While it’s easy to tell a talented songwriter to “just write,” there’s a big difference between half-baked lyrics and a surefire hit single. Practice makes perfect; here are some tried-and-true paths to becoming a better songwriter.
Deconstruct the songs you love.
Take a closer look at the music that moves you to understand why you like them. Or take the advice of Mint Trip singer and songwriter Amy Gionfriddo, who says, “Someone who doesn’t have a strong background in musical training should find a song that speaks to them and look up the chords and lyrics and analyze it. Chip away at that song until you find out why it makes you feel the way it does. See what resonates with you.”
Learn music theory. Or not.
While understanding the basic principles of chord structures, melodies, and harmonies are important, you don’t need to have a deep knowledge of music theory to write a song. “You just need an open heart and a friend who can play guitar,” explains Gionfriddo.
Give yourself permission.
While it’s great to have a goal of writing a song a day, churning out content you don’t particularly like to hit an arbitrary goal may be a waste of time. If you don’t know why you’re writing a particular song, the end result will probably fall flat. “It took me a long time to build up mindfulness tools,” says Gionfriddo, “and give myself permission to be free and not think ‘that lyric isn’t good enough.’”
One way to make lyrics flow on command is to record your thoughts and get in touch with your emotional temperature outside of formally writing songs. “You’re increasing your awareness and emotional intelligence — knowing how you’re feeling on any given day and flexing your interpersonal muscles,” says Gionfriddo. “Then, when you’re ready to write a song, you’re able to open yourself to your feelings and thoughts easily. It’s like flipping a switch.”
Don’t force it.
If you make songwriting another dreadful task on your to-do list you’re likely to produce equally dreadful work. “It’s not always going to feel good,” admits Gionfriddo. “Take everything in stride. Set aside a time to write, but don’t think today’s the day I have to write a song. If nothing’s coming, it’s okay to stop and try tomorrow. Don’t beat yourself up.” Just promise you’ll keep trying.
Make sure you can record on-the-fly.
Everyone’s had great ideas arrive in the shower and completely forgotten them by the time they get out. Technology has made it much easier to preserve words or even music, so make sure you always have a smartphone on hand or another device nearby when inspiration strikes. “I get into the flow when driving,” says Gionfriddo, “and more than half of my ideas happen when I’m in my car. I just use my voice memos on my phone.”
Go to shows.
While going to see live music may be a given, processing a great performance on a personal level can get your own ideas flowing. “If there’s a song I really like, I start thinking about why I like it and what I like about it, and I’ll type that into my phone,” says Gionfriddo. “What inspires me to write music is hearing other people’s music. You never know what’s going to light a fire.”
It’s important to take your time writing. Whether it means taking a break for a few hours or sparking ideas from something around you, being mindful of your music will ultimately help you achieve success in your career.
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