Before we continue my songwriting saga, I must first warn you that I’m not and I don’t pretend to be a master songwriter. I’m still learning, and constantly trying to improve. What I’m trying to do here is to share what I have learned already from experience, and hope that it will be useful to someone.
*End of disclaimer*
So here we go.
If you want to be a songwriter, you need to learn how to play at least one instrument to accompany yourself, especially if you have aspirations as a singer/songwriter kind of artist.
I suggest you learn both the guitar AND the piano. Although any instrument with polyphonic capability that you can play and sing at the same time will do.
I picked the guitar first, since I was a big rock fan, and it looked much cooler than sitting behind the piano like a dork (or so I thought at the time – I was a teenager, for Chrissake).
Later I decided I needed to learn how to play at least some piano in order to make my life easier, as I usually record a bunch of tracks using midi on my computer. I came to like it a lot, though, even if I still suck at it.
I’d have done it the other way around if I could go back now, and if a piano wasn’t so expensive.
I found it MUCH easier to learn the piano than the guitar, maybe because I’d been making music for many years already. Your mileage may vary, of course.
From the point of view of someone who is not naturally musically gifted, one huge advantage of piano and keyboards in general to me is that you can just press the keys, and they will make a sound. No need to grow callouses or get your left hand (if you’re right-handed) much stronger than your right one. You can play with only one hand, dammit. 😉
Anyway, at the risk of sounding like your dad here, learning the piano first is what I think would have been much better for myself. I’d probably have been forced to learn music notation if I had learned the piano first (I only learned it a few years ago), because you don’t NEED any of that formal stuff to play the electric geetar, do ya? You don’t need it to play pop music, it’s true, but it’s VERY useful.
Ok, so you have a guitar or a piano, a teacher or a good book (I personally like the ones that come with CDs) , now you can start learning how to play.
I’ll see you back in six months.
…fast forward to six months from now…
Now that you have some basic skills on an instrument, you can start writing your own songs. Of course you can write songs without having any music knowledge whatsoever, you just have to do it. It’s just much easier if you can play something. That being said, there have been singers/songwriters who didn’t and don’t play any instruments, like Morrissey, for example.
If you intend to sing your own material, you might need some singing training, since not everyone is American Idol material. If you think that you do need it, the best option is to hire a coach. If you can’t afford it, you may try, again, getting a book, preferrably with a CD. The only one I have is this. I can’t compare it to any others, because it’s the only one I have. It did help me a lot, and I wish I’d bought it 10 years earlier. I still have a long way to go to be a good singer, but I’m getting decent at it at least.
Again, taking singing lessons is not mandatory at all, you can do whatever you want as long as you write your damn songs, I’m just trying to make your life easier (or harder, depending on your point of view), just like your dad would.
Since I’m playing this whole songwriting series by ear, I’ve written two posts already, but they’re in reverse order. Now that you have some basic music knowledge, you can go back to last week’s post, and see how I write my own stuff. Maybe there’s something that can be useful to you.
Next week I’ll discuss topics like basic song structure and chord progressions. I’ll even get to the fun part of dissecting specific songs so you can see what each part actually is and what makes some songs work, in my opinion, at least.
Now back to the weekly song post. This time I’m uploading a song that’s going to be on my next single, coming out next May 1st on Cloudberry Records. This is not the actual single version, I still need to finish recording some bits and mixing it. But it’s at least halfway there. I’d love for you to comment on it, and on this whole songwriting business.
Laughing and Crying