Back when I was a music student at university, composition was my major, so I was writing constantly. My main instrument was (and is) trumpet, and so I was also practicing when I could get the chance, and I was involved in many ensembles.
It didn’t take me long to notice something interesting: When I ran out of steam as a writer, and I felt unmotivated, it was listening to music and practicing my trumpet that got me feeling excited about writing again.
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And when I felt that practicing my trumpet was more of an unpleasant chore than something to look forward to, I found that concentrating on writing music got me excited about playing again.
Do you ever find that there are certain days when you lack the motivation to work on that song you’ve been writing? We often say that the best remedy is to put it away, make a cup of coffee and take a break.
And while that’s good advice, I wonder if there’s an even better solution: Put your song away, and take out your musical instrument, and concentrate on playing. So while going for a walk might help clear your head, switching your concentration to your instrument does pretty much the same thing.
“Playing” can mean practicing on your own or rehearsing with others. No matter how you approach it, you’ll reap benefits that will directly or indirectly affect your songwriting in a positive way:
- Playing keeps you to feeling musically engaged. You’re still working on music, but through a different kind of activity.
- Playing offers possibilities for coming up with something that might make its way into a song. As you practice, you’ll no doubt do a bit of improvising, and improvisation creates lots of compositional ideas.
- Playing improves your performance skills, and that has positive implications for recording your songs. Also, the more sophisticated you are as a player, the better potential you have as a songwriter.
- Playing brings you in touch with other musicians. The kind of camaraderie that comes from playing with others allows you to make connections that are important to any musician. Many songwriting partnerships start as you improvise musical ideas with others.
- Playing allows you focus on other people’s good music. Playing through your favourite songs gives you a more powerful understanding of the music — more so than merely listening to it can offer.
And never underestimate the benefits that come from a listening session. The best way to learn about music is to experience it. I firmly believe that many songwriters’ shortcomings can be addressed by increasing the time they spend in active listening.
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