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