Frustration is a common emotion among professional and aspiring songwriters. Converting emotion and musical ideas you hear or feel inside you into something that others can understand is a very hard task.
Songwriting is about discovery and figuring out how to make the ideas you’ve stumbled upon work together to build something new. Many times we think we need to be more talented or do more of something to write better songs, But what if you could do less to achieve more? What if you just needed to
simplify things or simply better use your imagination?
In this post I’ll show you some simple but powerful things to do to bring the best out of you and your songs.
Ready? Here they are:
1. Be Childish
In Robert Greenes’ book “Mastery” he talks about the word ‘neoteny’ which is the retention of childish traits in adulthood. The capability of returning to a childlike spirit, specifically in moments when we need to learn something.
The human mind has limitless capabilities and as children we experience this in full effect. But as we get older we develop learning disabilities. We, in a way, forget how to learn.
We need to approach each song we are writing with a tilted head, curious as a child seeing each song as something alien. Having an uncontrollable urge to experiment, analyze, and study each song. The fastest way to our genius is through the heart of a child.
2. Move Out The Way
Sometimes we can be the biggest obstacle to our songs. If we don’t pay attention we can sometimes stand in the way of them reaching greatness. Believe it or not, when we get out of the way, our songs will seem to almost write themselves.
The truth is, we are not really the ones writing the songs anyway. And our ability to feel when God has taken hold of the pen is the secret to writing infectious, life-changing songs. Many writers miss out on writing these songs or get frustrated and have to settle for mediocre ones because they fail to fully understand and remember that they aren’t the ones doing the writing.
3. Get to Know Yourself
Just like knowing when to let go you need to know when you are at your best.
How do I find out when I’m at my best?
You need to pay attention to when you feel the most creative, when you are feeling motivated or the most focused. You will be the best at certain things at certain times of the day. You may feel the most creative in the morning, however you may actually get your most creative ideas at night. You could be the most focused in the afternoon, but have the most willpower in the morning. To keep track and analyze yourself I recommend keeping a log or journal. I use a moleskin notebook that I keep with me at all times. This will not only help you better track how and when you function best, but will also help you be better prepared for when those ideas sneak up on you.
4. Describe Better
As a songwriter you want to be able to paint pictures in someone’s mind. Songs are powerful because they can conjure up emotions and trigger past experiences and memories with word and sound. Believe it or not, there is a whole world inside our heads. And inside this world we can hear, see, and touch things. Which is why getting better at describing the things you see, hear, and touch is directly connected to becoming a better songwriter.
How do I get better at describing?
5. Develop Your Vocabulary
Without a good vocabulary it can be hard for you to express and interpret things. As a songwriter you want to have an arsenal of words to choose from, since each word and phrase has a different effect on us emotionally and can create a different picture.
Imagine watching the sunrise with someone you love. Now imagine them being blind. They are counting on you to describe what you see so they can experience what you see in a different world. With your words you have the power to make the experience a good one or an amazing one.
As a songwriter, you’re describing the world you see, feel, and hear with the lyrics in your songs. Without the right words you fail to create an accurate or powerful enough picture. If you’ve ever tried to explain emotion with words, you know how difficult it can be. But with a limited vocabulary, it is that much harder, even in a song.
How do I develop my vocabulary?
The good news is developing your vocabulary is not difficult to do. It just takes a bit of commitment and consistency. Some of the most entertaining ways to do it is by listening or reading audiobooks, listening to music, and, my favorite, watching movies. But simply entertaining yourself is not enough. Whenever you hear or read a new word write it down and immediately throw it into your conversation. Force yourself to use the new word in regular conversation with friends and family, but be sure to understand what the word means and how it is used first. The last thing you want is to be walking around using a word you don’t fully understand yet.
6. Use a Rhyming Dictionary
I know among amateur rappers, using a rhyming dictionary might be frowned on or might be looked at as, in a way, cheating, but using a rhyming dictionary can help build your vocabulary too. It can help build your rhyming vocabulary in particular.
One of the ways I’ve found that seems to build your vocabulary really well is when searching for a word to use when writing lyrics. I often learn a new word when I’m using a rhyming dictionary. As I search for rhyming words I have to first gather all the words that rhyme then understand their meanings; making sure they work with the vision of the song before I can use them in whatever line I’m working on. And the harder it is to find a word to rhyme the quicker your vocabulary builds. This is because you are visualizing each word, trying to make associations between the words and your song.
What are some of the things you do to write better songs?