My Songwriting Coach Avoid Writer's BlockWe’re so happy that you found your way to our Song Chat blog. We will be regularly discussing everything that has to do with songwriting, and it is our intention to help you build a better tool box, filled with extremely useful songwriting tools. If you are a beginning, hunt and peck type writer, we’ll show you what you need to do. If you’ve already got several songs under your belt, we’ll take you from modeling your songs after your favorite artist’s songs, and show you how to begin creating something truly original that still has commercial value. Even those of you who are advanced songwriters will find material here that you may never have considered, and remember, it only takes one new idea to launch something new and remarkable.

The premise that we operate from, and it should be fairly obvious to you, is that songwriters can be developed and cultivated, they’re not just born. So if songwriting isn’t currently easy for you, you probably just don’t have enough information. We will be dissecting the elements of songwriting a couple times a week here in this blog, so we recommend that you bookmark this page, or even better, subscribe to the RSS feed.

This will be an exciting adventure. We have helped countless songwriters gain a firm grasp of all of the musical tools that songwriters need to know as well as lead them down a pathway of introspection about what’s going on in their life and in their world, so that they’re constantly developing ideas to write songs about. Whether you need to work on your lyric writing, your melodies, or your chord progressions, you are in the right place. And if you ever want to go faster than the posts in this blog can lead you to go, please contact My Songwriting Coach, we’d love to have you as a private student or welcome you into one of our group classes.

Listen to become a good songwriterIf you want to be a good songwriter, I’ve got a really good piece of advice for you. Listen way more than you talk. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s a multi-layered idea, but I will share it with you.

First, I want you to grasp a really important fact. I am in a massive community of songwriters, numbering well into the thousands, and after varying degrees of career success, virtually none of them still play the first songs they ever wrote. Why does that matter? It gives some perspective that professional songwriters have always used their early composing experiences for growth and development and that with continued writing practice, they got better and better. That should not only motivate you that work and practice will give eventual results, but also awaken you to the fact that you may be falling too much in love with your own early writing.

It’s really important for me to share this powerful observation with you. Whenever I attend song evaluation events, at songwriting workshops, song pitches, songwriting guild meetings, master classes, either as an evaluator or an observer, I tend to see the same thing over and over again. The moderators and panel members at these events usually have incredibly insightful things to say about the songs that they review; the same sorts of things that I tend to tell students about their songs when I’m asked to evaluate them. If each songwriter who submitted a song were to carefully listen to the feedback they are receiving, they could almost instantaneously accelerate their songwriting development. They are given numerous golden recommendations of things that they could do to make their songs better, hookier, more commercial or sellable. Continue reading »

Paul Simon took Songwriting LessonsI constantly get asked by songwriters in various stages of their development whether songwriting lessons could benefit them and help them write better songs. I suppose the first place to start is acknowledging that different songwriters are in different stages of their development, and have completely different obstacles to hurdle as they hone their craft. The answer is a resounding yes for all the writers who are at beginning to intermediate levels of songwriting. For entry level songwriters and even songwriters who have a handful of songs in their catalog, the more instruction that you can sift through regarding your lyric writing, melody writing, and harmonic development or chord progression creation, the stronger your toolbox is in terms of what you know how to do. You can then additionally benefit from finding some kind of Master Class, song circle, songwriter’s guild that has a true song evaluation process, or even by joining organizations such as Taxi, in order to test the success of how you are implementing the tools you have learned.

The more challenging group of songwriters to talk to, are those who could be considered advanced-intermediate to advanced or even professionals. Quite often the songwriters in this category have had some success; songs published, a CD released, a list of credits and a big song catalog, and they have a lot of confidence to go with that success. The question I would ask these songwriters is how much mastery do they have of the tools of their trade? I know that they have their system of writing and their process of completing a song down to a science, but how repetitive are their songs? How innovative are they in their songwriting and could they be a lot better? Continue reading »

My Songwriting CoachWhen you ask yourself, “How do I learn songwriting or become a better songwriter,” the answer just might take you outside of traditional pathways. The goal is to achieve a naturalness to the variety of musical choices you can make so that you can say what you feel about any subject and put it into a musical context that touches the people who hear it as a song!

I was just speaking to a prospective student who expressed a feeling that I have heard over and over again for as long as I have been coaching songwriters. He said that he took college music theory and composition classes, and even did well enough in the classes to get A’s, yet he is totally unsure how to apply any of what he learned. Why do you think that might be? It is certainly the way almost every student I’ve ever spoken to feels about formal training.

