7 Simple Ways to Hone Your Songwriting Skills

While it’s easy enough to tell an aspiring songwriter to “just write,” there’s a big difference between an unconsidered lyric and a potential hit. Practice makes perfect, though, and here are some ways to become a better songwriter every time you write.

Deconstruct the songs you love.

While other musicians surely inspired you to write in the first place, it’s worth your time to take a closer look at the songs that move you to understand why you like them -- and learn how they can improve your own songwriting. “For someone who doesn’t have a strong background in musical training, they should find a song that speaks to them and look up the chords and lyrics and analyze it,” says Amy Gionfriddo, front person and co-songwriter for the alt-pop project Mint Trip on Blue Elan Records. “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 learning the basic principles of song form, chord structure, melodies, and harmonies are important, it’s not necessary to have a deep knowledge of music to write a song. “You just need an open heart and a friend who can play guitar,” says Gionfriddo. “The only thing between you and having a song written is really you.”

Give yourself permission.

While it’s great to have a goal of writing a song a day, just churning out content that you don’t particularly like to hit an arbitrary goal may be a waste of effort. If you don’t have an awareness of why you’re writing or know why you’re writing a particular song, it’s likely that the end result will fall flat. “It took me a long time of building up mindfulness tools to give myself permission to be free and not think, that lyric isn’t good enough,” says Gionfriddo.  

Try journaling.

One way to make lyrics flow on command is to spend time making sure you record your thoughts, melodies, and get in touch with your own 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 reading 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.

While it can be argued that any time you sit down to write there’s a chance of stumbling across a great lyric or a catchy melody, if you make songwriting just another dreary task on your to-do list you’re likely to produce equally dreary 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 yourself to keep trying.

Make sure you have a way to record quickly.

Everyone has had that great idea that arrives while you’re in the shower but is completely forgotten by the time you get out. Technology has made it much easier to preserve words or even music, so make sure you always have a smartphone or other device on hand or nearby for when inspiration strikes. “I get into the flow when driving, and more than half of my ideas happen when I’m in my car,” says Gionfriddo. “I just use my voice memos on my phone.”

Go to shows.

While going to see live music may be a given, watching a great performance can get your creative juices 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 is important as a songwriter to take your time to write. Whether that means taking a break from writing for a few hours or sparking up ideas from something around you, being thoughtful in your writing skills will help you achieve ultimate success in your music career.

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