Mozart improvised. Mozart had good days and bad days. In fact, much of Mozart’s compositional process, if you research the topic, looks a lot like the kind of songwriting process we see today: a lot of experimenting, keeping good ideas, throwing out bad ones, and so on.
So let’s take a look at some of the ways that Mozart approached composition, and see what directly applies to songwriting today — how your own songwriting process might (or should) resemble Mozart’s process.
The chords-first method of songwriting can work, but you need to keep your eye on what listeners want to focus on: a good melody and good lyrics. “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression” shows you how to get the chords-first method working for you.
Here are 7 tips that come directly from Mozart. They show us how he composed, and I think you’ll be pleased to see how applicable they are to any genre, and any century:
1. Learn some theory.
Most of the greatest composers, Mozart included, had a keen understanding of music theory. He studied the music of great composers that came before, learning how those composers and their works used theory in creative ways, and then applied that understanding to his own music.
2. Experiment and improvise.
Mozart’s typical process was to let ideas happen, and he generally didn’t obsess over them. In his own words, he’d write “as sows piddle…”, by which we assume he meant without a lot of pre-planning or thinking about structure.
3. Get as much of the song written in your mind before committing it to paper (or a recording).
He’d think his way through a piece first, get it working as much as he could as a thought exercise. Once he had it working, he’d then write it: “I’ve got to write at breakneck speed — everything’s composed—but not written yet.”
4. Start the actual writing of your music by creating sketches.
For classical composers like Mozart, that meant writing out a melody line along with a simple piano accompaniment, even though the final product might be a full symphony. For the songwriter, that might mean getting a melody to work on its own, in its simplest form, even though the final product might be something of a much more complex production.
5. Use a keyboard (or a guitar) to flesh out ideas.
Once he had a work well underway as a thought exercise, he’d begin the filling in of musical details by working them out at a keyboard. A guitar will work, of course, as long as you’ve got the ability to put melody and chords together. And if you don’t play an instrument — it’s time to learn one!
6. Learn to predict when your best songwriting times are.
For Mozart, he did his best writing “[w]hen I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer; say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come I know not, nor can I force them.”
For you, you may find that morning is the time when ideas “flow best and most abundantly.” I think scheduling in songwriting time is important, but learn also to predict when you’re most ready for a good songwriting session, and adapt.
7. Imagine your music being performed as part of your songwriting process.
Mozart never composed anything without knowing who it was being written for, or the occasion during which it would be performed. Consider it a kind of inspiration. As you write, imagine the audience in front of you, and let that excitement spur you on and keep you motivated.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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