How To Turn An Idea Into A Song
ollyno1uk
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#1
3rd September 2013
Old 3rd September 2013
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How To Turn An Idea Into A Song

Hi Everyone

I have been playing guitar for about 20 years on and off now.

It has always been my ambition to write music and over the last 10 years I have tried numerous times without success.

It is almost like I am programmed to not be able to write. Even if I sit down with a view to writing the most rubbish song, something stops me doing it.

I have started recording little ideas that I have whenever I have them but I still do not understand how I can take these forward and actually create a song.

I have been reading this forum with interest and it seems like there are a lot of decent songwriters here that might be able to give me some guidance though I am pretty certain, there is not going to be any easy answer - I just have to find it in myself somehow! After 10 years of trying, it seems increasingly unlikely!

https://soundcloud.com/ollyno1uk
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3rd September 2013
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Lyrics - write about something you know
Music- write using your musical knowledge
Vocals - transpose the music into your vocal range
Draw from your experience.
Finish one song before you move on to another.

When I started writing I figured that I had played enough cover tunes to be able to write a decent song.

Arrangement - try and keep it around 3 minutes

That's my 2 cents.
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3rd September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
Lyrics - write about something you know
Music- write using your musical knowledge
Vocals - transpose the music into your vocal range
Draw from your experience.
Finish one song before you move on to another.

When I started writing I figured that I had played enough cover tunes to be able to write a decent song.

Arrangement - try and keep it around 3 minutes

That's my 2 cents.
Very Cool!
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3rd September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ollyno1uk View Post
Hi Everyone

I have been playing guitar for about 20 years on and off now.
Aha! That's the problem. It requires at least 21 years 9 months and 17 days to write a song!

Seriously... the mindset that prompted you to write "playing guitar 20 years" as the first description about yourself is the same mindset that prevents you from writing songs.

Quote:
I have started recording little ideas that I have whenever I have them but I still do not understand how I can take these forward and actually create a song.
What's your level of knowledge of basic music theory?

Do you know how to analyze songs and dissect them section by section, part by part?

Do you know why romantic music has notes & chords that sound "romantic" and scary horror music has notes and chords that sound like "danger"?

If you had 20+ years of analyzing how song structures and harmonic interplay works (instead of 20 years of playing guitar), you wouldn't be here asking how to write songs.
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ollyno1uk
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3rd September 2013
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Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Aha! That's the problem. It requires at least 21 years 9 months and 17 days to write a song!

Seriously... the mindset that prompted you to write "playing guitar 20 years" as the first description about yourself is the same mindset that prevents you from writing songs.
I would be interested to know what you mean by this. I didn't start playing guitar at the age of 12 to write music, I did it to learn to play an instrument which I can now do and have been able to for a considerable time! I did write this to suggest I am not new to music or my instrument but maybe it came across wrongly?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
What's your level of knowledge of basic music theory?
I have a good understanding of basic music theory

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Do you know how to analyze songs and dissect them section by section, part by part?
I understand verse chorus bridge etc, I can try and analyse the theory behind what is going on as well with reasonable success depending on the complexity. If this is what you mean.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
Do you know why romantic music has notes & chords that sound "romantic" and scary horror music has notes and chords that sound like "danger"?
I understand major/minor chords and scales along with tonality created with modes. I understand some chords go together well and others do not which can create tension in the music or release.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason West View Post
If you had 20+ years of analyzing how song structures and harmonic interplay works (instead of 20 years of playing guitar), you wouldn't be here asking how to write songs.
Yes maybe you are correct but see my first response.


Thanks for the input
ollyno1uk
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3rd September 2013
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Originally Posted by ido1957 View Post
Lyrics - write about something you know
Music- write using your musical knowledge
Vocals - transpose the music into your vocal range
Draw from your experience.
Finish one song before you move on to another.

When I started writing I figured that I had played enough cover tunes to be able to write a decent song.

Arrangement - try and keep it around 3 minutes

That's my 2 cents.

Some good solid points here. I had never previously considered my vocal range. Thank you!
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3rd September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ollyno1uk View Post
It has always been my ambition to write music and over the last 10 years I have tried numerous times without success.
It is almost like I am programmed to not be able to write. After 10 years of trying, it seems increasingly unlikely!
So have you been telling yourself for the last 10 years that you can't write. If so that's a long time to program your brain into thinking it can't do something. I come across so many writer's who start out by saying how they can't do this and can't do that. Writer's block, blah, blah, blah. Well what do you think is going to happen when you keep telling yourself you can't do something. Don't even acknowledge the possibility. Program your brain to believe you are a incredibly creative individual who can write great songs. And it's not like your going to magically start writing great songs. It takes work and effort as well. Someone said there's the gift and the craft. The gift probably ain't comin' if you keep telling yourself it's ain't comin. The craft takes persistence, but overall, like anything creative, it's a matter of controlling your own thought processes and directing them in a creative and positive way.
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9th September 2013
Old 9th September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lenzo View Post
.......the gift and the craft.
Is there a song there....that idea? If so, pick up your guitar and play something comfortable while that idea flows out. If the song is there something will strike you and make you smile.....doesn't have to be much.

