Songwriting instruction will improve your songwriting abilities, but won’t turn you into a songwriter.
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It’s strange that lately I’ve been receiving a large number of emails from people asking me about how to “get into songwriting”. That part isn’t strange; lots of people write me looking for songwriting advice. But there seems to be more emails than normal that go something like, “I’ve never written a song before, and I’d like to try. How do I do that?”
Here’s the only honest answer that I (or anyone for that matter) can give: I don’t know.
I don’t know how to create musical ideas in your mind. And no one does. If you tell me that you write songs, but they don’t sound very good… now that’s something I can help with.
I fully believe in the natural ability of humans to create artistic ideas spontaneously. Science tells us that that is part and parcel of being a member of the human race. Some people have a talent for expertly organizing those ideas into works of art (music, poetry, literature, visual art, drama, dance, etc.), and others don’t.
If you are someone who has never worked to cultivate your ability to create artistic ideas, you will find it harder and harder to start doing it as you get older, and research tells us that. The more you use the artistic side of your brain, the better you get at creating artistic ideas.
But for anyone who wants to be a songwriter, that part — the ability to create musical ideas — needs to be happening first. I can’t make you creative, and no one can.
So perhaps, for the people who are writing me and saying, “I’ve never written a song before, and I’d like to try. How do I do that?”, maybe what they’re really saying is “I get what songwriting is, and I’m already trying, but I just don’t like what I come up with.”
And if that is truly what they’re saying, then yes, I can help. Because there are basic principles that encompass music composition of many different genres. If you’re unaware of those principles, you’re going to find that a lot of what you’re writing just doesn’t seem to work.
But the good news is that most people’s music can be improved with just a few small adjustments — adjustments that bring their music more into alignment with what those basic principles are.
Sometimes music will flow out of you naturally, and a fully-formed song can happen within a day, or even in an hour or less. But that’s not normal, and you shouldn’t expect it. You should expect that good ideas will happen quickly and spontaneously, followed by a period of time (days, weeks, or months) of working and reworking those ideas, getting those ideas to conform to songwriting principles while trying to create something unique and fresh.
It is possible to take bad music and make it good, and studying songwriting principles will help. That’s my way of saying that studying songwriting is a very good idea, because it can help you shape and reshape the creations of your mind.
But to help you become creative? There’s only one way to do that, and it comes from within: START CREATING!
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