Songwriter - Guitarist

Songwriting: The Mountain Climbing of Music

Everyone has their favourite songwriting process. For you, it might be strumming some chords and see what kind of mood you can create, and then come up with a melody.

Or perhaps you like working out a bit of lyric, almost like a poem, and then see what musical ideas come from those words.

And sometimes, you don’t know how to start at all. It can feel a bit like climbing a mountain: it seems so massive, and the whole task of climbing it seems impossible.


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Sticking with that mountain analogy, it may be better to think of climbing it in stages, at least from a psychological point of view. In other words, instead of saying “I have to climb this mountain…”, it might be better to say, “I have to climb to the Base Camp.” That’s only a few thousand feet.

Once you’re there, you can rest up and get your thoughts in order. Then it’s on to the next camp, then the next one, and each arrival at a new camp gives you an opportunity to rest, strengthen your resolve, and then keep going.

You may have heard interviews with climbers who have climbed the world’s biggest mountains, and you’ll notice that even if how long it took to climb the mountain is mentioned, it’s never very important to the story. The achievement is the climbing of it.

Songwriting is very similar. Starting a song can make you scramble about, feeling like the task before you is huge and daunting. If you’re feeling that way right now about your latest songwriting effort, it’s time to change what and how you’re thinking. For today, it may be enough to simply say, “I just need to get this chorus hook working.” That’s base camp for you.

Then tomorrow, once you’ve had a chance to feel good about that hook, it may be time to set out for the next camp: writing a verse that leads into it. Then… on you go.

In that way, you’re not focused on the larger task of writing a song; you’re doing something smarter: you’re dividing the task up into smaller bits, and then aiming for one small bit at a time.

As you climb that “mountain of music”, you should always be putting it together by listening to everything you’ve written in sequence. But the focus should be on smaller bits, as a way of keeping you feeling encouraged and undaunted.

Sometimes a more-or-less complete song will come into your mind, and it’s wonderful when that happens. But most of the time, all good songwriters are simply putting fragments together until a song is complete.

And sometimes the best way forward is to focus on the bits, not the entire project. You’ll feel better and more positive about the song as you write.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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