That's the gift.

Then....take that gift and work it a little. Record the part that made you smile, repeating it until it morphs into....more. Let it build until it starts to become more complex, then take hold of it and shape it into something with structure, rhyme
and feeling....something that might make me smile.

That's the craft.

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9th September 2013
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I find the two things you need to start a song are a riff and a phrase, which usually becomes the chorus.

So the easiest way to start is record riffs you come up with and then try to find a phrase that fits with them and feels like a chorus. Once you have that, you can usually find the song.
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10th September 2013
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Depending on how time permits you should set a personal goal of 1 song per songwriting session.

Give yourself a few hours, strum out some chords, play out some lead lines, write out some lyrics. It doesnt matter how good this song is. The important part is that you sat down and finished it. Keep that in your mind the entire time.

Do this enough times and you will start to become familiar with the process of finishing them. Then you can work on how to make your songs better. Most famour songwriters wrote hundreds of crap tunes before they wrote any good ones. Accept that what you are doing is not likely to be the tune of the century and knuckle down and finish it, then move on.

Goodluck!
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10th September 2013
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If you perceive yourself as a guitarist, it can be hard to switch your brain into songwriting mode while you're holding the damn guitar. So either switch instruments (to a keyboard, say, if you can play it) or just record a loop of the riff or chord sequence you're working on so you can disconnect the guitar playing part and connect the songwriting part.
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10th September 2013
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An english professor once preached: "You will write nothing until the pen moves on the paper". I think that musically that might translate to "press the record button". It sounds silly, but I think it's true that the songwriter must be willing to try, and then rewrite.

I've been asked to co-write with a friend who has had success using his phone to "keep" his song ideas and phrases. The singer that recorded his songs used to take him to Nashville where his songs were co-written, by pros. New management cost cutting and his construction job has kept him at home, while the artist moved there. He uses no paper, so co-writing is going to be strange. The artist wants more songs to record.

For me, (no buyers yet), I start with an idea, or just start writing or typing. The search begins for better phrases and rhymes. I allow myself to abandon the original idea to perhaps use next time, if I want to. The music develops in my mind while testing the phrases and writing. It's not all magic, but a little truth that grooves is magical. Cast your spell.
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10th September 2013
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10th September 2013
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My Recordings/Credits

Maybe the foremost thing to understand (or live with) is that not very musician has the ability to composing music. Just like not every composer is a brilliant musician.

If you're already so long busy music making and composing never crept in somewhere maybe it's better to let it go.

It's difficult to tell how composing starts. Usually but not always it's fiddling with chords and then some melody evolves. Sometimes I combine different pieces that I have floating around. Sometimes lay around for years before picking them up again.

Funny I have recently put on Soundcloud a track with something almost identical as the thread title in which I analyse the construction of one of my songs:

https://soundcloud.com/ewaldk/our-leader-from-idea-to-song

Anyway good luck with your musical ventures.
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10th September 2013
Old 10th September 2013
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I'm sort of an existentialist and my philosophy is to ride the waves that were made for me, but don't try to ride the waves made for others. We all have our own skills and talents that make us unique. Using the skills that come naturally make life more enjoyable and less stressful. But forcing myself to do something that isn't part of my composition makes me frustrated and disappointed.

Let it come naturally. If it doesn't, don't force it. But that's just my POV.
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10th September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ollyno1uk View Post
Hi Everyone

I have been playing guitar for about 20 years on and off now.

It has always been my ambition to write music and over the last 10 years I have tried numerous times without success.

It is almost like I am programmed to not be able to write. Even if I sit down with a view to writing the most rubbish song, something stops me doing it.

I have started recording little ideas that I have whenever I have them but I still do not understand how I can take these forward and actually create a song.

I have been reading this forum with interest and it seems like there are a lot of decent songwriters here that might be able to give me some guidance though I am pretty certain, there is not going to be any easy answer - I just have to find it in myself somehow! After 10 years of trying, it seems increasingly unlikely!

https://soundcloud.com/ollyno1uk
I don't know if it's that way for everyone, but it was certainly that way for me. I hadn't been playing music that long -- I actually got into playing guitar to have an outlet for my writing (being a college poet means you basically end up shopping for romance among other college poets ) so I plunged into writing as soon as I could string a couple chords together and con myself into thinking it was music.

