OnlineRock: Empowering Musicians  

Songwriting 101

Hello class, please be seated. Comfortable? We are about to embark on a short course, Songwriting 101. This class will enhance your ability to create glorious musical masterpieces that heretofore have never been heard. It will bestow upon you the tools with which to master the art of songwriting. It will improve your overall quality of life. It will grow hair on your palms. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Let’s get started.

The art of songwriting involves two things, inspiration and craft (more commonly referred to as perspiration!). Many great songs are born as something resembling a revelation. They’re like a bolt of lighting straight out of the sky. A lot of the greatest songwriters speak about the experience with the reverence usually reserved for mystical or religious experiences. There are times when songs just seem to appear out of nowhere, fully formed. Sometimes it’s not a complete song, but a great riff that you can build an entire song around, like The Rolling StonesS "Satisfaction". These bolts of inspiration are like manna from heaven to songwriters.

I do believe that to be a good songwriter one must open up oneself to be a channel or conduit for music. Robert Fripp of King Crimson has spoken in the past of music existing in it’s own space, waiting for a musician to play it or a songwriter to write it. In some ways a truly inspired songwriter may be doing no more than taking dictation!

However, songwriting is not only inspiration itself. This is where the " perspiration " (craft ) comes into play. No matter how inspired and one with your muse you are, if you don’t possess the tools to render your "gift" into a coherent piece of music, no one will hear it. Besides, inspiration is fleeting. By developing your craft you will be able to bring your inspirations to life and even create great music on the days GOD doesn’t deign to speak to you! Following are some suggestions for perfecting your craft and connecting with your muse:

It helps to have a tape recorder around. It doesn’t need to be an 8-Track or any sophisticated piece of equipment at all, just anything that will record. Then you can just play away and record everything you do. From this, riffs and chord progressions can be gleaned for use in creating songs. The fact of the matter is, you never know when the inspiration will strike. That is why it’s a good idea to keep the tape rolling whenever you can.

And speaking of riffs and chord progressions, study the music that really moves you to find out how "they" do it. Examine the way the songwriters you love put a song together. I have heard one successful songsmith after another recite the same phrase, "all songwriting is theft". Now, this is not a recommendation to plagiarize! It is just an acknowledgment on the part of some of the great songwriters of how much they were inspired by the music of their idols. Plagiarism is a crime, but taking someone else’s idea and making it yours while giving it a fresh twist is a perfectly valid way to make your own personal artistic statement. Songwriters have been doing this since time immemorial.

Of course, a large part of the craft of songwriting is playing your instrument. The relative level of expertise on your chosen axe will determine which ideas you can bring to fruition and which ideas will never see the light of day. Obviously, the more you know about playing your instrument the easier it will be to reproduce the sounds you are hearing in your head.

Perhaps it is not enough, however, to only practice scales and chords. I would also recommend practicing creative elements of your music as well. Don’t just hone your chops, force yourself to come up with licks and chord progressions on the spot. IMPROVISE! This will result in discovering new territory that is ripe with song potential.

Another thing you must always bear in mind when writing music is that you are trying to communicate thoughts and feelings with others. It is important to employ music in such a way as it supports the thoughts and feelings you are trying to convey. Learn how to use music so that when others listen to your song they hear your feelings coming through clearly. The music must support the message.

Now class, you have been given the knowledge that will allow you to write the music of the spheres! Or maybe even a hit rock n’ roll tune. So GET WRITING !!!

Stay Tuned,

The Virtual Musician

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