By working on technique, you can improve your songwriting instincts.
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Whenever you watch a great athlete, someone who’s really good at what they do, everything looks altogether effortless, as if they were born into the sport. As a pro, they’re usually so good that you can’t even imagine a time when they were developing their skills. The best ones look like they’ve never even had training – that it’s just something natural, a sixth sense. But underneath all that effortlessness you can be sure that there is a specialized technique that has been honed and practiced to get them to where they are now.
In songwriting, you need the appearance of effortlessness that we see in pro athletes. When songs really sound great, it’s as if the notes just come tumbling out, pre-formed and ready for the lyrics that magically appear.
We of course know that the reality is somewhat different; a good song may start with a flurry of writing activity that takes only moments to appear, but the finished product that your audience hears may take weeks or months of working and reworking.
The instincts that you have as a songwriter are crucial to your success, but instinct alone can’t solve all your problems. Good songs work well because they follow some basic songwriting principles. If a song appears in your musical brain, there’s usually something that needs fixing to get it working optimally.
That fixing succeeds (or not) in large part due to the state of your songwriting technique. If you really understand the nuts and bolts of why music works, you enhance your technique, and you’re able to get your songs sounding professional with some measure of finesse.
You then find that the lessons you learn as you fix one song actually start to enhance your songwriter’s sixth sense, and your basic songwriting skills improve.
There are several ways you can speed up your rate of improvement as a songwriter, so check out the following list and see how many you’re doing already:
- Practice analyzing songs. In short, this means listening to music and dissecting it. How do the melodies, chords and lyrics all relate to each other? How does the verse melody contrast with the chorus? Analyze the lyric, and think of the way the writer has chosen the words. Every little thing you discover becomes something that improves your own technique.
- Make songwriting a habit. Choose a regular time every day, or at least almost every day, that is your time to write. That schedule will help instil a sense of discipline that will benefit you greatly.
- Challenge yourself with songwriting activities and games. Not every single thing you write will lead to a song, and you might find that doing some simple songwriting “exercises” and games will improve your abilities to write without having the pressure of trying writing a song every time.
- Perform for others. Let other people, especially other musicians, hear what you’ve been working on, and ask for their thoughts. It’s one of the best professional-development tools available to you.
- Simply applying songwriting principles to your music almost always turns bad music into good. You’d be surprised how close a bad song is to being a good one. And sometimes you just have to fix one little thing and everything suddenly sounds great.
Everything you do that turns something bad into something good will improve your songwriter’s sixth sense. But don’t be discouraged if you find, from time to time, that your latest song seems to be taking forever to polish. That’s not a sign of problems. It’s a normal part of the songwriting challenge, and when you finally get something working it will feel immensely worthwhile.
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