When you listen to great instrumentalists, no matter what genre, you become aware of something important: underneath all those great musical ideas is a foundation in the basics.
If you don’t have a grounding in the basics of technique on your instrument, it’s going to show pretty quickly. Everyone knows this. That’s why, if you’re a guitarist let’s say, no matter if your genre is pop, country, metal, jazz, or any other style, you’re going to spend time with scales and chords, all different octaves and all different voicings.
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The worst thing in the world to an instrumentalist is being limited by weakness in technique. Sure, you may hear great solo ideas in your head, but only the players with technical prowess are going to be able to play them in a way that grabs an audience’s attention.
In songwriting, the same thing exists: ideas and technique. Ideas will come from your musical imagination; whatever you’re doing in your day-to-day life (i.e., what you’re listening to, and who you talk music with) is going to feed those musical ideas.
But as a songwriter, how do you improve technique? What is songwriting technique?
You can use instrumental technique as an analogy for songwriting technique. The middle of a blistering guitar solo may feature a 3-octave B major arpeggio, from low to high range. Technique is what gets that player to move smoothly from one note of that arpeggio to the next one, effortlessly and evenly.
For songwriters, technique is based in knowledge of the structure of music. Structure is an all-encompassing word that involves many things. It includes knowing how chords can and should support melody notes. It’s knowing how rhythm affects how people hear a melody.
It’s also knowing how rhythm affects the energy of a musical phrase. It’s knowing how time influences the sense of a song’s musical journey.
In short, to understand songwriting technique is to understand song structure.
Like the bad guitarists who simply fumble their way through a song, a bad songwriter is bound to be limited by their lack of knowledge of how good music works. Anything good they write is usually attributable to random good luck, and that’s just not good enough.
Randomness flies in the face of consistency. If you want to be consistently good as a songwriter, you need a grounding in the basics of what good songwriting is.
The best way to build your songwriting technique is to:
- listen to good music from all genres;
- talk to good songwriters;
- play with good musicians.
All three of those give you the best shot at becoming consistently good at what you do. Leaving out any of those three activities will leave you with a deficit that will become apparent in your songwriting.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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