But it was MUCH harder to con myself into thinking that the sing-songy drivel/doggerel I was coming up with in my first efforts (and not just one or two) was worth pursuing. But I was so convinced of my own poetic genius (I was ok-ish but undisciplined) that I just couldn't figure out why a 'smart' guy like me shouldn't be able to write a few lines of rhyme that weren't utterly embarrassing. So I plunged forward, figuring that it would improve.

And it did. But way not overnight. It was a long haul. It's going to be a bit different for everyone, of course, but, by and large, from what I've seen and heard from fellow songwriters, this is a craft you pretty much learn by doing.

There ARE a bunch of books out there these days. (Not so when I was a kid.) But, to be frank, when I track back the writers of some of those books to the songs they've written -- some of them hits -- I find myself all but horrified by recourse to hackneyed songwriting moves and hoary cliches. I read about these 'songwriting camps' and track the featured speakers to their actual work and it's like, Whoa, what a load of trite garbage!

And, you know, I'm definitely not someone who thinks every song has to be heavy or deep or meaningful. But I just don't want to be assaulted by one worn-out cliche after another.

But it's like horrible, cliche-ridden, air-headed songwriting is apparently THE THING right now... it's freaky.
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11th September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theblue1 View Post
I don't know if it's that way for everyone, but it was certainly that way for me. I hadn't been playing music that long -- I actually got into playing guitar to have an outlet for my writing (being a college poet means you basically end up shopping for romance among other college poets ) so I plunged into writing as soon as I could string a couple chords together and con myself into thinking it was music.

But it was MUCH harder to con myself into thinking that the sing-songy drivel/doggerel I was coming up with in my first efforts (and not just one or two) was worth pursuing. But I was so convinced of my own poetic genius (I was ok-ish but undisciplined) that I just couldn't figure out why a 'smart' guy like me shouldn't be able to write a few lines of rhyme that weren't utterly embarrassing. So I plunged forward, figuring that it would improve.

And it did. But way not overnight. It was a long haul. It's going to be a bit different for everyone, of course, but, by and large, from what I've seen and heard from fellow songwriters, this is a craft you pretty much learn by doing.

There ARE a bunch of books out there these days. (Not so when I was a kid.) But, to be frank, when I track back the writers of some of those books to the songs they've written -- some of them hits -- I find myself all but horrified by recourse to hackneyed songwriting moves and hoary cliches. I read about these 'songwriting camps' and track the featured speakers to their actual work and it's like, Whoa, what a load of trite garbage!

And, you know, I'm definitely not someone who thinks every song has to be heavy or deep or meaningful. But I just don't want to be assaulted by one worn-out cliche after another.

But it's like horrible, cliche-ridden, air-headed songwriting is apparently THE THING right now... it's freaky.
+1

Songwriting is just another skill which is granted black magic status because of its ability to manipulate emotions.

If you spend 10,000 hours writing songs you will by default be a great songwriter coming out the other end. Practice makes perfect.

10,000 Hour Rule
Outliers
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11th September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crosstopher View Post
+1

Songwriting is just another skill which is granted black magic status because of its ability to manipulate emotions.

If you spend 10,000 hours writing songs you will by default be a great songwriter coming out the other end. Practice makes perfect.

10,000 Hour Rule
Outliers

You are interpreting the "rule" incorrectly.

A certain amount of people, if they put those hours in, would attain a level of professionally "acceptable" mastery. But your mistake is thinking that that book says ANYONE who puts in that amount of time will.

That said, I'm lucky enough to know a handful of truly great writers and not one of them took 10,000 hours to become great. And none of them started with bad/average songs. They ALL started off writing great songs.
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11th September 2013
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Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
You are interpreting the "rule" incorrectly.

A certain amount of people, if they put those hours in, would attain a level of professionally "acceptable" mastery. But your mistake is thinking that that book says ANYONE who puts in that amount of time will.

That said, I'm lucky enough to know a handful of truly great writers and not one of them took 10,000 hours to become great. And none of them started with bad/average songs. They ALL started off writing great songs.
I strongly suspect that those were simply the first ones you came across. Even Mozart grew as an artist.

But, having said that, let me just rush to say that I fully acknowledge that we all have varying levels of native ability and differing aptitudes for learning and that merely putting in x hours is no guarantee that one will achieve y level of mastery.

Still, it's safe to say that if one is open-minded, has something he needs to express, is willing to look at himself somewhat critically but not allow himself to become discouraged, if he keeps thinking and feeling and writing, he will almost certainly improve his craft and artistry.