In order to successfully apply what is taught in music theory classes in college, you need to be able to separate what you learn from the era and genre in which that device was originated. I often express to students that there are only seven notes in a scale, and seven chords in a key, and that they are the same ones used by both Mozart and Ozzy Osborne. The trick is to see the big, big picture, and not be sucked into the fact that you might be learning the music theory through the vehicle of a Cantata by Bach. If you get stuck in the formatting of the classical approach that you are studying, you may never be able to feel how that technique might cross over into usefulness for a Rock, Pop, Folk, Country, or Jazz song in the 21st Century. Continue reading »

My Songwriting CoachWhen you consider the song structure you want to write your song in, you are really deciding on the architecture of the song. Just like a blueprint lays out the rooms in your home as they relate to each other, so does the song structure determine how the sections of your song are laid out. Rather than looking at the history of how the different structures and forms that songs take came into being, we are going to list and describe the ones that are most often used.

 Verse Form, My Songwriting Coach

The Verse Form is the simplest of all the song structures. It is the most like poetry in that it simply expresses its message, Verse after Verse. This form is almost exclusively used in older Folk Music. Prevalent in the songs sung by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Gordon Lightfoot, among thousands, this is the storytellers form.

 Verse Form with Refrain, My Songwriting Coach

The Verse Form with Refrain is a Folk song with a hunger for a Chorus. Unfortunately, these wanna be choruses never develop into full-fledged choruses, but seem to function as a one line repetitive refrain at the end of each Verse. A perfect example of a Verse Form with Refrain is Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. The Verses tell the story and at the end of each Verse is the refrain, “the answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” This is too short to be a Chorus, but it works like a Chorus to pull the listener’s ear through to the next Verse. Continue reading »

Melody Writing with My Songwriting CoachMelody writing can be a make or break aspect of your songwriting. A weak lyric doesn’t seem to hold back a strong melody like a weak melody can hold back a strong lyric. Ideally you want both, plus a really strong harmonic progression together with an established song structure or form, to create a meaningful song. So if melody writing is that important and is arguably the most important aspect of your song, how do you learn it? And how do you become really good at it?

That’s a question I am asked over and over by students, at songwriting clubs, Guilds, Meetups, and Workshops, but before I answer it directly, I’d like to share with you an observation I’ve made over the years. The songwriters that I have met who’s greatest strength is their melody writing ability have almost all had extensive experience singing cover songs. Why do you think that might be? Well, it’s my belief that usually the kinds of songs that performers play at gigs are the ones their fans most want to hear. That means the songs cover singers sing tend to be the most popular songs in their genre. I also believe that there is a general correlation between a song being popular and it being well written. That means these cover song singers have spent an important part of their development singing the best written songs by the master songwriters of their generation. Continue reading »

Lyric Writing ConceptsThe first thing we need to address when we think of lyric writing concepts is exactly where we are in the writing process. There are three pillars to a song: lyrics, melody, and harmony or chord progression. And while it might be obvious, the order in which we create each pillar affects the next one dramatically. Therefore, there is no cute and tidy, one size fits all approach to lyrics, but a pliable, constantly evolving approach that reflects where we are in the song process.

A very high percentage of the aspiring songwriters who contact me got their beginnings writing verse. It is important to note that verse is not a lyric. Poetry stands alone, and each syllable creates the meter that gives the language its rhythmic context. In a lyric, depending on the melody it’s set to, there can be more than one note per syllable, and even several notes depending on the style. In addition, melody introduces the concept of timing, which means a word resting on a note could be held for more than one count, maybe even more than one measure. As a result, it can be a challenge considering a lyric apart from the melody that will express it. Continue reading »

My Songwriting Coach, Getting IdeasGetting ideas for your various songwriting projects can be one of the biggest challenges to a songwriter. I’m sure you can join me in remembering times when you felt like writing a song, or even felt musically inspired to write, and just seemed to sit and stare at an empty page, never quite coming up with that quality idea. Well, I have a great solution so that you will never or, at least rarely, have to endure that experience.

I propose that you keep with you at all times, a “line and title” notebook. Of course I realize it’s 2012, and you’re more likely to carry a Smart Phone, iPad or other tablet, laptop, or even a portable, digital voice recorder. However, there is nothing that triggers creative juices like holding the pen in your hand and writing it out the “old fashioned” way. Ask Sting. So I still recommend a small notebook; Nothing too big, but just a small, manageable journal book that you can write in. Continue reading »

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