A firm grasp of music theory is one of the most powerful assets you can have as a songwriter. Music theory gives you a broad understanding of the music you hear and helps you apply what you observe to your music. It also places an array of musical options right at your fingertips. However, what if this isn’t always a good thing? This is not an argument against learning the ins and outs of music theory and applying that knowledge to your music. Instead, it’s a reminder that music theory alone cannot substitute your creative intuition as a songwriter. You can create incredible music with only your creativity, but not if you’re purely relying on music theory.

How overthinking music theory hurts your writing process

Music theory sets the foundation for learning about core aspects such as chords, scales, or how chord progressions function. It does not take into account the creative process of writing a song. Trust your ears in determining what and how you create before anything else. You may miss out on innovative ideas if you get boxed in by the dos and don’ts of music theory. For example, moving from a G Major chord to an F# Dominant may not be a conventional practice. However, don’t be afraid to deviate from the rules if it sounds good and makes sense to you!

It’s also important to remember that music theory explains and defines the core aspects of music, but is not intended as a blueprint for creation. Not all aspects of your creative process need to be viewed through a music theory lens. There are countless examples in popular music where artists have strayed from conventional music theory parameters. As a result, they’ve managed to create a unique and compelling sound that resonates with their listeners. Music theory can explain composition choices that sound weird or odd, so it’s not helpful to think of things in black and white. If it sounds good, write it.

How music theory can help your songwriting process

Music theory is a massive help when used in tandem with your creativity. With music theory, you can gain a deeper understanding of how technical elements fit into your song. It may also open up different creative directions to explore with your music. It’s excellent for giving you a broader perspective of the music you hear daily and allowing you to incorporate what you like into your songs. As long as your creative intuition comes first and theory follows, it can be a massively powerful tool to rely on in your songwriting.

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