No good musician works in a vacuum. Here’s how to let curiosity guide your songwriting career.
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In my years of teaching, whether that’s been conducting bands or orchestras, teaching music composition, or giving songwriting tutorials, I’ve noticed one important attribute that all good musicians have: curiosity.
The best musicians are the ones that constantly ask why or what. Why something sounds good to them, why it seems to work, and then what they can do to integrate those ideas when creating their own music.
The best musicians I’ve encountered over the years have been the ones bringing new recordings to my attention, and telling me what they like about them. Or they would play something for me and say, “What’s that chord?” or “Tell me what’s going on there…”
No good musician works in a vacuum. Anyone who has succeeded in this business has done so because they’re reacting to something that someone else has already written. They’re curious about everything.
If you aren’t a curious sort of person, there’s not much that anyone can do to change that. But the good news is that if you aren’t curious, you likely aren’t worried about it, and you probably aren’t reading this blog, or any other material that relates to songwriting.
If you are curious, then I hope you are allowing your curiosity to guide you, and to make you a better songwriter. How do you do that?
- Listen to good music. If you don’t know what you should be listening to, it can be a good start to google “Best [insert genre] songwriters today.” And get listening.
- If applicable, buy/listen to entire albums. You get a good sense of how a singer-songwriter thinks if you listen to an entire album of their music. These days, singles dominate the listening experience (sadly), but there are still artists presenting their work as entire albums or at least EPs.
- Read interviews with good songwriters. Again, Google can be your friend with this. There are lots of interviews that describe the songwriting process, and you’d be amazed how much good information you can pick up that way.
- Make notes on what you listen to. Keep a songwriter’s journal, and write down what you like and why you like it. Putting your thoughts down in writing makes it easier for you to sort your thoughts out, and more likely that your own music will be positively influenced.
- Present your songs in song circles and other musical gatherings. Songwriting circles are usually great places to get honest, respectful feedback. Be a good listener, and take any criticism in the spirit with which it’s given.
About point #1 above, your curiosity needs to be leading you further afield than the basic Top-40 offerings from the Billboard Hot 100. The music world is a large and diverse place, and if you aren’t digging down to find more exciting, innovative music than the Hot 100, your own songwriting skills are going to be stunted.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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