Tennessee Ernie Ford - Bruno Mars

Come to Think Of It…

Some of the best learning happens when we’re working on the job, as opposed to studying, and writing music is no different. With every new song you compose, you probably notice your skills improving, and your technique modifying.

That’s certainly not to say that you can’t also approach songwriting as a scholarly pursuit – as a student of the art. And I’m thinking of the word student in the less formal sense of someone who takes a special interest in a topic, not necessarily someone enrolled in a music school.

In days gone by, the word dilettante might describe someone with this sort of interest. Dilettante, however, also carries some extra baggage: it often denotes someone who has an interest in, but no particular knowledge of, a subject area. These days, being called a dilettante is not something that makes you feel proud.

Gary’s most recent eBook, “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“, is now available! Hooks and Riffs

It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”. (And get “Creative Chord Progressions” free if you purchase today.)


I often wonder if we spend enough time thinking, particularly when we spend most of our time doing. During the times that you aren’t actively writing music, you can still be developing and honing your own particular style and skills by actively thinking about things related to songwriting.

What I’m describing is a deeper kind of thinking, abstract thinking, that allows you to consider an entire subject and the ways all the different components of that subject (songs, for example) relate to each other.

Abstract thinking is what allows you to listen to 10 songs in a row and, even though one song may bear no substantial resemblance to the others, come up with commonalities, ideas that might shape how you write your next song.

For a songwriter, abstract thinking differs from concrete thinking in this way: A concrete thinker might listen to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and enjoy how the recorders help the beginning sound gentle and serene. An abstract thinker will likely consider the deeper concept of how musical energy generally increases as a song progresses, and the use of recorders was Led Zeppelin’s solution to achieving that.

All of this is a roundabout way of asking the question: Do you think about music? Or are you too busy making music that you don’t give yourself that opportunity?

It’s not easy to tell a songwriter what they should be thinking about, or how they should be thinking. It comes down to basic musical curiosity. The most successful songwriters are the most curious ones, the ones that are always asking questions and looking for answers.

On the days that you find it hard to write, you might be more successful thinking. Some questions just don’t have easy answers (“Why does society’s taste in music change?”), but that should never mean that it’s senseless to try to find answers. It is the act of thinking that opens our minds to other, unexpected observations.

The thing is, no one can tell you what to think about. My only point is that if you find yourself too busy to think about music and songwriting on some abstract, philosophical level, you are too busy.

So this is a plug for finding time to think. You might find yourself coming up with your own truths, and that’s always a good thing in the arts. If you’re stuck, try these fun little philosophical questions.

  1. How do you know if a song you’re writing is “finished”?
  2. How do you define songwriting satisfaction?
  3. Do you feel that music must contribute to the greater good of humanity, or is that too pretentious?
  4. If you knew that most people hated your latest song, would you consider it a failure?
  5. Since both “Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1956) and “Locked Out of Heaven” (Bruno Mars, 2013) each spent several weeks at the No. 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100, does that mean that the two songs have similarities at some deeper, core level?
  6. If a producer told you that making a change to your song, a change that you don’t like, would result in doubling your sales, would you do it?
  7. Are you a musical perfectionist? Why, or why not?
  8. What is musical meaning?

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.Songwriting eBook Bundle - Gary Ewer

Hooks and Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” is part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle
 $37.00 (immediate download)

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle has been used by thousands of songwriters to polish their technique and take their music to a new and exciting level of excellence.

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