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Is Music Theory Necessary For Writing Songs?

I hear from a lot of beginner songwriters bemoaning the fact that they have little or no musical theory knowledge and therefore will not be able to write ‘good’ songs.

For me, songs come from the heart and mind not from some mathematical formula.

However, if you want to learn music theory, do it because you want to, not because you feel that you have to learn it.

Some songwriters get really worked up over their musical theory while others write songs purely by feel. The funny thing is, the songs that come out at the end of the day all just as good as each other.

Let me tell you a little story.

From between the ages of 11 through to 16, I studied music through high school and learnt to play the clarinet in the process. It gave me a great opportunity to immerse myself in the complexities of musical theory.

I found the theoretical side of writing music fascinating although, I was probably the only person in my class that felt that way.

In that time I had dreams of being a composer and going to university to expand on my musical knowledge.

Thankfully I discovered the guitar!

When, at the age of 15, I decided to change my musical direction and get into playing in bands and writing songs I had an interesting dilemma. I had to unlearn my knowledge so I could play with ‘feel’.

That was an interesting thing to do.

It was in that unlearning process that I discovered that knowing music theory is not necessary in order to write a song. You see, a song is made up of two parts. The first part is the song lyrics and the second part is the melody.

Musical theory generally deals with the arrangement of the song (the chords, harmony, dynamics etc) which is determined by the melody and the rhythm of the lyrics anyway.

Even though I believe that music theory in songwriting is not really necessary I have found my own knowledge useful for the following reasons:

  • I use it for the purpose of ‘musical detective work’.
  • I call on my knowledge to lead me in directions I would never have thought of.
  • I can communicate my song ideas to other musicians more effectively.
  • I have a more intimate knowledge as to the “why” things work with each other.

I believe that it’s not the musical theory knowledge that’s important but the attitude that you have towards it. To someone that doesn’t feel this way having the theoretical knowledge can be a real hindrance.

This would be because:

  • You might feel that you are better than someone who don’t have the same knowledge (elitism)
  • You look at your songwriting through a finite and restrictive set of ‘rules’
  • You might try to show off your knowledge by overcomplicating your songs.
  • You forget that simplicity is often the best course of action.

To me, songwriting is about learning, un-learning, constructing, de-constructing and doing whatever you can to turn your songwriting ideas into a reality.

Having the theoretical knowledge of music is a bonus but not an essential skill in writing a good song because as far as I’m concerned, to be a good songwriter you must have the desire to be one. That’s it!

Until next time, happy writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

24 Lyric Writing Tips For The Lyrically Challenged

If anyone asks me whether lyrics or music comes first when writing a song, I would generally say that it would be music first because I don’t consider myself a proficient lyricist.

Musical ideas come much easier than lyrical ideas and even though, over time, it has become easier to come up with lyrics to my songs, I still struggle with coming up with the right words to say.

A lot of the problem has something to do with confidence however, even though I studied music theory in high school, I wasn’t taught lyric writing (and NO, studying poetry in English class doesn’t count).

According to the MusicRadar article 24 Tips For Writing Lyrics

Like any other creative process such as playing guitar or programming synth sounds, lyric-writing is a skill that can be learnt and improved upon

From reading this article I wished there was an element of study in song lyrics when I was in school.

The article outlines twenty four lyric writing tips that are not necessarily hard and fast rules per se, but are guidelines to be experimented on.

You’ll need to read the whole article to get the full list of lyric writing tips however I wanted to highlight some tips that really resonated with me.

#04: Move On – If you can’t quite figure out how to say what you want within a particular line, jot down the gist of it and move on to another part of the song

#05: Elevator Pitch – Try to have a clear idea of what the song is about.

#14: Don’t Be Scared Of Imagery – Don’t feel that using imagery will make your lyrics too arty or flowery.

#20: – Don’t Use Too Many Words – Cramming a line full of words where they clearly won’t fit is not a good idea

#24: – Avoid Filler – Avoid writing filler lines in order to make rhymes work.

For me, there were certainly some “ahaa” moments when I was reading through the tips that will definitely help my lyric writing in the future.

Check out the article 24 Tips For Writing Lyrics and let me know what you think. Do you have other lyric writing tips that you’d like me to share?

Until next time, just keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting

Original Source: 24 Tips For Writing Lyrics | MusicRadar