3 Ways Songwriting Helps Artists Cope With Grief

Grief is an unavoidable part of life. If you’re a living, breathing human being, you’re bound to lose something or someone important to you eventually. You may experience it when a loved one dies, or when you have to part ways with a place or possession that was special to you. A romantic partner might decide they prefer life better alone or with someone else, leaving you feeling lost and empty. Grief shows up in our lives in countless ways, but it’s only a matter of time before we experience it. But as songwriters, we have a unique opportunity to process and accept loss through music creation. This is a very real benefit, and it’s an outlet that many living in the non-musical world don’t have. If you’re experiencing major grief in your life, here are three ways music-making can help you through it:

Making music allows us to express and articulate what we’re feeling

The feelings that accompany grief are anything but straightforward for most of us. We don’t get to feel just one way when we experience loss because loss is endlessly complicated. One second you may feel free and even joyful and the next buried under an avalanche of despair and hopelessness. Songwriting is an incredible tool when it comes to clarifying emotions and fully accepting where you’re at and how you feel. This is because making music requires making choices in everything from setting the mood with a chord progression to telling stories through lyrics. Journaling is one of the activities grief therapists recommend after a loss, and you can think of songwriting as doing the same thing with the added creative element of music. Writing music during the height of your grief can not only help you define what you’re experiencing, but also help you accept it. 

Our songs help others to cope and heal

Countless souls have turned to music during their most profound moments of loss and anguish. Knowing this, you have an incredible opportunity to help others heal, move forward, and find happiness through the music you create. And when we’re brave and honest in making music during our own darkest moments, our work has the power to resonate with others in deeply powerful ways. Knowing that writing music when you’re in the throes of grief may help another person feel recognized and comforted during their own struggles can be incredibly healing and affirming for yourself. Do you feel lost, confused, angry, destroyed? Other people do too. At any given moment, there are countless people feeling similar things as you. The music you make now has the potential to help them and others who might experience grief in the future. 

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Songwriting gives you the power to narrate your story

The most painful forms of grief strike us suddenly and take away the control we have over lives. Someone we love dies, or leaves us out of the blue, the unexpected loss of a job, or a home. Creating music gives us the chance to regain a little bit of control back with the opportunity to shape the narrative surrounding your grief. This could be as literal as telling your story through lyrics, or the storytelling could be more subtle and complex if you rely on the music you create to describe how you feel. The choices are endless, and they’re all yours to make. It’s a way to experience a little power in a powerless situation. You have the choice to be completely transparent and honest about what you’re experiencing, or you could create a narrative of fantasy that helps you heal. It’s completely up to you. 

Songwriting is an incredible tool for coping with grief, but you should always keep in mind that it’s not something that will work for every musician. You might be in such a state of despair and shock that making music simply isn’t an option. If this sounds like you, you shouldn’t feel any worse than you already do just because you can’t make music right now. Have compassion for yourself when you experience grief and pain whether you’re able to create or not. And if you are able to write music during this time, don’t put pressure on yourself to make great work and conventionally succeed. Letting the process of making music help you heal is a huge achievement in itself. 

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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  • Elyse Miller - October 28, 2021 reply

    Thank you for this. It is so relevant and helpful for me right now, especially the last bit about not forcing yourself to create or “succeed”

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