Most people don’t posses natural talent to write songs and even those, who claim this status for themselves, haven’t written a great song by accident one day, but have obtained their skills over time, by intuitively trying to combine the pieces of the puzzle.
I myself have developed my skills over a long period of time by intuition, but there came the time when I reached a point, where I recognized, that my songs already sounded pretty good, but they never sounded anywhere near of what I tried to express.
So what I did was to search for people, who were able to help me writing music, the way I wanted to.
What I found out than was, that one – in order to be able to express yourself in music – must learn to understand how music works, in order to be able to combine the right elements, which will eventually produce the desired results.
The good news for you is, that music follows logical rules, which can be learned and applied by anyone. How to combine the musical elements with each other and which ones to use, is dependent on what you are trying to express musically, such as a cook decides witch spices he is using for witch meal.
Many musicians refuse to learn the theoretical concepts behind songwriting, because they believe that they wouldn’t sound ‘original’ anymore. This false believe is caused by the assumption, that music theory limits yourself in your creativity. But it’s purpose should be understood as a ‘toolbox’ and a useful guideline, rather than a collection of rules what you are ‘allowed’ to do.
Without this toolbox, you will be always damned to the process of guessing, rather than knowing what to do and you will be stealing yourself so many possibilities, you are not even aware of without that knowledge.
Music theory IS NOT limiting yourself in creativity. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to write music, some pitches simply doesn’t fit as good in a special context than others, just like many spices don’t go well with special meals. But of course you are not forbidden to put pepper on your donut, if you like to and if it smells for you, than that’s perfectly fine with me! 🙂
Another reason why many musicians struggle to write a great song is, that they don’t plan in advance, how to implement what they are trying to say in music, in the best way possible.
Let’s take an example: There is a new supermarket in your town opening up and you want to check it out. Now, before you are going there, I suppose you have looked up on a map where it is and how you will get there (Or you have a navigation assistant doing the work for you:)). When you follow your plan, you will most likely arrive there.
In case you simply started of by good luck, it is very unlikely you’ll find the supermarket and even if you get there, it will take you a long time to figure the location out.
Songwriting is really no different. If you don’t know exactly what you want to say, you can’t plan how to get there. If you know what you want to express, but don’t know which ways will lead you there, you will have to rely on your luck to come up with something meaningful. This isn’t impossible of course, but only happens by chance, or you will need to try a very long time, till you get what you want, which goes along with a lot of frustration.
So if you want to write a song, which is expressing what you want to say, you should do some planning in advance.
I want to give you a concrete example now, how this could look like:
Let’s say you want to write a song, expressing a melancholic feeling. Witch methods would enable you doing so?
- minor key
- descending chord sequences
- slow, plangent rhythm
- slow dynamic changes from loud to quiet
Witch specific elements or techniques could you use, to provoke that feeling?
- release bendings / slow bendings
- dissonant chords
- slow vibrato
The next time you want to write a song, compile a list with methods, that enable you to express specifically what you want to say and think about how to use techniques and all musical concepts you know, to deepen the feeling you want to produce.
If you need help with that, find a qualified music teacher who can help you developing your skills.
This article was written by Marco von Baumbach, guitar teacher in Wuppertal, Germany.