From Being a Fan To Being a Student

Good songwriting students can appreciate and learn from music they don’t necessarily like

Music-songwriting studentDo you describe yourself as being a “student” of songwriting? If you do, I applaud you. To be a student of songwriting means that you’ve risen above being a fan of musicians and their music, and you actively study what makes music work. In today’s YouTube age, it’s unbelievably easy to listen to almost any music instantly, and so being a student means that we can learn how to write from the best in the business simply by clicking and listening.

YouTube and other online services are also helpful in showing us what to avoid, since you don’t have to be good at music to post something online. But since it’s so easy to hear both good and bad music these days, it’s imperative that we learn why bad music is bad.

Back in the days of Mozart and Beethoven, one of the ways young composers learned how to write music well was to take a score from a recognized master and hand-copy it note-for-note. By doing so, they would become intimately familiar with every note of the piece. It was identical to the learning technique of young up-and-coming chess masters who replay famous games move-by-move in a bid to understand the game better.

It’s worth noting that the world’s best composers never spent time trying to figure out why bad music is bad, and no chess masters study bad chess games. But the ease with which songwriters and performers, both good and bad, can “publish” their music today, has changed that and made it important for us to study and know when music works well, and when it doesn’t.


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With online services that not only stream performances, but also allow comments from listeners, the 21st century music world means that we’ve become very opinionated about which music we like, and which music we hate.

You have a right to be a fan. There are times throughout your day when you will (and should) listen to the music you like, and for no other reason than — you like it. You don’t need a reason or a justification for having your favourite singer-songwriter-bands.

But in order to improve your songwriting skills, you need to start listening to music for other reasons. You need to realize that within every genre of music that you’re tempted to ignore, there are great songwriters who are masters of composition. The fact that it’s not music you typically listen to for enjoyment should be unimportant.

Several times a week you should be trying to familiarize yourself with music from outside your genre of choice. Do some reading, and learn who the greats are. You’ll find that it truly enhances your listening skills to be able to discern why music you happen to dislike is actually good music.

As a student of songwriting, don’t allow the fact that you’re a fan of certain performers and styles limit your approach to music. There is so much to learn, and the more diverse your listening habits are, the more your own music moves toward being truly unique and special experiences for your listeners.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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