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Unguided Practice in Songwriting Might Be Your Biggest Problem

Writing a Song From a Chord ProgressionLike starting the songwriting process by working out the chords first? There are benefits and dangers. Read “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression” to get this process working properly for you.

Let’s say you’re a guitarist and you want to improve. It makes sense that your best way forward is to practice. But if that’s all it takes, then why have so many of the best players taken private lessons in their younger years?

There’s a simple answer: practice does indeed make perfect, but unguided practice can simply reinforce errors and make true improvement difficult or impossible.

If you’re that up-and-coming guitarist, a teacher will show you the best way to hold the instrument. They’ll work with your hand position. And they’ll inspire you to greatness.

By taking lessons, you’re benefiting from years — possibly even centuries — of improvements to the playing of the instrument. You’re being guided. And because you’re being guided, the old adage “Practice makes perfect” has a good chance of succeeding for you.

This is the perfect analogy for songwriting, by the way. As a songwriter, you also need to practice. But there’s always the danger that practicing your songwriting skills — chiefly by committing to writing every day — is simply going to reinforce errors that you’ve been making for years.

So if you find that your songwriting is stuck in a rut, where nothing seems to be improving, it’s likely that that’s exactly what’s been happening.

This is all a tricky area, because it’s hard to know exactly how to practice songwriting. At least with guitar, there’s an accepted way of practicing: scales, arpeggios, chords, finger technique, and so on.

But songwriting? So much of it is self-guided, because not many songwriters take a course or even any kind of structured lessons in the art. So your unguided practicing might be your biggest problem.

And there’s no one perfect song.  There’s no one way to write. There’s no one good way to do any of this. So how do you make sure that practice does indeed make perfect?

I’ve said it many times on this blog: the best teachers we have are songs themselves. And while it’s true that there’s no one perfect song, there is, for each one of us, a song that’s out there that demonstrates what we want to be as songwriters. That song is different for everyone.

If you’re not listening daily, your songwriting is at best unguided. At worst it’s a waste of time, because you’re not finding examples of music that can act as models for your own improvements as a songwriter.

For every song you listen to, ask yourself why you like it. If you don’t like it, ask yourself why not. Make listening an activity, not a passive exercise.

Once you do that, you’re being guided in the best way possible: by music itself.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter

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