The Problem With Practicing Your Songwriting

Everybody knows the old adage “Practice makes perfect.” On the face of it, that makes a lot of sense. I don’t know of any skill that doesn’t get better by practicing.

There is a problem with practicing, though, and it applies particularly to songwriting and other activities for which we don’t usually have a teacher: If you’re doing something “wrong”, or could (or should) be doing something better, then practicing might simply be reinforcing bad habits, and making it harder to improve.

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For some activities — and sports is a good example — we often have coaches and trainers that help us once we show an aptitude for a particular sport. Those coaches can keep us on the straight and narrow path to maximize our improvement: (“Keep your elbow down when you do that…”)

But songwriting generally starts as an activity that doesn’t have a coach. There are many ways that people come into the world of songwriting, but being closely guided by a teacher isn’t one of them. And from your very first song, you were probably surrounded by people that praised everything you wrote, no matter how bad it really was!

Because beginning songwriters usually don’t have a teacher, it often doesn’t occur to those beginners that there might be a better process than the one they’re using for writing better lyrics, crafting better melodies, or generating more interesting chord progressions.

So the problem becomes this: you can spend a lot of time writing songs and bits of songs (“practicing”), but what you’re possibly doing is inadvertently reinforcing bad habits. But what can you do about it?

The best ways to ensure that the habits you’re practicing are good ones that will help you write the best songs possible are

  1. more fully understand the structure and design of the world’s best songs;
  2. get a grasp on what song design really means; and
  3. familiarize yourself with the best songs from every era and every genre, and try to figure out what has made them so compelling.

You can do all this without a teacher if you look at songwriting and songs with an objective frame of mind. You may dislike a certain song, but if it became a hit, that means that there’s something about it that many others found enticing. Put your dislike for it aside, and study the song with an objective process in mind.

The more you understand about the structure of good music, the more likely it will be that your practicing will make perfect.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessIf you’re trying to make your lyrics a much more important part of your songs, you need to read “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.” It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.”

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