And, let's face it, comparing oneself to others just breeds envy or defeatism or, worse, smug superiority. Isn't improving on your own past performance the only competition that really makes sense?
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11th September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
You are interpreting the "rule" incorrectly.

A certain amount of people, if they put those hours in, would attain a level of professionally "acceptable" mastery. But your mistake is thinking that that book says ANYONE who puts in that amount of time will.

That said, I'm lucky enough to know a handful of truly great writers and not one of them took 10,000 hours to become great. And none of them started with bad/average songs. They ALL started off writing great songs.
It appears you have not read the book as it's entire point and case is exactly the opposite of what you just said.
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11th September 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
You are interpreting the "rule" incorrectly.

A certain amount of people, if they put those hours in, would attain a level of professionally "acceptable" mastery. But your mistake is thinking that that book says ANYONE who puts in that amount of time will.
I don't know about that book, but it's old fact that anyone can learn anything, including songwriting.

The sad fact is that 10k hours is a lot of time. It's years. Yes, anyone can learn anything, but one needs to be seriously motivated to practice anything for years. So it's really not for everybody. I'm maybe in 7-8k mark in "songwriting" after 19 years. I have recorded loads of songs, but i don't know how to play properly any instrument. I have recently started to learn music theory and trying to learn to play piano. So when i'm on 10k hours on songwriting i probably also know theory and play piano and have my 50th birthday :D
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11th September 2013
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Originally Posted by El-Burrito View Post
I don't know about that book, but it's old fact that anyone can learn anything, including songwriting.

The sad fact is that 10k hours is a lot of time. It's years. Yes, anyone can learn anything, but one needs to be seriously motivated to practice anything for years. So it's really not for everybody. I'm maybe in 7-8k mark in "songwriting" after 19 years. I have recorded loads of songs, but i don't know how to play properly any instrument. I have recently started to learn music theory and trying to learn to play piano. So when i'm on 10k hours on songwriting i probably also know theory and play piano and have my 50th birthday :D
Couldn't agree with this more. 10,000 hours equates to doing something 8 hours a day (most will not have this luxury) for roughly 10 years. The motivation and persistence barrier is what will separate the crowd.
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11th September 2013
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Originally Posted by Crosstopher View Post
Couldn't agree with this more. 10,000 hours equates to doing something 8 hours a day (most will not have this luxury) for roughly 10 years. The motivation and persistence barrier is what will separate the crowd.
Yep and explains why footy players peak at 26.....
#24
11th September 2013
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Back in the 90's, I learned that EVERYTHING could be done on computer; a full album, start to finish. I've spent the past 20 years pursuing that. Sequencing drums, bass, piano, recording, mixing. But in the end, my stuff came out mediocre.

For example, I'd mix a song, and it sounded great. The next day, not so great. I'd tweak it every day until it sounded good every day. It often took 5 days to get a good mix.

But when I'd give it to a professional mixer, they'd do a great mix in a day or less. I'd then realize how mediocre my mix was.

This applies to my bass tracks sequenced in Trilian. Or my drum tracks. I create the mediocre tracks, as guidelines, but get a pro to make it shine. This way I can focus on songwriting, and I'm not limiting myself.

I choose not to pursue mediocrity, because I have confidence in my songwriting. That's what works for me.
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11th September 2013
Old 11th September 2013
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Originally Posted by El-Burrito View Post
I don't know about that book, but it's old fact that anyone can learn anything, including songwriting.
If only that were true. But I don't think it's quite as established a fact as all that. I think more likely fact is that, just like bodies, not all brains are created equal. Why should they? They're just physical organs like any other. This becomes even more true as infant brains are moulded by their unique early life experiences - a thing called brain plasticity. By age 5 kids brains and their potentials are already as different from each other as their bodies.

The ectomorph can make great advances physically through extensive weight training and diet, but he will never, ever, become Arnie, who was genetically gifted in that area. (And who became Arnie only by developing that gift.) Same with intellectual abilities. Most can make great progress in a given endeavor, but some people will just never be rocket scientists no matter how hard they try. While others find rocket science so obvious they don't understand why everyone doesn't get it. And some of those rocket scientists will never write a decent song - different part of the brain.
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11th September 2013
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Originally Posted by musicus View Post
If only that were true. But I don't think it's quite as established a fact as all that. I think more likely fact is that, just like bodies, not all brains are created equal. Why should they? They're just physical organs like any other. This becomes even more true as infant brains are moulded by their unique early life experiences - a thing called brain plasticity. By age 5 kids brains and their potentials are already as different from each other as their bodies.

