How do the songs you write today compare to what you were doing a year ago?
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Songwriting is an art that bears many similarities to playing a musical instrument, some good and some not:
- Like playing an instrument, you benefit from daily practice.
- Like playing an instrument, you can get complacent, accepting of bad habits.
- Like playing an instrument, you have opportunities to share your abilities with others.
- Like playing an instrument, you need to get outside your comfort zone if you want to improve.
- Like playing an instrument, you can get in a rut and feel uninspired if you don’t listen to other songwriters’ work.
It’s very hard to measure how much, if at all, you are improving as a songwriter. One of the main reasons for the difficulty is that the quality of songs is notoriously difficult to rate. It’s hard to say, “This song is better than that one,” because we have so many ways to measure that elusive concept of quality. So if we can’t rate our songwriting abilities, how do we improve?
One of the best ways to improve as a songwriter is to check your progress by comparing how and what you’re writing today with what you were doing a year ago. And of course, it’s important to know what kind of changes you are hoping to see.
So check out the following questions. In a way, they are all asking the same question in a number of different ways: What kind of songwriter are you aiming to be?
- Has the kind of things you write about changed over the past year?
- Do you like the change that you see?
- Are you disappointed in the lack of progress you’ve made as a songwriter in this regard?
- Are the kinds of things you write about moving in a direction you like?
- Do you spend more time today thinking about song topics than you did a year ago?
- Do you use many of the same expressions and turns-of-phrase that you used a year ago?
- Do you find that your latest songs say things in a more concise, engaging way?
- Do you find that your lyrics today show a better sense of structure and design than a year ago?
- Are you pleased with the level of sophistication (while still remaining engaging) that your lyrics show today?
- Are your lyrics becoming more interesting and “quotable” than a year ago?
- Do you notice a change in the way you write a melody today as compared to a year ago? Are you pleased with the change you see?
- Do your melodies today show a better sense of design and contour?
- Do you notice a stronger connection between lyrics and melody in your songs today than one year ago?
- Did you start your most recent song by working out melodic details first?
- Do you find your melodies today are more singable, and more easily remembered than a year ago?
- Is there an improvement in the sophistication of your chord choices compared to a year ago?
- Is there an improvement in the way you use backing vocals?
- Do you like the progress you’ve made in how melody and chords work together?
- Is there a difference in the final instrumentation you choose for your songs today compared to a year ago?
- Do you tend toward a more varied instrumentation now compared to a year ago?
- Do you like the way that instruments use rhythmic ideas from the vocal line as a way of creating stronger musical structure?
- Have you improved as an instrumentalist over the past year?
These are just some of the questions you might ask yourself, and it helps to remember that you are in control of your own destiny when it comes to how you approach songwriting. For example, you may not notice much of a change in the way you write your song melodies, but that may be due to the fact that your primary concern is the lyric.
The good thing about those check-up questions listed above is that they draw your attention to songwriting as an art that needs to be practiced, and in that regard, you need to be improving.
A good way to proceed once you’ve gone through that list of questions, is to choose one question as your area of focus for the next few tunes you write. Then once you’ve made the effort to improve in that one way, move on to another question.
In no time, you’ll start to see the kind of improvement that you’ve been expecting of yourself.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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