I want you to think about songwriting differently. Think of it as a language. A way of expressing yourself. A way to communicate your thoughts. This approach can help you understand the best way to learn songwriting and develop your skills.
Songwriting is a language: Study it.
If songwriting is a language, music theory is the grammar. It’s not glamorous, I know. But before you skip this paragraph (because who gives a crap about music theory?), I want you to look at it like this:
When you were first learning to speak, your parents were probably constantly correcting your grammar. They weren't using terms like “past participle” and “gerund,” but they used simple corrections to help you understand how to form sentences correctly. After a while, the grammar stuff just became a natural part of you speaking. And (hopefully), now it’s so ingrained in you that you never even have to think about it.
If you have someone guiding you through your songwriting, and pointing out “grammatical errors” for you, you can learn the music theory without having to pull your hair out over memorizing charts of key signatures and trying to analyze non-diatonic chords.
Now think about someone who is learning English as a second language. They have the vocabulary to communicate effectively, but their sentences are often put together oddly and they may not pick up on some of the colloquialisms of the language.
This is what songwriting is like when you DON’T have a solid understanding of music theory. The chord progressions might not flow well. The melody might clash with the chord progression. The rhythms might be awkward.
I don’t want songwriting to be your “second language.” Because the truth is, most people will be able to tell something’s “off” when they hear your music, but they won’t be able to articulate what it is.
There are so many different ways you can study songwriting: get a personal coach, pick up a book, an online course, or find a class at a local music school. But I urge you to give your songwriting the attention it deserves, because when you become truly fluent in songwriting, people will notice.
Songwriting is a language: Practice it.
Learning a language takes practice. Period. There’s no way around it.
You’ve probably heard that the best way to learn a language is immersion, NOT studying in a classroom setting. So treat your songwriting “practice” the same way. Here are two ways to immerse yourself in songwriting:
Write. Write constantly. You're not writing your magnum opus; treat each song like a learning experience. If you find that a song has a lot of potential, you can always go back and rewrite the song later.
Start simple, and then grow from there. Try to push yourself a little more with each song.
Listen. I mean actively listen. You could be in France listening to strangers speak French all day, but if you’re zoning out and not making an effort to understand what they’re saying, it won’t do you any good.
So don’t just have dance party while you’re listening to music, you need to really listen to all the aspects of songwriting that are happening within the song. Try to understand the chord progression, the melody, the rhythm, and all the different elements of a song.
Songwriting is a language: Speak it.
Now here’s the real test: get out there and speak your language.
Speaking and using your language will help you find your voice. You’ll start to find those words that flow naturally for you and you’ll discover what areas you need to work on.
You’ll also get to see what works and what doesn’t. Maybe certain sentences or words you’ve been using in your practice time just don’t translate in the real world. Maybe you’re losing your listeners in certain parts of your songs.
Go play you new songs for your friends. Ask them what they like and what they don’t. Play for some open mic nights. See which songs the audience responds best to. See which songs are difficult or awkward to perform in public – you might be surprised!
So friends, go study, practice, and speak your new language. I want you to become so fluent in songwriting that songs pour out of you naturally and easily.
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