March 1, 2011
"Can Songwriting Really Be Taught"
By: David Randle
Songwriting lessons are out there to be found, but do they really work? Can someone actually teach you to be a
songwriter if you’re not one already. Well I’d like to answer that with some observations. Every type of artist
receives inspiration and then processes that inspiration through their knowledge base. Painters paint, sculptors
sculpt, poets write in verse, novelists write prose; you get the picture. We can even break down the process to a
finer level. Painters paint according to their understanding and training. Some painters paint in oils, some in
acrylics, some in watercolors, some use colored chalks, and many more variations. Even painters who paint in oils
vary from using brushes to a palette knife, painting on canvas or painting on board. This all happens according to
their knowledge base.
So what happens when that inspiration comes to an aspiring songwriter? Well, if our songwriter only knows a couple
of chords, we’re likely to get a two chord song. Now I’m not disparaging two chord songs. The band America had a
major hit with a two chord song called “Horse With No Name.” But it’s one thing to have a broad knowledge base and
choose to express with two chords, as opposed to being forced to write with two chords because that’s all you know.
Understanding chord progressions, cadences, chord extension and substitution, secondary chords, and relative and
parallel key areas will equip you with powerful tools that you can creatively use to express yourself. I maintain
that the more you know, the wider the possible range of expression to interpret your inspiration.
If you haven’t explored melody writing, you are likely to write your new song from your new inspiration in the same
way you wrote your old song from your last inspiration, and while that may have been quite enjoyable, you can get
stuck in a rut. Learning about phrase development, motifs, harmonic and non-harmonic tone usage, anacrusis,
appoggiaturas, internal rhythms, intervallic leaps, among other skills can put you in a place where all the tools
at your disposal makes it simple to create musical and expressive melodies for every style of song. Again it would
seem that the greater your knowledge base, the greater the opportunity for you to advance in your songwriting
Lyric writing is actually the most justifiable part of songwriting that we can observe benefiting from education,
training or lessons. Virtually every university on the planet has a creative writing program which will include
novels, novellas, short stories, essays, article writing, poetry, and lyric writing. As an aside, because lyric
writing is intrinsically linked to music, the teachers in the literature department may not have as good a grasp on
the musical functions of the lyrics and its internal rhythm and accents, yet the fact that literature departments
everywhere teach and train writers how to be better writers on a daily basis gives us hope that we can learn to be
better lyricists as well. At least we can upgrade our knowledge base and that is the point of this article.
Lastly, if you went to buy a house in a housing development where every single house was built to the same
blueprint, it would seem very strange. We love our neighborhoods to have variety. If you look at your collection of
Cds or downloads on your computer or iPod, you’ll see a wide variety of styles, forms and structures. The more you
know about structure, the more you can be in control when choosing the format that is perfect for your song. Again,
we are discussing knowledge base.
It appears to me from all I’ve observed that the greater your knowledge base for the things you wish to do in this
world, the better you’ll be at doing them. That is true in a very powerful way with songwriting. If you can find a
teacher, trainer, coach, or course and curriculum to raise your knowledge base regarding songwriting, you are going
to be a better songwriter.
If you’re looking for such a teacher, we recommend My Songwriting Coach.
David Randle is a lifelong guitarist and songwriter, with a highly developed knack for producing and arranging. He
spends a great deal of time mentoring and coaching aspiring music artists and songwriters to rise to the pinnacle
of their abilities. Music definitely is a language we all can understand.
Known as both My Songwriting Coach and the Guitar Lesson Expert, you can find articles throughout the web on The
Songwriting Blog and Music Lesson Expert.