The ectomorph can make great advances physically through extensive weight training and diet, but he will never, ever, become Arnie, who was genetically gifted in that area. (And who became Arnie only by developing that gift.) Same with intellectual abilities. Most can make great progress in a given endeavor, but some people will just never be rocket scientists no matter how hard they try. While others find rocket science so obvious they don't understand why everyone doesn't get it. And some of those rocket scientists will never write a decent song - different part of the brain.
Sure everybody sis different. That's why it's 10k and not 3k. Some learn it in 3k and for others it takes 10k, but after 10k they will get it. You will not find anyone who has passionately done something for 10k and still don't know how to do it. (I'm talking about "normal" people)

If someone bets 10million dollars that i don't become rocket scientist after 10k hours spent i will take the challenge :D I suck at science, but 10mil would motivate me. (actually it would not. I would get bored after sometime and quit since i'm not passionate about science)

Only people with brain malfunctions are born as rocket scientists. All others need to study it. Making music is far easier. You can write songs without any skill on playing or knowing anything about theory.
#27
11th September 2013
Old 11th September 2013
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In my opinion, it comes down to how much you like doing something. Liking an activity is pretty much a guarantee that you'll put in the time and effort. If you don't like doing something, it doesn't matter how gifted you might be.
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11th September 2013
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Originally Posted by Crosstopher View Post
If you spend 10,000 hours writing songs you will by default be a great songwriter coming out the other end. Practice makes perfect.
Smiling at that thought......

I wrote my first song sometime around 1976. I actually still play that song, fwiw. I have been writing ever since.

I bet I have my 10K hours in easily. My songs are still pretty average at best, but still I write. I believe that one needs three things to get good at something:

Natural Ability
A Good Teacher
Lots Of Practice

The lack of any one of the above can be compensated for by adding more of the other two.

Also....I tend to agree with the sentiment that has been expressed a few times in the above posts that not everybody is a natural songwriter. Some folks just seem to have songs within that they need to get out.
#29
11th September 2013
Old 11th September 2013
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I'd like to ask the OP something - which aspect or aspects of songwriting are you struggling with? Is it lyrics, melody, harmony, arrangement etc?

From what you've said, I suspect you're OK on harmony and arrangement - if you're a 20 year guitarist and you don't know what makes a good chord progression, something's drastically wrong - so I'm guessing the problem area(s) are lyric and/or melody - yes?

A couple of suggestions for lyrics:

1. Mind-map, or brainstorm - sit down with a blank piece of paper and write your key word or phrase in the middle of it (eg Autumn). If you don't have a key phrase or idea, get someone else to suggest one for you. Now let your mind wander around that and write down anything that comes to you (eg fallen leaves, wind, mist, rain, brown, gold, low sun, migrating birds, colder, frost etc, etc). Write these words and phrases all around your central one. A few of these will stick and start to look interesting, so now, repeat the process with them. In a few minutes, you may start to see the bones of your story, and you'll almost certainly have a couple of interesting phrases or juxtapositions of words that you can use and develop. For an example of how this could work, see Justin Hayward's song 'Forever Autumn' with lyrics by Gary Osborne (not saying that's how he did it, but he might have).

2. Know your story - what are you trying to say in the song? Don't think this only applies to deep singer/songwriter stuff, it applies to even the most banal bubblegum pop. Once you've got a few phrases down and a basic idea of where the lyric is going, sit down and write out your story - make sure it has a narrative flow, ie a beginning, middle and end, although you can play with this and start your song in the middle (in media res, as the literature professors put it). I find that quite often when doing this I see a twist that makes the story more interesting. Once you've got your story, you know where your lyric is going, so you can 'join up the dots' using some of the phrases etc that you came up with in stage 1.

That's not to say it's that easy, but be prepared to work at it like a dog with a bone. As everyone's said, just finish something, anything, because once you've finished the basic creation, you can then start to polish a phrase here, trim a word there, substitute a chord, change a voicing, tweak a melody note and so on. All of this stuff is important, but worthless unless you've got something to do it with.

I'll let someone else tackle the melody side of things.

Now the trickiest piece of advice of all: don't self-edit too soon (get it finished), but don't be afraid to dump an idea (phrase, melodic motif etc) if it's not working (this comes during the polishing stage).

Good luck - you can do it.
#30
12th September 2013
Old 12th September 2013
  #30
Gear nut
 
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Joined: Aug 2013
Posts: 79

Surprised with the 10,000 hour rule backlash by some... Do you people really walk around thinking that you can't go and master what you want in life through determination and hardwork? Why even get out of bed...

Songwriters keep songwriting... You may not get famous but you will get good.
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