Songwriting 101: Part 1 Introduction

This article is an introduction to a series called Songwriting 101, a course that will be aimed at helping songwriters, of all skill and experience levels, improve their craft. The series will detail the major ways that the songwriting skill can be sharpened, before delving into some more unusual theories on how else this can be done. The four major ways to improve songwriting are developing technique, learning music theory, analyzing music, and practicing.

1. Technique

Discussing technique seems to almost be a taboo subject when discussing songwriting. The two are seen as opposites that are unrelated. However, improving your technique can unlock new possibilities that seemed unattainable before. The modern songwriter no longer relies on scoring to compose music. This effectively limits his options to what is within his technical limits.

Working on technique should be like adding tools to the tool belt and improving the usefulness of the ones already there. Sure you can build something with a hammer, but if you have a hammer and a wrench, now you’re going places. To bring it back to musical terms: if you are not capable of playing past 160 bpm, then there could be plenty of songs past that tempo that you could have written.

2. Theory

Okay, admit it. You saw this one coming. I know it’s pretty predicable, but it has to be included. Why? Because it helps. It is important to get a decent understanding of music theory. Nothing crazy, but if you have a solid understanding of chord progressions, melody, harmony and modes, you will have a lot more guidance in arranging your music. Think of it in the same way as technique: it gives you more tools, creating more options.

3. Analyzing Music

Again, predictable. But, true nonetheless. By analyzing your favorite artists, you will take note of what you like and do not like and then begin to incorporate them into your style. Think about the types of riffs being played. Why did your favorite guitarist choose that note?

One of the biggest tips I ever received was to pay attention to the way artists arranged their songs. Many musicians will tell you that you can learn from your idols, but what they often leave out is that you can “steal” their song structures. (No one has to know.) If you look at some my music, pretty much all of their structures are lifted from Trivium, Death, Amon Amarth, or the standard Verse-Chorus structure. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you don’t know where to put them, and looking to your idols for guidance will certainly help.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

The cliche holds true. The only way to become great at songwriting is to write as many songs as possible. If you are just starting out, your songs are probably going to sound horrible for awhile. Do not be discouraged, this is normal. Instead, keep pushing forward and know that each song you write will be better than the last. Songwriting is as much of a technique as sweep picking and should be practiced as such.

I know this is pretty general, but it was only meant to serve as a broad introduction to give an overview while also providing some information, kind of like a syllabus day in school. The upcoming installments of the series will be much more in depth and cover the areas discussed above, as well as any other aspects I can think of. If you have any suggestions for a lesson or questions you would like addressed, let me know in the comments.

The Locus Of Control: Why You Should Wait To Start Music Lessons

There appears to be two general methods of learning guitar: taking lessons or being self-taught. History has proven that both work very well, each with their own pros and cons. But, what if there was a way to combine the two methods?

A musician’s success is dictated by his drive to succeed and the responsibility he takes for his own progress. As musicians, it is essential for us to know that only we can decide our musical success. This is where learning through lessons fails. Learning through a teacher early on in learning an instrument creates what is known as an External Locus of Control.

According to, “Locus of control describes the degree to which individuals perceive that outcomes result from their own behaviors, or from forces that are external to themselves” (Link Below). A person with an external locus of control believes that the forces around him dictate his success and that action can do little to change it. This phenomena leads to the individual placing his responsibly for success on others, rather than himself. When learning an instrument exclusively through lessons, it is easy to develop an external locus of control, (in regards to music at least,) transferring the responsibility from the student to the teacher. This is problematic, as a teacher cannot practice the instrument for someone else; all they can do is offer guidance and monitor progress.

A person with an internal locus of control takes full responsibility for her life and believes that her actions control personal success. This mindset is optimal for achieving not only in music but in all other areas as well. A musician who is self-taught has to develop this mentality in order to succeed: there is no other way. There will not be anyone watching over your shoulder. No one cares if you succeed. No one but yourself. I believe that being self-taught during the early years is necessary in order to establish an internal locus of control. 

Only once the locus of control has been established should you start lessons in order to learn what you were unable to teach yourself. I believe that for a guitarist to be successful, he must be self-taught at heart. It is important to learn from others, but there is a certain beauty in learning yourself and creating your own style. You have more freedom to choose what you want to learn. This is, of course, a double-edged sword, as it is very easy to neglect the necessities and less exciting aspects of music. However, if you maintain the discipline to do these things, you will be unstoppable.


“Locus of Control: Are You in Charge of Your Destiny?”:

Music, Fiction, Poetry