Practice Makes Perfect, But Be Very Careful

Are you practicing your art, or only reinforcing your errors?


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Guitar duoOne of my pet peeves in life is people who put too much value in an expression simply because it rhymes well or sounds catchy. The cleverness of the way something is said appears to add power to the meaning of the expression. Anyone who uses Facebook is probably familiar with this syndrome: points of view that gain profundity simply because the words rhyme, or because the expression drips with irony or sarcasm. (“‘I love Facebook for this reason”… said no one, ever’).

The assertion “practice makes perfect” is one you hear a lot in the music world. It seems to make sense. There’s no shortcut to becoming better except to do something over and over again. And the assumption is that each time you do something, you get that much closer to perfection.

But that only works if you know what’s wrong in the first place.

Simply repeating an act over and over can actually make things worse, and here’s how. If you aren’t clear on why that thing you’re doing is missing the mark, repetition can actually reinforce the errors. Before you know it, you come to the realization that the only thing that has been made perfect is your weakness.

In songwriting, if you’re trying to build an audience base and it’s not working, it may mean that you’re missing some valuable knowledge. You could be misunderstanding what it is about good music that makes it work.

Back in 2004 I began my research to write the ebook “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting.” The results of that research led me to identify eleven principles of songwriting that seemed to exist in all music regardless of genre. If you don’t know the basic principles of songwriting, then practice may not make perfect at all!

If you don’t know how energy changes over the course of a song, or how verse and chorus melodies and lyrics differ, or how chord progressions work in various song sections, or how and why hooks do their job, you may be doomed to repeat your errors for the rest of your songwriting life.

So before you practice your songwriting, in a bid to make your craft more perfect, you need to know what you’re aiming for. You need to supplement your songwriting talent with songwriting knowledge.

Many of us are taught that “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” A little bit of knowledge can actually be better than none at all, at least in songwriting, particularly if that bit of knowledge inspires you to learn more.

So by all means, practice your songwriting. Do it daily. But be careful that you’re not simply drilling mistakes into your daily routine.


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


  1. As someone who’s played competitive golf at a reasonably decent level, (Division I college golf, definitely not an All-American but a scratch player), the point that Gary makes is dead on and applies to many many areas. Seeing high-handicap golfer’s hit hundreds of balls in an effort to improve, while admirable for the effort and dedication, has long been something I’ve had to use restraint to avoid interjecting my unsolicited advice. But practicing poor technique, at least in golf, and from what Gary says here, in songwriting too, can be worse than doing nothing. The rule of thumb in golf is for every poor or fundamentally incorrect swing you make while “practicing,” it will take an equal or maybe larger amount of correct moves to unlearn what misguided “practicing,” ingrained. Practice is helpful when it’s intentional and based on, at the least, a basic grasp of fundamentals. Now i should try applying this idea to my high handicap equivalent songwriting haha.

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