call.

Why am I telling you all this? In my research for the daily articles I write on this blog, I surf the internet looking for what songwriters are saying about what they do. It’s at times alarming the number of musicians who think that because they have some basic songwriting instincts, they don’t really need to study the topic.

What they’re saying is that there are two kinds of songwriters: 1- the natural writers, ones who have no need to supplement their abilities with study; and 2- the less-talented writers, ones who need the help and improvement that analysis and study offer.

I’m simplifying this a bit; in fact, I think most songwriters would say that they do, in a sense, study music every time they listen to something. But I am suggesting that all songwriters would improve their abilities if, in addition to their daily listening, they learned to study, analyze, critique and dissect music in a more structured way.

What does this kind of song study do for you? If you’ve got good songwriting instincts, why is there a need to study it?

Critiquing and analyzing is not simply giving an opinion on whether or not you like a song. To properly critique and analyze means developing the ability to dig into music in an objective way so that you can learn from it. It means learning the many ways that music is structured, and then applying that knowledge to your own music.

That “objective” part is very important. We all have a natural tendency to listen to the music that we love, and we usually ignore the music that just doesn’t appeal to us personally. But that’s a shame, because there are many songs from many genres that have so much to teach us.

If you are a songwriter, it’s worth the time to study the topic. I’ve written “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” ebook bundle specifically for that purpose, but there are many great texts out there waiting for you.

Your day should include a good deal of listening, but if you’ve never studied songwriting as a topic, you may be missing your true potential.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
Follow Gary on Twitter Purchase “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book bundle

PURCHASE and DOWNLOAD the e-books for  your laptop/desktop


Posted in Music Education and tagged , , , , , , , , .


  1. Ever since I discovered your blog, I have wondered to myself this very question – whether such a close examination of music is necessary for writing hit music (or any music) and whether the pros sit around a conference table breaking down hit songs to a science or if they simply rely on instinct, getting into a groove and/or just seeing what comes out. In fact,

    I’ve even wondered if having such a structured view and understanding of the craft can actually be detrimental to the creative process and that perhaps, to write a hit, it is better not to think so deeply at all but rather just go with instinct. I think that is an extreme and obviously it’s important to have somewhat of an understanding about what makes a hit work, (some of which a musical individual would pick up just form listening).

    Either way, I enjoy your blog immensely and love your view of hit music.


    • Hi Jacob. Some good points. Regarding whether or not “a structured view” can be detrimental to the creative process, I would say a firm no to that. The composers who study the most have historically been classical composers, and it would be rather strange to say that Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms would have been much more creative if only they hadn’t studied the structure of music to the degree they did. As you say, instinct counts for a lot, but instinct alone will not often allow for greatness. Having said that, we know that there are songwriters out there who write masterpieces who have little or no training in music.

      Regarding the writers of hit songs, (and I don’t mean to sound evasive on the issue) there are hit songs, and there are hit songs. A good number of hit songs are crafted together by producers, people who know what sells, and they know how to repackage the last great song they heard into something that basically does the same thing. But there are others for whom the writing process is a mixture of creative process and musical knowledge — the bringing together of art and craft. I would put recent writers like Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Imogen Heap, and past writers like Dolly Parton, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and others in that category.

      The degree to which those writers go purely on instinct, or use some analytical skills to write their music is probably different for each writer. But I think I am fairly certain in saying that musical analysis never stunts creativity. Music analysis is never meant to instruct songwriters as to how to write music, but to allow songwriters to understand why something works. How they use that knowledge is part of the creative process.

      Thanks for writing, Jacob.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.