Songwriting Excellence

Improving On Your Songwriting Instincts

In practically any human activity you can name, having an “instinct” — what we might otherwise call a natural ability — is an important starting point. For example, you can teach someone the essential skills involved in hitting a baseball, but it’s far better to work with someone who just seems to have a natural ability.

If that weren’t the case, there’d be no need for scouts to find good players.

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Similarly, you can teach practically anyone the basic skills involved in writing songs, but if the songwriting student doesn’t really have an instinct for writing songs in the first place, you probably won’t succeed in turning them into a good songwriter.

When someone seems to have an instinct for writing songs, there is an assumption by some that teaching that person is both unnecessary and detrimental: unnecessary, because natural instincts mean you don’t have anything to learn, and detrimental, because whatever you might teach them will just hinder those instincts.

Both of those points are false, and I can sum them both up by reminding us all that even the greatest composers — Beethoven, Mozart, and any other master you can name — all had teachers. There’s no doubt they had natural talent — instincts — but became even better because they each had a teacher to guide them.

If you feel that songwriting is something that comes easily to you, and you’ve never really struggled to get something written down that you like, you should not assume that that means you don’t have anything to learn.

But other than what you might call “on-the-job training” which is simply writing songs, what can you do to improve on those good songwriting instincts you have? Some ideas:

  1. Analyze other good songs in your chosen genre. Listen to and then write down what you like about songs, why you think they sound so good.
  2. Analyze good songs in other genres. This is an important part of improving, because you’re listening to music that you wouldn’t otherwise find entertaining, and it enhances your objective analytical skills.
  3. Read what other songwriters say about songwriting, or watch interviews with well-known songwriters. By doing this, you find out how they solved problems, and became more creative over time.
  4. Read instructional texts. I wrote my songwriting bundle of eBooks because from time to time it’s important to think about songwriting without necessarily having your guitar in your hand. Look at the act of songwriting as a scholarly pursuit.

Don’t ever think that having an instinct means not having anything left to learn. If anything, having great songwriting instincts makes you a perfect subject for the improvements that come with analysis and instruction.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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