Is there a Silver Bullet to Successful Song Writing?
You want to become a song writer, and a successful one at that. Unfortunately there is no silver bullet to successful song writing, no one method that would guarantee you that. However, there are a few things you can do that help you become a better song writer. This article will explore those things.
Things you can do to become a better song writer
There are many aspects to song writing that need to be mastered before writing great songs. Besides good song writing genes, there are some basic things that help boost your song writing skills.
1. Listen to a lot of great songs
Most people don’t understand that listening, or more accurately, active listening, is the key requirement for becoming a good song writer. Question: would you belief me if I told you that Mozart was able to play the piano and compose music without ever hearing music before? Of course not! Although he was certainly very gifted he was also born into a very musical family and exposed to music from the very beginning of his life.
My point is that before you can write music you first need to listen to a lot of songs. This may come as a shock to you, but we rarely invent something completely new when we write a song. Instead, most of the time we unconsciously “borrow” small ideas from other songs and rearrange them into something new. I guarantee you that you can analyze any contemporary song and find snippets of its harmonic progression and melody in thousands of other songs.
Bottom line: you need to put something into your brain first before you can create something, and the more you put in the more it has to work with!
There is no doubt that imitating, meaning playing and singing great songs from other writers, is the best way to get a deeper understanding of what great songs are made of. It will eventually inspire your brain to come up with its own songs. Perhaps they won’t be as good at first, but they will get better the more you do it, which brings me to my next important point, the importance of creating songs and archiving your ideas.
3. Create songs and archive your ideas
We need to strengthen our creative muscle at all times. Write down or record every musical idea that pops into your head. If it worked for Gershwin, who was known for carrying a notebook with him at all times, it may just as well work for you.
The most important thing is to just start writing. The writing process differs from person to person. Some like to have a message they want to share with the world, others like to start with a musical idea such as a melody, groove, or a chord progression. It may be even different with each song. What’s most important is that you let it flow, meaning don’t be judgmental, and just let your creativity take you wherever it wants to go. Later, you can think about it, analyze it, and change things, but not while you are in “the zone”.
Make sure you immediately save your ideas. For example, I use my smart phone to record my ideas when and where ever I get them. Of course there is also nothing wrong with using pencil and paper. Just make sure you archive your ideas for later use. If you don’t you risk to loose an idea that could have become the main ingredient for the next big hit. You never know!
4. Learn to play the piano
The piano is the best instrument to get a better understanding of how music works. There are two reasons for that:
- The keyboard is the only instrument that represents scales with their whole-steps and half-steps visually in a logical fashion.
- We can play harmonic progressions on the keyboard as opposed to only melodies
It’s a fact that all higher education institutions make their music students take piano lessons, whether they are classical, jazz, or pop musicians, regardless what other instruments they already play.
5. Study Music Theory
Music theory is something a lot of song writers would like to do without. As a matter of fact, there are some successful song writers that never have taken a theory class in their life. If you want to write songs that only have two or three chords and a simple melody you may do just fine without any theory at all. However, I do believe that every passionate musician eventually develops a natural curiosity about how music works, why certain chords sound good with others, why certain notes sound bad with certain chords, etc.
To me music theory was always one of the most fascinating aspects about music. I believe that a solid knowledge of music theory can definitely help your writing. It will also help you understand what great songs are made of through analyses of there different compositional elements which will most definitely inspire you to adapt some of them for your own righting.
A note of caution! The theory can also get in the way of the music. Let me explain. After accumulating some music theory you might find yourself writing with your brain instead of your ear. As a result your song could sound engineered rather than inspired. This being said, once the theory is internalized, it usually inspires your creativity. For example, it may make you use a chord progression that you would have never thought of if you didn’t have a chance to explore it through music theory. Confused? Let me give you an example: there are actually many jazz and pop songs where it is quite apparent that the composer consciously or unconsciously applied learned theory to his/her song. However, those songs turned out to be great songs anyway because the composer obviously found a way to apply the theory in a tasteful and musical manner.
In short, look at theory as another source of inspiration. Beyond that, theory also teaches us how to read and write music and chord symbols, and how music works.