It’s not unusual for songwriters to think back to a time when songwriting seemed a lot easier. Certainly if you look at how long it used to take you to write a song, you may be discouraged to know that what used to take you hours now takes you days, or even longer.
That’s not necessarily true for everybody; I’ve recently spoken to a songwriter or two who tell me that over time they’ve become faster in their writing.
But for those of you who find writing to be slower, I might be able to put your mind at ease, particularly if you started writing songs as a teenager: as a younger person, spontaneity and impulsivity can play an important role in the creative arts. As you age, you’re less likely to be spontaneous, but more likely to be analytical and calculating. And that’s a normal change.
That change from being an impulsive, spontaneous person to being more analytical typically happens in the later teenage years. And I’ve seen that happen in my own music students.
Years ago, I taught ear training to high school students, aged 15-18. Because of the nature of the exercises I was doing with them, I often did the same things for all the students: singing scales, arpeggios, etc.
It was a pretty consistent observation that whatever took 15-16 year olds one week to master would take the 17-year-olds a couple of weeks. And the eighteen year olds? It would often take 3 weeks or even more for them to reach the same level of fluency with the exercises.
The younger students could develop impressive prowess in a very short time because rather than analyzing what they were doing, or thinking deeply about it, they were in some other mental zone where they’d simply fly through the exercise. They were thinking, but it was a different kind of thinking.
The older students tended to slow down and think hard about what they were doing, and it appeared to slow them down. They’d eventually get there, but even at the young age of 18, there was a window of opportunity that seemed to be closing.
Using that as a metaphor for songwriting, you may have found the same thing happening in your own songwriting. For you, songwriting may have been something that just fell together naturally when you were young — because spontaneity is what they do so well.
But as an older person you may find that you spend a lot more time thinking, comparing, analyzing, contrasting, etc. — because analyzing is what you now do so well.
In the final analysis, I think you’re going to write better songs that have better structure because of your ability to stop the process from time to time and really give what you’re doing a hard think.
So yes, it may take you longer to write your songs these days, but don’t make the automatic assumption that taking longer means that you’re writing a lower quality song. To compare it to the classical world, most classical composers were writing in their teenage years, but were well into the thirties or forties before they were considered “mature” composers, writing their best works.
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