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Do Musicians Make Better Songwriters?

This is something I briefly touched on in a previous newsletter – … I get asked over and over again if I “write better songs if I’m a musician”?

What’s the answer?

Yes and no.

Confused?

Let me explain. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll talk about the “musical” aspect of songwriting here.

First of all, I’m a musician, songwriter and vocal coach. And I’ve worked with songwriters who play instruments and songwriters who don’t. Which group is better to work with?

This is how it goes. Those who play an instrument (to some degree) tend to understand timing, tempo and maybe some syncopation. Sometimes musicians are also a little better at composing tunes than non-musicians. They understand the structure of harmony and the related music theory.

Because of the various ‘pieces’ or ‘songs’ they play with their instruments, these musical and rhythmic elements become more or less naturally embedded in their brains – in practice and in theory.

Of course that’s GOOD. That’s an advantage. Now yes – there are non-musicians who are gifted with these elements, but I’m just speaking in generalities here. Most musicians have these elements more than non-musicians.

Now here’s the twist. For many musicians, this is precisely why writing great songs is difficult. How? Well, because there are musicians who are pre-programmed to think that a melody has to flow a certain way, or a chord line can’t fall into that pattern, etc., BECAUSE they’re stuck with the theory that implicitly tells them. “it’s not right”.

You know, songwriters who know nothing about music theory or an instrument write freely. This means they won’t think about whether something is “musically correct” or not. Of course, you can’t write a song that isn’t musical and expect to be received. You would be mad.

But it’s good if you don’t think too much about whether something fits musically in the song. Why do I care? This is a song. If the second verse has 10 bars and the first has 8 bars, then what? It’s not a big deal.

On the flip side are non-musical songwriters who just need that little push to learn some basic chords on the piano or guitar… just to give them that edge and sometimes even fuel their creativity. Thus…

….here is my conclusion. If you play an instrument and want to be a songwriter, don’t think too much about what’s musically correct. Let the chords and melodies take you away. Don’t think too much. Yes, stick to the musical rules, but don’t get caught up in them.

If you are not a musician and write songs, it would be a good idea to learn some basic chords on the keyboard. It’s not completely mandatory, but it will definitely show off your songwriting. Only basic chords will do. You’ll be surprised what kind of music you can make by learning the basics.

And why did I say the keyboard and not the guitar? Well, I think the keyboard is basically easier to learn than the guitar because you can clearly see the notes at intervals when you play.

But please don’t dissuade you from learning the guitar if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a wonderful, natural songwriting instrument.

If and when you do decide to learn an instrument, I wouldn’t get too caught up in theory unless you really want to learn about it…

……and if that’s what you want, try to draw a clear line between your musical ego and your songwriting craft. As much as they fight against each other, they can work together if you consciously try to find a balance.

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