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In the comments of a blog posting last week, someone asserted that good songwriting can’t be learned. It’s “organic.” By that word, he meant that it’s something you either can or can’t do, reflecting the limits of your artistic abilities. Your songs are either good (in which case you keep them), or they’re bad (in which case you toss them.) If you write all bad songs, you’re not a songwriter.
I am, in certain situations, inclined to believe part of his sentiment: you cannot make someone into a songwriter. It’s something someone needs to be doing on their own in the first place, and achieving a certain level of success with it.
But the implication that since anything creative reflects the result of your own imagination, there’s not much you can do to improve on it… I can’t agree. The specific comment he made was:
music is like art..its an organic process… So make your own music, do it exactly how you want, without rules and boundaries, the day you start to listen to other peoples own ideas on changing anything, is the day you lose your own original sound.its easy to copy other musicians songs but to create your own individual sound is the right way to go.
So it begs the question: is it possible to learn to be a better songwriter, or does learning simply mean that you’re copying someone else’s ideas?
Certainly in the world of classical music, the greatest composers that ever lived were always taught by other composers. In fact, most composers would get the printed music of composers they admired, and sit down and copy it all, note by note. In so doing, they hoped to learn the reasons behind every musical decision that composer made.
There was never any fear that they’d wind up simply copying their favourite composers when they sat down to write their own music. Copying, in this sense of physically replicating someone else’s music, was common, and was seen to be a necessary learning technique.
In addition to copying, composers learning their craft were taught by other master composers, sitting side-by-side, and having every note they wrote scrutinized.
Fast-forwarding to today, we’d be silly to fear learning from others how to improve our writing skills. The “sitting side-by-side” in 21st century terms usually equates to listening to recordings, reading texts and musings from other musicians, attending songwriting circles, and so on.
Most of the time, songs are written, and then they are reworked and rewritten. That first writing stage comes purely from you. The next stage, where you fix and adjust what you’ve written to make it even better, is where veteran teachers, songwriters, producers, and other such individuals, can have a tremendously positive impact.
If you’re assuming that there is nothing to learn that can make your songwriting better, you’re missing out on amazing opportunities that can take your songs to a new level of excellence.
I agree: songwriting is organic. But organic should never mean that once it’s out there, there’s nothing you can learn from someone else regarding how to improve it.
In fact, learning from others is an essential component of becoming excellent.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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