Sock Hop, 1950s

The Value of an Excellent Old Song

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We can learn something valuable about how the classical era composers like Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and others became so good at what they did. They typically studied composition with a contemporary composer (Beethoven studied with Haydn), but they did something else: they studied the music of great composers who lived generations before.

Mozart studied the musical scores of Bach and Handel, both of whom were born more than half a century before him. Mozart even wrote music reminiscent of that earlier Baroque style of composition as a way of polishing his technique.

By discovering how composers from earlier times put their music together, these great composers used those techniques and ideas to create new music, in a new and innovative style.

From that, we can infer this: the best new music builds on what was done in earlier generations. And it makes complete sense to learn that way. For Mozart, getting a solid grounding in how Bach composed meant that his new music would benefit from that solid foundation. New, innovative music still needs a solid grounding.

So yes, as a songwriter you must be listening to new music as a way of staying up to date with what’s current in your genre of choice, and that means listening to new music every day and going to concerts whenever you can.

But where we really learn the most powerful lessons — the lessons that will make sure you’re writing music that is structurally solid and has the best chance of building an impressive fan base — is by looking back at the music that we know has succeeded, and then trying to determine what it is that made that music so successful.

In doing so, you become a better songwriter and have a better chance of building and keeping a solid fan base.

So no matter what genre you call your own, go back to the roots of that genre, and find the songs that put it on the map. Analyze those songs, and discover what it was that got everyone’s attention.

In that way, there’s always something to learn from songs that are 30, 40 or 50 years old, something you can use in your newest, most innovative songs. Applying what you learn from those old songs will always make your music better.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter

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