Guitarist - Drummer

Acknowledging the Greatness of Others to Become a Better Songwriter

There was something about the best music teachers of my youth that made me want to be better. They weren’t just good teachers; they were good musicians. Because they excelled, I wanted to excel.

To excel at anything requires two things:

  1. An instinct
  2. A passion

Those two qualities go hand-in-hand. It’s unlikely you’d develop a passion for something if you didn’t also have an instinct for excellence. If we find something relatively easy (that’s the instinct), we’d probably get quite excited and want to do even better (that’s the passion.)

Hooks and RiffsHooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.

Instincts improve with time. Performers know this very well. I’d rather be playing with a seasoned professional on stage than someone, however excellent, who’s only been playing a few years. The person with years under their belt have developed instincts that allow them to think quickly on their feet.

Your passion? That certainly changes over time. I know that my passion for music is deeper and more powerful now than it was when I was, say, 20 years old. That could be because at age 20 I knew I loved music, but wasn’t sure in which direction to move.

Your passion for something increases as a direct result of improving your instincts. As you become a better guitarist, for example, your passion to be the best you can be also improves.

As a guitarist, you improve by taking lessons, but also by playing with better players. The more you surround yourself with greatness, the greater you become.

As a songwriter, you’re not so likely to take lessons. So how do you improve? By surrounding yourself with greatness. And how do you do that? When you read interviews with the world’s best musicians, they are usually telling the interviewer who they were listening to at formative stages of their musical development.

I very much believe in practicing songwriting as a way of solving problems and becoming better. But in addition to practicing, you need to pay attention to great musicians, and make note of what they do.

You may find that some of your best songwriting lessons come from musicians who don’t even work in your genre of choice. I don’t hear a whole lot of similarity between the music of Roy Orbison and the songs of Bruce Springsteen, but Bruce lists him as one of his greatest influences (as do so many other singer-songwriters).

To improve your musical abilities, it takes more than simply listening to great musicians. You need to keenly observe. You need to figure out why their songs work, and then you need to find a way to incorporate those ideas into your own songs.

If your day is usually filled with making music, it may be time to switch gears, and spend time listening to others.

No great person, whether a musician, a scientist, an economist, or an architect, achieves greatness by ignoring the work of their peers.

It’s usually that they achieve greatness specifically by acknowledging the greatness of others.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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