Instinct and Instruction: The Unnecessary Battle

Valuing your musical instincts doesn’t mean you should avoid a bit of musical instruction.

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Songwriter-GuitaristHere’s a question for you to ponder. Which of your songs would you feel prouder of?

  1. The one that took 3 months of working and reworking to get it right? or…
  2. The one that came together in 15 minutes?

It’s not a trick question. And there is no right answer, of course. If you feel better about the one that took 3 months, it probably means that you feel good about your work ethic and your patience.

If you feel instinctively better about the song that came together quickly, within 15 minutes, it probably means that you feel a sense of pride (maybe even relief) that your musical instincts can create a work of musical art so quickly.


Songwriters love their instincts, often to the extent that they dispute the need for any kind of musical instruction. The notion, for example, that a knowledge of music theory will stunt one’s musical imagination is a myth that is common in the pop songwriting world.

But that battle between instinct and instruction is largely an unnecessary one. It is more the case that one’s instincts can and will be strengthened and enhanced by regular songwriting instruction.

No matter what genre of music you compose, you’ll find that “instruction” means any or all of the following:

  1. A basic ability to read and write musical notation. THE BENEFITS: You can easily communicate your musical ideas to others who can also read and write. It adds another way to experience the music you find captivating: not only can you hear it, but you can see it, and it provides an additional way to compare songs. It speeds up rehearsals with your band, especially if everyone has a basic ability to read the chart in front of them.
  2. A program of daily listening and analyzing of music. THE BENEFITS: You become more aware of current musical styles. It helps you write music that sounds current.
  3. Songwriting circles. THE BENEFITS: You perform your music for like-minded and supportive songwriters. They can give you a well-informed, respectful opinion of how your song is coming across, and propose changes for you to try, based on good songwriting rationale.
  4. Songwriting exercises and games. THE BENEFITS: You can target specific areas of weakness in your songwriting technique. The pressure to write a full, working song is removed as you simply attempt to write fragments of songs.

As you can see, musical instruction does not need to be stodgy or boring. And much of what a songwriter can learn can be self-taught.

So if you value your musical instincts, don’t change that. Instincts are what brought you into the world of songwriting in the first place.

But if you really want to get the most out of those instincts, you can enhance them with some basic musical instruction. Instinct and instruction need never be at odds with each other.

______________Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.  (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)

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  2. I would say that if someone belives the soing they wrote in fifteen minutes
    as opposed to a song that has been re written many times over
    a period of a year or more, thern their is something seriously wrong with
    their judgement ; they have become too attached to a song for
    personal reasons that probably mean nothing to the average record buying

    Sometimes they are so convinced their song will be a hit, they spend mega
    bucks on a demo, with great musicians put it up on their web site convinced
    someonelike a name act is going to spot it and record it

    If only it were that easy, a great title helps but does never guarantee a hit
    I would rather listen to a simple demo as long as the singer has a reasonable
    voice that truly reflects the genre

    Most end up with a great to average recording of an amaturely written song
    with no commercial prospects at all

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