There is this really cool scene in the movie “Sun City”, where Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney are writing a song together.
At some point, during the writing session, Dave blurts out: “Man… I wish it was always that easy!”
Paul looks at him, and responds:”… but it always is!”
Paul’s response sounds sincere, and even almost a bit surprised, as if he is surprised that anybody would think writing a song can be hard.
I have to admit, I agree with Paul: “songwriting is easy”.
Yet, most songwriting students I work with, tell me stories about how they struggle trying to figure out song sections, or how they get stuck in the writing process, or hard it is to figure out chords to melodies.
Interestingly enough: I always liked to believe that many (if not maybe even “most”) of these obstacles and challenges songwriters and songwriting students deal with, are purely “mental”.
That opinion gets reinforced every time I hear the reasons explained to me why writing songs is “hard” or why a student thinks he/she got stuck in the writing process.
Sometimes I can’t figure out where the border lies between “reasons” and “excuses”.
Here’s a couple of the very common reasons I have heard time and again.
- I can’t sing
- I don’t know enough chords
- I can’t play an instrument well enough
- I don’t know enough about music theory (post a video with chords that “don’t make sense and a melody)
- I need to understand how things work first
- My ear isn’t good enough.
Let’s dispel some of those beliefs.
This doesn’t seem to have stopped Bob Dylan, or Jimi Hendrix. Has it? You don’t have to be a great singer to write songs… You just have to… write songs. Tom Petty isn’t exactly Freddy Mercury either in the vocal department. Singing abilities don’t have anything to do with songwriting abilities.
You probably should tell that to John Lennon, who wrote Give Peace A Chance with only 2 chords: C and G
The Beatles “Paperback Writer”, same 2 chords only.
There are thousands of 3-chord songs. If so many writers could write so many songs with only 3 chords, chances are you probably should be able too.
This never stopped Jason Blume, who wrote some of Britney Spears’s and The Back Street Boys hits, and who admits to possessing very rudimentary and limited guitar skills.
Music theory is merely a means to explain why things work. In other words: the music came first, the theory came afterwards.
Being that music is a language: that is a bit like saying, I couldn’t get myself to say “mum” as a baby till I had learned how to spell it first.
I wrote songs in my first week of guitar playing, knowing barely 2 chords. That was all I knew about music at that time.
I’d like to use the same analogy again here.
That is like saying: I needed to understand all the rules of grammar when I was a baby, before I could say my first words.
That simply isn’ true of course.
You don’t need to know or understand anything to write songs.
I only need to open my mouth and sing pitches and bingo: there’s a song.
You mean… you’re deaf?
My guess is you’re probably not, in which case: “your ear is good enough”.
So to make my point, and to show you just how easy I think songwriting REALLY is, here’s a quick video.
Everything is completely made up on the spot, the whole video was one and only first take.
Now; one might say: “OK, but the melodies or song ideas in the video aren’t exactly Mozart”.
I completely agree. However: that opinion misses the point completely.
The point is that, that particular attitude and frame of mind is EXACTLY why songwriters screw themselves over in their creativity or their writing.
Nothing really great ever came from the critical, judgmental voice that kills inspiration and creativity.
Who cares that the song you just wrote isn’t going to solve world-peace, or isn’t at the same level like “Bohemian Rhapsody”?
You’re not trying to compete with anything or anyone. You’re not writing a song to prove anything.
In addition: what you think is a mediocre song, might be the one song that elevates someone else’s spirit or makes someone’s day.
Writing a song is as easy as strumming chords and singing melody lines on top of the chords.
The best way to get really good at writing songs, is writing tons of songs.
There is no substitute and there are no shortcuts.
But I do believe that you can speed up the process to becoming a better songwriter, by letting go of the voice in your head, and just letting the songs come to you.
Be on the look out for more blogs about everything guitar, music, songwriting and music education.
Meanwhile: give this blog a rating and give me your feedback in the comments section below. I believe everything can always be improved, and I gladly would implement your suggestions and ideas in this blog or the next.