Songs Are the Best Teachers

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Keyboard & ear phonesHow do you study songwriting? You might think that it’s not really one of those topics where studying works. Frankly, you’d rather just pick up your pen, grab your guitar, and start writing.

But songwriting can be effectively studied, and you will become better at it if you remember this, something that Berklee College of Music professor Pat Pattison has said: “Songs are your best teachers. I try to learn something from every song I hear”

On this blog I constantly make reference to actual songs when I describe some of the basic principles of good songwriting. The principles of musical composition must be rooted in practice – in actual music.

In that respect, the best songwriters out there are (and have always been):

  1. the ones who listen to music on a daily basis;
  2. the ones who ask themselves why something sounds good;
  3. the ones who can hear the good in music no matter what the genre;
  4. the ones who write daily; and
  5. the ones who know that songwriting can and should be studied.

So if songs are our best teachers, how do we study songwriting? Try the following suggestions:

  1. Listen to a song and pinpoint the best moment. Why is that spot so good? What did they (the songwriter, band, producer, etc) do to make it sound so good?
  2. Analyze a song. Do up a simple plot of the form of the song (i.e., figure out where verses, choruses and bridge happen), then take each component (melody, chords, lyrics, etc.), and find something interesting about each one.
  3. Choose a songwriter you never knew before, and get familiar with 5-10 songs they’ve written. With the internet, this is easy to research and do. Get familiar with their style of writing. Figure out what makes them unique, and what makes them successful.

It comes down to basic curiosity. Curiosity will drive you. It’s what causes you to want to know why something sounds good. If you’re a songwriter, it’s not enough to simply acknowledge that a song is great. You need to dig into it, to learn why.

And then, using your own style and your own way of writing and working, take the lessons you learn from great songs and make your music better.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter 

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Gary is also the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, published in hardcopy by Backbeat Books, and available from Amazon and any other online bookseller.

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  1. I absolutely agree with you about songs being the best teacher. I try to take apart every element of a good song to figure out what makes it tick. I think so much is learned by doing this … I also think it’s a good idea to write songs “off” of other songs. I know a lot of my favorites did this. Some people are scared to be a ripoff artist and I agree you shouldn’t steal outright, the key is to use a song as a starting point and overtime you make it your own … I think this is a very good way of working … not only as a learning process but some great songs can come out of it… I’ve read about Lennon/McCartney, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan all using this technique so .. yeah, it works.

    I plan on making my way through your blog … you got some good stuff here.

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