So you’re wondering if songwriting is a talent or a skill? You’ve come to the right place! When we look at the success famous songwriters achieve when they write hit after hit, it’s natural to think that they were born with amazing talent. But even if that’s the case, is it possible that one day, with enough hard work, we can write great songs too? I’ve done some research and looked at forums, and here is the short summary of what I found:
In the early stages of songwriting, talented individuals may learn and absorb songwriting techniques faster. But over time, talent has little to do with the achievements down the road. As with any learnable skill, practice makes perfect. If you focus on improving your songwriting skills long enough, you can be a great songwriter too!
With that said, let’s look at 5 effective ways for us to improve our songwriting skills!
How To Get Better at Songwriting?
- Deconstruct and analyze songs you love
- Learning music theory fundamentals
- Don’t be afraid of writing bad songs
- Use simple chord progressions and song structure at first
- Get honest feedback
Deconstruct and analyze songs you love
By deconstructing and analyze your favorite songs, you get a much better understanding of the underlying components that make up the song. And with that knowledge, you will be able to write songs in that genre or style.
A song is basically constructed with 3 main components: Lyrics, melody and music.
The lyrics are the words of a song. Think of a song you like, when you sing it, the words you just uttered are the lyrics. The lyrics are very important as they convey the message of the song. Without it, it’s hard to picture what the song is really about. Although similar to a poem, lyrics have its own set of writing guidelines, including inherent rhythm, rhyming, sentence length and so on.
The melody is when you hum the song without its lyrics. Sometimes called the tune of the song. Melody is what makes a song a song. Without it, the lyrics are just words, without a way to really sing them. However, in the style of rap, there may not be any melody at all, as rapping involves only words and rhythm.
The music is the accompaniment, instrumental or the backing track. If we sing a song without the music, it is called a capella, which is a whole style of its own. With the music produced, it is often clear right from the start what genre, style or mood the song is in, before the singer even starts to sing. The music can often make or break song, as the listener will feel the incompleteness if it’s not well produced.
With all 3 components above: Lyrics, melody and music, a song is born! Notice that when we talk about writing or creating them, little talent is actually essential. Sure, with talent you can pick up the general guidelines more quickly, but if you spend the time to understand them, your skill matters much, much more over time.
Learning music theory fundamentals
Do you play an instrument? If you do, you most likely know the basics of music theory already. If you don’t, it’s not too late! Start by learning these fundamentals that will help you tremendously in songwriting:
- Keys and Scales
- Tempo, Beats and Bars
- Chord Progressions
- Song Structures
Don’t be afraid of writing bad songs
The truth is, even the top songwriters of today started somewhere. No one was born perfect. To write a hit, there is a mountain of failed songs. So if you’re trying to write amazing songs on your first few tries, don’t! Take the time to learn and absorb, and if you think the song you’re working on is bad and nobody will ever listen to it, that’s okay! Look at that you don’t like about it, how you got there and why you got stuck (maybe?), and move on to the next song.
The 10,000 hour rule says that to master a craft, one needs to spend at least 10,000 hours practicing and doing it. Of course, that’s just a rule of thumb. You don’t have to be a master of songwriting to write a song. Just remember, If you keep at it, you will get better. That is part of the journey. You can be sure that with enough bad songs written, your skill as a songwriter will be good enough to write good songs that people will listen to!
Most of the songwriters quit before their skills are trained enough to be able to write good songs. Just by not giving up, you’re almost guaranteed to get better everyday!
Use simple chord progressions and song structure at first
If you’re just starting to write songs, don’t worry too much about all the different kinds of chord progressions and song structures. A good way to practice is to choose a few of your favorites, and just stick with those until you’re comfortable with them. Instead, focus on the message and overall story of the song. You will get much further by doing so.
When you change the chord progressions in different sections of the song, without much experience, you may ruin the flow and mood of the song. It may do more harm than good.
Choose a simple song structure like the one in this example:
This structure should work out to be around 3-minutes, depending on your tempo and bar length for each section, which is a standard length for modern songs. After learning the objective of the different song sections, then you can freely design your own song structure, to bring out the message of the song more effectively.
Get honest feedback
Believe it or not, when it comes to sharing and getting feedback, most songwriters are extremely afraid of the process. Maybe because they’re worried they will get negative feedback, or maybe they just think it’s awkward to present their own creations to someone who has never heard it before. Either way, you have to overcome this internal fear to get better at songwriting.
Finding a suitable person to get feedback from is crucial. Look for someone preferably your family member or your close friend, who would not tease or laugh at your mistakes. Instead, reach out to someone who would sit down and spend the time to give you their honest and valuable feedback. From my own experience, this may be the best way to get better at songwriting.
Remember, when you’re just starting out, most of the feedback may be negative, but don’t think of them as an attack on your ability! Instead take it as an opportunity to improve your own skills as a songwriter. Many songwriters will feel like they lack the talent when they receive negative comments and just give up completely. But that is just simply not true. Once your skill get better, you will write better songs, and the feedback you get will start to turn positive!