What goes in to a great song? It’s a question where so many in the music business are ready and willing to weigh in, and yet, it’s an area where nobody ever seems to have a definitive answer. Sure, there are formulas to follow that will help you write a catchy melody or a danceable rhythm, but if that were enough on its own, there would be millions of people out there with whole catalogs of original hits.
In truth, good songwriting can be hard work. Anyone can do it, and anyone can learn to do it well. But it requires some commitment, risk, and willingness to learn. If you are itching to get started on unraveling this sometimes perplexing and frequently rewarding art, you can take an online course in writing songs as a great point of departure.
Meanwhile, you may be coming to the practice of songwriting with some common misconceptions stored up, and this can make it more difficult to progress. So take a look at this list to see if it can provide you some help in addressing these myths and in the process, learning how to write great music.
Myth 1. A songwriter is born, not made.
It is true that some people seem to have a knack for writing music people enjoy. It’s also true that it’s often hard to put a finger on what makes their music work. But it does not follow that only people with a natural gift can write great songs. For the rest of us, it simply requires more practice, drive, and exploration. If you can find your musical voice and a composition method that works for you, you can write music that people will love too.
It can help to immerse in music education as much as you can. Not only will this provide tools to help you more easily craft tunes, it will also give you new ideas and inspirations for approaching music composition. In addition to basic songwriting, you might consider a more comprehensive course of instruction in music theory or a program designed to help you build your musical ear.
Myth 2. Good music needs to be complicated
Once you begin on your songwriting journey and education, you can easily fall in to the trap of thinking that you need to apply advanced concepts and techniques to everything you do in order to make your music interesting.
This is not the case, and it is an obstacle to get over. Your music is not a survey course in advanced composition, it is a way to connect with other people and express yourself. You can think of the fundamentals you learn in theory courses as the grammar and vocabulary you need to write out your statements with some confidence. If you cram all the big words you know in to every statement, you will alienate, rather than connect. And you will only make the statement “I know a lot.”
Myth 3. You need to be a great player to write great songs
When you are writing songs, it helps a lot to be proficient in an instrument. Particularly, skills on the piano or guitar will go far in helping you realize your ideas. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a virtuoso by any means.
In fact, many great songwriters have been just average or decent players. You want to be able to pound out chords in time with the rhythm and play some fills. You don’t have to be able to improvise a great solo. This is essentially a different skill.
If you want to get your playing up to speed in guitar, try out an online course that will take you step-by-step from beginner to advanced level. There is also a course that takes a comprehensive and methodical approach to piano.
Myth 4. It’s a science. Not an art
You can map out the anatomy of a song that gets stuck in your head. You will learn that in music composition courses. But the baffling thing about songwriting is that, even if you follow all of the rules, you can still end up with something mediocre. And at the same time, bands have been breaking these rules and still winning over fans for years.
Songs go beyond just music written on a page. While it certainly helps to have a great song recipe in your back pocket, you still need to find a voice for your music. One thing people love in popular music is that they find things they identify with. And doing this well does not have a single formula. It very often comes from learning to write in a unique musical voice and emphasize the things that make it unique.
In fact, learning music may not be the best guide for this skill. You may even benefit from learning another way to express yourself, like visual art or writing. If you would like to give writing a try, you can take an online course that will help you express yourself through creative writing.
Myth 5. Reading music won’t help
It’s a common question that comes up with pop music composition: is it important to know how to read music?
And really, it depends. If you are going to write songs for a small group and show your bandmates how to play them by ear, you may not need a great understanding of musical notation.
On the other hand, you might want to arrange parts for multiple instrumentalists who rely on musical notation. This can certainly add interest to your compositions, and it is a good reason to get to know some basic note reading skills. In general, it’s a great skill for a writer to have; it doesn’t take long to learn; and on top of that, you can learn it for free. Try a free online course that will teach you the fundamentals of note reading.
Learning to write music as a way to express yourself and reach others is among the most rewarding pursuits you can undertake as a creative person. It may not make you rich or famous, and it might take some serious work. But if you can carve out the time to develop this skill, it could definitely add richness and and reward to your life altogether.