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Finding Your Place in Songwriting

Dan is a hobbyist musician and producer. Some of his instrumental music can be heard via his profile page.

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Several musicians including myself have begun pursuing music without any specific goal in mind. When I first picked up the guitar in 1993, I had no formal music training. All I knew was that I liked the way guitars looked, and the sounds that came out of them.

Because of my lack of goals and training, I was pretty much a leaf blowing in the wind, although my passion for the instrument helped me endure—and for the first few years, coming up with creative noises combined with a minimal set of chord progressions sufficed.

Unlike now, with access to high-speed internet and an endless choice of blogs and lesson videos to choose from, obtaining helpful insight was relatively difficult. I relied on tips from friends and informal lessons—for whatever reason, obtaining professional training never crossed my mind—perhaps I was happy with the way things were going. I can't fully remember.

Whatever the case, what I eventually realized was that good songwriting doesn't require advanced knowledge or skills. What's needed more than anything is a sound sense of inspiration and structure—no pun intended.

If the goal is to obtain bragging rights, unfortunately, the case sometimes, I doubt there is ever a true sense of satisfaction—only an amazing skill set generating excitement that eventually burns out. Where is true satisfaction when pleasing others is the end goal? This isn't to say that obtaining a high degree of skill is wrong, but check your motives for doing so.

On the other hand, if the goal is to pursue a sense of satisfaction regardless of what others think of your work, you'll find that you are happy and there won't be a phony front to maintain for the duration of the pursuit. Learn only the instrument skills needed to produce the sounds necessary for the goal.

Choosing a Music Genre

I hate the word "genre." It almost implies that one must sound like somebody else's song or style in order to be successful. I can't emphasize more, however, that you can be happy and successful without conforming to the norms of the music industry—it's just a little harder.

The more different your music sounds, the harder it generally is to obtain a following. When you turn on a popular radio station, you'll typically hear progressive, rock, pop, rap, jazz, blues, or some combo of them—and these are what most people are comfortable listening to.

Most musicians tend to write using known styles or genres as a framework to structure and arrange their music because of the difficultly of obtaining a large following, otherwise. If that's what makes you happy then there's nothing wrong with that. I myself have used some common type of arrangements, even though my melodies have a unique sound.

Music Training or None?

Unless you're some gifted genius who can play and write relatively quickly after the first time picking up an instrument, chances are you'll have to obtain some instruction. Understanding some music theory and instrument best practices helps, although as some successful musicians have shown—such as Wes Montgomery who strummed and picked a guitar with this thumb—it is not required.

Some disabled musicians have even learned to play instruments with their feet. Make your pursuit of music about satisfaction, not about rules rules rules!

With the advent of high-speed internet, tutorials or video lessons can be obtained for virtually any instrument. There is also a plethora of music theory video tutorials available. Listening to your favorite music, I would say, is a necessity—it helps to create inspiration and ideas, without which there's no originality.

My routine, when starting out, was listening to music after learning a few basic chords and techniques. That went on for years until I finally learned some new approaches. Breaking out of old habits can open up inspiration and rid boredom.

Putting Your Music Together

Unless your goal is somewhere deep in the avant-garde genre, creating interesting noise as opposed to traditional-sounding music, you'll have to grasp some basic concepts of melody and arrangement at some point. What's important to remember, however, is that different cultures have different ideologies as to what sounds good, and acceptable melodic content is more or less subjective—which sort of goes back to the point that different-sounding music is generally harder to obtain a following for.

Unless you've already got an instrument in mind—including your singing voice—do some checking up on the seemingly endless types of instruments available, get a little knowledge under your belt, and let inspiration take over. Keep in mind also that once you've obtained some basic knowledge about music theory and your instrument, the knowledge can be transferred to other songwriting scenarios. Learning a bass guitar, for example, would not be as difficult if a standard six-string guitar is learned beforehand—they are both stringed instruments and many of the same concepts applied to guitar can be applied to the bass.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Dan Martino

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