Posts Tagged ‘practice’

I need the practice

July 27, 2010

Do you wait for the muse before starting to write a song? How’s that working out for you?

When I wait for the muse, it can be months between writing sessions and I know that’s not enough writing for me. I need the practice. So I no longer wait for the muse. I try to invoke the muse and try to be the muse, but most of all, I just try to write more and more often.

Regular writing in itself seems to attract the muse. But it also strengthens the creative muscle. Just like sports and piano lessons, it’s better to practice regularly than to save it up for one long session (i.e. 7 daily one-hour sessions instead of one grueling seven hour session).

Something about the daily repeated action of engaging the creative mind and putting words (or melody) to paper is the perfect practice for writing songs. Writing songs takes practice. But instead of playing scales or doing crunches, a good way to practice writing songs is to actually write a song.

A side benefit is that if you tell yourself you’re writing a song as practice, the pressure is off to create your masterpiece. And when the pressure (usually self-imposed) is off, creativity is freed.

If you’re only writing when inspiration strikes, try writing as a regular practice. And post a comment here to let me know how it works.

Practice 10 minutes

March 18, 2010

I saw a blog post about how it can be better to practice for 10 minutes a day than an hour a day. What?

My take on it is, it’s better to practice for 10 minutes than 0 minutes. It’s not how long you practice, but how frequently you practice.

Some practice is better than no practice.

So 10 minutes a day for 7 straight days is better than practicing the same amount of time (70 minutes) all in one session. It has something to do with repeated practice (like a sport). Obviously, the longer each practice session the better (up to a point).

So don’t skip a day. Instead, do a shorter practice that day. Some practice is better than no practice. And I believe you should practice songwriting, not just your instrument or voice.

Writing under duress

May 12, 2009

We received a question that boils down to ‘How do you write when you’re feeling stressed out?” A short, three word answer is: practice, practice, practice.

And the long answer: It’s no fun trying to accomplish anything when you’re under stress. So it certainly won’t be fun trying to write a song in that condition. But I suggest that forcing yourself to write every day, even when you’re feeling stress, will lead you to overcoming the difficulties. In fact, it might get to the point where songwriting is a way for you to relieve the stress stemming from other parts of your life.

Sure, at first you won’t necessarily be proud of what you’ve written. That’s not important. It’s OK to write stuff that doesn’t end up being great, ideas that don’t pan out, etc. Even the best writers have stuff they would never want us to hear.

Practicing every day is like exercising a muscle. The muscle gets stronger gradually, so slowly you won’t even notice it at first.

A great athlete doesn’t want an audience watching him or her exercise and practice all year. They only want the audience for their big performance at the Olympics, where sports fans can see the results of all that practicing.

Likewise, a songwriter doesn’t want the audience to hear every note he or she writes. But when the big performance comes, songwriters bring out their best work, which came about as a direct result of all that practice.


February 5, 2009

The irritating truth of it is, songwriting takes practice. It seems I never tire of saying it. You can read books & blogs, take classes, go to workshops and subscribe to ‘zines, but these are all supplemental to a steady, ongoing, daily practice routine.

It takes practice to fully apply what you are learning, to really internalize it. It takes practice to make sense of some of the stuff you’ve only read about. And it takes that daily, repetitive ‘P’ word to find what works for you.

What do I mean when I say to practice writing songs? I simply mean write a song, including the rewrites. Then write another one and so on. It’s hands-on learning. It’s learning by doing.

This is so important, yet how many times do we overlook it, instead, spending our energies searching for a new technique or new teacher who will give us the secret to songwriting?

4 keys to improve your songwriting

November 29, 2008

Warmed over Asian slaw & leftover turkey & gravy medley: it’s a hybrid: Thanksgiving dinner leftovers combined into an unlikely concoction. And it tastes great.

The creations that come out of our kitchen are an inspiration to me (all credit goes to my wife). How can she consistently create something delicious out of an odd assortment of ingredients? And even more puzzling is how she does it with whatever happens to be in the fridge, which is dependent on the season and our CSA produce (harvested weekly from a local farm).

Practice, experimentation, intuition and rule breaking

Practice, experimentation, intuition and a willingness to break the rules seems to be the answer. Do I need to point out that practice, experimentation, intuition and breaking the rules apply to songwriting as well? You might say they are the 4 keys to improving your songwriting.

Practice is at the top of the list. I’m not talking about practicing your instrument. With songwriting, there are no scales to practice. Instead, it’s practice by doing. Every song you write is practice for the next one. Every verse, chorus, melody and rhythm you write is practice. Even if it turns out to be a great song, the act of writing it prepares you to do even better the next time. With practice, the ‘rules’ become internalized.

Experimentation. There are so many variables to a song, addressing them all at once can be overwhelming. When I get overwhelmed by all the possibilities, I usually set aside one or two of the main elements and work on what’s left. For example, I might set aside lyrics and melody, while I focus on chords and rhythm. Even within chords and rhythm there are endless possibilities.

The idea of experimentation is to try lots of the possibilities. If the song is working as a slow ballad, great. But just make sure it doesn’t work even better as a fast dance number or shuffle. Experiment with a hybrid approach: combining genres – a disco beat under a ballad for example. Throw together whatever is in the fridge.

Intuition is available to everyone. You may not be using it, that can be learned. In the next few days and weeks I’ll be recommending some resources on learning to develop your songwriting intuition.

Break the rules. A willingness to break the rules implies that you must first know the rules. I often say there are no rules in songwriting, but there are guidelines, especially if you’re writing for commercial radio or other specific uses. The first step is to familiarize yourself with these guidelines and put them into practice. Keep at it until it’s second nature. The next step is to break or bend a rule here and there when it serves the song.

One final thought. If your goal is to write the best song you can, let the song guide you. As you’re writing, ask yourself ‘where is this song leading? What best serves the song?’