When you first learned music, practicing your instrument was probably a daily struggle. Whether it was dealing with the pain on your fingertips from playing guitar or learning how to master the embouchure on the trumpet, it’s safe to assume you spent months learning the basics of your instrument and years honing in your technical skills. The world knows how hard it is for someone to sound truly great on an instrument and that musicians can’t excel without thousands of hours of practice. Unfortunately, musicians and non-musicians alike often don’t see songwriting the same way. Many musicians and non-musicians alike have the idea that songwriting is a talent that can’t be developed with years of practice. They’re wrong.
Myth: You either have it or you don’t as a songwriter
Songwriting is not a “you either have it or you don’t” kind of thing. We love stories about bands and solo artists who find overnight success after releasing their first single or video, but those situations are extremely rare. For the vast, vast majority of songwriters, becoming truly great at what they do is a lot like learning an instrument in the way that tangible progress means putting in lots of time and effort. In the same way you improved your skills on your instrument little by little and day after day, you’ll slowly get better at making music the longer you do it.
If you write music for a year and decide you’re not good at it and might as well quit, you’re giving up far too early. Every songwriter is different, but it might take you years to develop your style, writing technique, and confidence. There’s no set timeline for progressing as a songwriter, but you’ll be disappointed if you demand positive results too quickly.
Some music-makers need to write dozens of bad or mediocre songs before they start writing good ones. Others need to develop the confidence needed to write music that’s truly unique and authentic instead of mimicking another artist’s sound. Since every songwriter is different, the practice it takes to get better at writing songs will be unique for each music-maker, but you won’t be able to improve without lots of consistent practice. Developing your authentic creative voice and becoming a better songwriter takes time, and it can’t be rushed or planned. It’s not as if you can say to yourself, I’ll make music every day and become the perfect songwriter in a year from now. All we can do as songwriters is put in the work of making music as often as we can.
If you’ve been writing music for a while and feel like your songs aren’t getting any better, it’s probably because you’re not writing often enough. To truly improve as a songwriter, you’ll need to embrace music creation as a lifestyle, not as something you do when you can get around to it. This means committing to the work of ambitious music creation in your daily life. Designate somewhere in your house where you can write songs or rent out studio space and start doing the work.
How to practice writing songs
The only way to ensure that you’ll get better at writing songs is if you create as freely as you can as often as possible. Instead of writing when you feel like it, create a weekly writing schedule with time devoted to doing nothing but making music. If you can swing it, three two-hour chunks of time during your week is a good starting point, but more time will deliver better results. If you currently write sporadically, sticking to a schedule will improve your writing in huge ways in not a lot of time.
Writing consistently is super important, but it’s not the only thing you should be paying attention to when it comes to practicing songwriting. How you write is just as big of a deal. Remove distractions, designate a space in your home or near where you live for music creation, and focus completely on making music during your writing sessions. Recognize that dead ends, mediocre songs, and not knowing what to do at times are all unavoidable parts of practicing songwriting. Stick with it long enough, and your music will get better and better.
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.