All About Songwriting

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Category: Songwriting Tool

What I’ve Learnt About Writing Songs By Playing Covers

Personally, I love learning covers in my own unique way almost as much as writing and playing my own music and the main reason for this is that by learning to play covers that have been proven to be hit songs themselves, I know I’ll learn how to write my own songs better.

Here are some ways I reckon that learning covers has helped my own songwriting process:

  • I learn different song formats, song structures and chord patterns.
  • I expose myself to singing different melodies, and lyrical ideas.
  • I spice up my guitar practice regimen.
  • I maintain my musical theory knowledge by learning a song by ear.
  • I get to know my favourite songwriters more by learning their songs.
  • For every song I learn other ideas come up for my own material later on.
  • The trick with playing covers is that you don’t do them like the original.

Now, I don’t like hearing a cover done in exactly the same way however, if I hear someone do a cover in their own way and in their own style, I get hooked into their version every single time.

Some performing songwriters I know feel that playing covers is just selling out but, I don’t agree. I mean who is going to say that Jeff Buckley’s version of ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen was a sell out on his part? I mean, it’s one of the most beautiful performances of any song I have ever heard.

Of course, your goal as a performing songwriter is to play your own songs as much as you can because there’s nothing more satisfying than people actually being touched, moved and inspired by what you are playing and singing that has come from inside you however, an amazing thing happens when you add the occasional cover song into your repertoire.

The audience becomes much closer to you.

I cant tell you how many times a quiet gig became a much greater gig after I play a well chosen cover (in my own style of course). Every other song I play afterwards becomes music to their ears.

For me, the term “selling out” is generally used by people who wish they were in the same position as the other musicians they were commenting on. Jealousy rears up its ugly head in the music industry all the time.

If you keep focused on writing your own music and at the same time learn a few covers (at the very least for research purposes) to break up your songwriting process from time to time, you will have better gigs, become a more well rounded instrumentalist and (most importantly) you will be a real hit around the odd campfire or two 😉

I believe playing covers affects your ability to write your own songs only if you allow it to.

Have you had any experiences where learning the odd cover or two has enhanced your own songwriting? Let me know about it.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Songwriting Tip – Mind Mapping Your Songwriting Ideas

You know what… I love mind maps.

I love them because I’m a visual person, and developing a songwriting idea by using a mind map really helps me write my song lyrics more clearly and effectively.

Right now though you’re probably asking “what the hell is this mind map?” Well, according to Wikipedia a mind map is:

“…a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing”.

This mind mapping exercise is a simple, but a very effective way of fleshing out the body of a song from a single idea, phrase or a word. It shows that from one single idea, many ideas will form.

Here’s how I do it.

1. I take my idea, phrase or word and write it in the middle of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it.

2. From that circle, I branch out five lines in different directions. At the end of those lines I write a word that is associated with the central word or phrase. These words could be the basis for your verses and choruses.

3. From each of those five words I start writing five other words that relate to it.

4. I then rinse and repeat the process as many times as I need to.

If you follow the above steps, by the time you have had enough (or you run out of paper), you will have a whole song laid out in front of you. Start from the central theme and work outwards, following the word paths you’ve created.

Can you see what phrases you can come up with from doing that. All you then have to do is collate that information into a song format.

Be careful not to have too many initial branches springing out from your central theme. This will turn your mind map into a complicated mess of too many ideas pulling against each other.

Up to five branches is plenty to work with.

You dont have to use all (or any) of the words you have written down, this is another way of opening your mind to new ways of generating songwriting ideas.

Most of us are visual people. As mentioned before, I personally access information the best this way. I can tell you having a whole song mapped out in front of me makes the job of formulating a song so much easier.

Give it a go and see what happens, you’ll be amazed at some of the paths and tangents you create.

Let me know how it works for you…

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting