Songwriting guitarist

Songwriting: Moving Beyond Random Excellence

What role does chance play in the writing of a good song? Since good songwriting is guided by principles and not rules, there’s undoubtedly going to be a certain amount of random good luck. On that particular day, at that particular moment, your imagination created that melodic idea. There’s no way to get around it: good songwriting involves randomness.

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But as I’ve mentioned in the past, even bad golfers can make a hole in one, and look amazing doing it. Everything they’ve done up to that point may have been mediocre, and everything after it as well. But for that one shot, they can look like a golfing genius.

Writing a great song can be a bit like that. Because randomness plays a role in what our creative brains generate, it’s possible to be a mediocre songwriter and then write something great. The stars can align; it can happen.

But you need to go beyond randomness. Whether you’re singing your songs in a café to friends and family, or trying to get the attention of the big players in the music industry, you need to be able to write excellently and with consistency.

In the creative arts, what can you do to increase your chances of writing great songs? In fact, how do you go beyond chance, and become a consistently excellent writer? Some ideas:

  1. Isolate and work on your weaknesses. If lyrics are hard for you, dedicate songwriting sessions to honing your abilities. Read good lyrics, and do lyric-writing exercises, like these ones. If it’s melodies, try to describe to yourself what you think the problem is. Not enough contour? Not working well with the chords? Try these exercises.
  2. Make songwriting a daily scheduled activity. If you leave songwriting to be something that happens when you find yourself with a bit of time, you need to add discipline to the mix. That discipline comes from dedicating parts of every day to writing. Create a schedule, put it down on paper or get it into your phone. Here are some tips for creating a daily schedule.
  3. Spend lots of time improvising. Whether with loops set up on a keyboard, or with bandmates, improvising helps you create and then polish musical ideas.
  4. Perform your songs as much as possible. How great a song is comes down to what an audience is wanting to hear. You learn so much by hearing their reaction.
  5. Favour originality over reworking old successes. When a song works well, your temptation is to keep writing the same sort of thing over and over again. Before you know it, you’re losing your fanbase, who think they’ve heard everything they’re ever going to get from you. So keep changing your songwriting process, choose new keys, new tempos, topics… anything to keep your new songs sounding original and fresh.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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    • Hi Peter:

      All first-time commenters need to have their comments approved. After that, their comments aren’t held, though I do get notification of their comment via email. I will usually delete any comment that is off-topic or is in any way disrespectful to another commenter. (Did I miss an unsavoury one??)


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