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I occasionally make the following statement when I think people might be listening:
You cannot learn to be a songwriter. You can only learn to be a better songwriter.
I say that partly because (I believe that) it’s true, and partly because it sounds a bit surprising — and it’s fun to say surprising things. But it really is true. I say that in spite of the fact that there is much research – and much of it scholarly – into why some people are creative, implying that others are not.
But in truth, everyone is creative. It may not be the kind of creativity that will lead you to write a song. Some might call aiming your smartphone in the right direction and waiting for the right moment to capture a stunning sunset a kind of creativity, and they’d be right.
However, taking an amazing photo of a sunset on your smartphone shouldn’t mean that it’s time to give up your day job. That level of creativity is what you’d expect from the normal human brain, whatever that is.
As humans, we’re constantly creative. We hum, we doodle, we tap random rhythms while waiting on the phone. But humming doesn’t mean you’re a singer, doodling doesn’t make you an artist, and tapping rhythms doesn’t mean you’re a drummer. To be any of those things, you need to show abilities and creative aptitude that goes beyond what most people could show.
To be an artist (a songwriter, a performer, a visual artist, a choreographer, a playwright…) certain things need to be in place. They are, in no particular order:
- You derive pleasure from the act of being creative.
- You derive pleasure and pride from displaying the results of your creative processes.
- You are willing to be patient with a difficult or lengthy creative process.
- You have unique abilities.
- You work toward solutions when you experience a creative block (i.e., writer’s block or similar creative issue).
I’ve written over 1600 articles on this blog, the intent of which are to help songwriters become better songwriters. But I can’t teach someone how to be a songwriter. I can teach someone how to be a better songwriter.
In order to be helped by me or anyone, you already need to be writing songs. They may be bad songs, but you need to be in agreement with those five statements, to varying degrees. To say it again, I can only help you become a better songwriter.
Occasionally I get emails from people that say something along of the lines of “Please teach me how to write a song.” My standard response is to tell them to send me a link to something they’ve written, something I can listen to, and then I’d be happy to solve whatever problem they think they’re having.
And sometimes I get the response, “I don’t have anything you can listen to… I haven’t written anything yet.” And that’s when I just shrug; what do I do with that? I can’t jump-start someone’s creative process if they’ve never done that for themselves.
I can help bad songwriters. Because even with bad songwriters, those five statements are usually true, even to a small degree. Even bad songwriters have a desire to be creative, derive pleasure from being creative, spend time working on a song, and so on.
If your problem with songwriting is that you think you’re not very good, but you still want to be a songwriter, that’s something I can help with.
You must not despair; there is often only a very fine line between songs that are failures and songs that are excellent. In music, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way.
If you have songs that you think have potential but you just can’t get them working, I’m happy to give them a listen, and make suggestions to you. Listening and making comments is something I like doing when I have time, and as long as you’re patient with my sometimes chaotic schedule, I do that free of charge.
Simply write me an email: songs [at] secretsofsongwriting [dot] com, and provide a link to your song from an online streaming service. (Don’t send me a song file.)
I’m happy to offer whatever suggestions I can to make your music work for you. I’d love for you to be getting enjoyment from your songwriting efforts, and I’m happy to help you along the way.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
“How to Harmonize a Melody” is part of the 10-eBook Deluxe Bundle, written by Gary Ewer. If you can “hear” the chords you want, but you just can’t find them, this ebook will take you step-by-step through a process that works.