You probably know that writing music can be a challenge even when you've been at it for years.
You also realize by now the not-so-secret fact that inspiration and great music comes from challenging yourself and improving your skills on a consistent basis.
Here are 10 suggestions you can use when it comes to your songwriting to improve the quality of your work, especially when you first start out. So, dive in right now...
1 - Learn what you need to learn...
"He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying." - Friedrich Nietzsche
You probably know that good music doesn't just happen, it takes knowledge, skills and experience and a great deal of work to produce good music.
Professional songwriters and artists continue to learn more about their craft as they know that the quality of the music depends in large part on the skills and knowledge they have and apply.
You don't have to be able to read music to start writing music, though you will have to understand at least basic music theory in order to compose anything decent. You will also benefit from learning the basics of computer music production which allows you to capture your work straight away and offers you further possibilities for creative expression.
Songwriting books, courses, instructional DVD's, seminars and web sites can help you when you start writing music and also to improve your knowledge and skills in each area of the writing and production process as you go along.
2 - Create the time and space you need...
"I love the magic of the studio." - Graham Coxon
You will not ever have the time and space to write quality music unless you MAKE the time and space. You may need just a simple room and your guitar or keyboard though I suggest you start to think about building a dedicated home project studio.
Your own home studio gives you the ability to go from initial idea to finished production in one place and also cuts off outside distraction so you can focus on your work.
Your studio will always be a work in progress, so get the basic equipment you need for writing music, be patient, and expand your studio as you go along.
3 - Know and beat your main enemy...
"How soon 'not now' becomes 'never'." - Martin Luther
The artist has only one true enemy when writing music...
Resistance is anything which distracts you from sitting down and writing music. The greatest resistance will be internal in the form of lack of motivation, distractedness, negativity, anger and despair among other things.
Resistance can also work through other people and outside events.
Resistance aims to kill your genius and destroy your creative core and feeds on your fear and doubt. You overcome Resistance when you sit down and start to write because when you work Resistance crumbles.
A great book which covers this subject and made several light-bulbs flash on for me was "The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles" by Steven Pressfield. It's a quick read which nonetheless gives you a great perspective on the artistic or creative process and how to overcome the obstacles you'll face.
4 - Take action to get inspired...
"Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working." - Pablo Picasso
Wait for inspiration before you start writing music? You will never create good music when you wait for things to be just right. The real artist sits down to write music no matter what they feel like. The Muse comes to those who seek her and the way to seek the Muse is to keep writing music on a consistent basis.
So, do the work! It may sound obvious. It's not so easy in practice as you know. Procrastination and distraction can get the best of you. The only way to overcome this is to develop a habit of working every day so that when you don't you feel like something's missing.
Ideas will come. You have to create the space for them to arrive
though, and this you do by setting time aside every day to work, or
Set aside at least an hour and a half as it takes about 30 minutes just
to get over the usual distracting mind chatter. Then, as long as you
stay focused you start to move from closed mode to open mode, which is
the state in which creativity takes place.
It may take some getting used to. Does it work? What does it help if I tell you it does? Try it and see!
5 - Get your songwriting ideas from everywhere...
"There's music in the sighing of a reed;
There's music in the gushing of a rill;
There's music in all things, if men had ears:
Their earth is but an echo of the spheres." - Lord Byron
Your entire sensual world is filled with pattern, rhythm, harmony and movement. The plastic bag dancing on the wind, the sound of footsteps on the pavement, the movement of cars and people through a reflection in a shop window. Everything is music when you know how to listen.
Absorb the sights, smells, sounds, feelings and events of the world you exist in and translate it into your work when writing music. You will never lack great material.
This means it's also a good idea to keep recorder handy to capture ideas. This could be your smart phone or another type of hand-held recorder which you can use to record your ideas for melodies, rhythms or lyrics whenever they arise.
6 - Trust your ears and your judgment...
"This above all: to thine own self be true" - William Shakespeare
You will have to make many decisions while writing music so the ability to trust your ears and your judgment will help you decide what to do next at each moment.
This can be more difficult than it may seem. You will have to make up your own mind and rely on your sense of what makes great music and it may take time to develop confidence in your creative decision-making abilities.
Remember, if something sounds good to you it probably is good.
So, learn to trust your ears and your gut and...
7 - Keep moving forward...
"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." - Walt Disney
Yes, you can get stuck in the process of writing music and this will waste a lot of your time unless you keep moving.
So, how do you keep moving? You first need to know what you want to create and then you need to think about the next action or step to take to achieve your intended outcome. This can be difficult when you've worked on a song for a while, so...
... take a break from the music you're working on and work on another piece and then come back to the original piece in a day or three. This gives your unconscious mind a chance to work things out behind the scenes, so when you get back to the original song you'll move ahead with greater ease.
You can also ask yourself what the song needs to make it better, what it lacks. Maybe some more cowbell is just the thing? ;-)
8 - Learn to make better choices, faster...
"The choice is between which mistake is easier to correct: underdoing it or overdoing it." - Timothy Geithner
You have to decide what a song needs, and when it's done, which can be some of the more difficult skills to master. Artists are rarely satisfied with the work they produce and usually feel that a song can be improved.
There's no rule book for this. Yes, there are certain habits of the genre which will influence your decisions to a degree, and your taste will also play a large part.
The best way to go about improving your ability to decide is to fine-tune your own nervous system to recognize good songwriting and figure what works and why it works. You can then apply this knowledge when you're writing songs to improve your own decision-making.
With time and experience good creative decision-making will become second-nature to you as long as you keep at it.
9 - Write more to write better...
"Talent is a matter of quantity. Talent does not write one page, it writes three hundred." - Jules Renard
The more you create the better you create. Look at the amount of songs written by for example Lennon and McCartney or Bob Dylan. Yes, they are considered great songwriters because of the quality of the music writing. The quality however is a result of the amount of work they put into writing a large quantity of songs.
You've probably heard of the 10,000 hours of Malcolm Gladwell so I won't repeat it. The point is that you get better the more you write, which seems just plain common sense.
That said, just grafting away in a bubble can mean very slow progress unless you know how to challenge yourself to grow, so...
10 - Seek advice and constructive criticism...
"Seek advice but use your own common sense" - Yiddish Proverb
Friends, family and fans will usually say your music is good so you have to look elsewhere should you want real advice or criticism to improve your music writing.
Songwriters and producers will understand your situation and will be able to help you improve the quality of your work. You can also get advice from musician and production forums and communities online which offer you the ability to network with other artists for feedback about your music.
Remember to always take advice from who it comes, use what you can to improve your music and don't be afraid to ignore the irrelevant noise from those who don't even play an instrument.
A great idea is to find a friend or mentor who already writes at a level you have yet to achieve. It may take a while to find a songwriter or producer who has the time to spare. The benefits of a good mentor will make a huge difference.