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How to Become a Better Songwriter

The method I learned the hard way at Berklee College of Music.

By Robin OwensPublished about a year ago 3 min read
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How to Become a Better Songwriter
Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

When I got to Berklee and it was finally time for me to start taking classes in my major, I was a little worried that the two beginning songwriting courses, Lyric Writing 1 and Songwriting 1, would be too basic for me. I'd been writing since elementary school-- surely I'd know everything in the intro courses?

What made going back to basics worth it was my mindset.

I knew that if I went into the class assuming I wouldn't learn anything I wouldn't be setting myself up for success. Lessons only teach you if you pay attention and exercises only work if you give them your best effort. I was determined to get anything I could out of the content to try and become a better songwriter. That was why I was at Berklee, after all.

I gave my all for every assignment-- every verse, every rhyming exercise, every rhythm. Even if I only assigned to write one chorus, I'd write until I had one that showed off whatever skill we were working on. And I became a better songwriter with every exercise.

What I found is that when you practice a skill really intentionally, you think about it less when you go to apply it while you're songwriting.

The way I see it now is that every hour I spent deliberately practicing that skill is an hour I don't spend stressing over that skill over my subsequent writing sessions. Practice internal rhyme enough and your brain will naturally do it; go through a song you've written and fix all of the mistressing and you'll start to pick up on it as you're writing each line.

In order to become better at anything, you have to be able to recognize what you do well and what you need to work on, and you need to practice the skills that need improvement. To become a better songwriter, you have to practice doing the things you aren't as comfortable doing.

If you think this sounds tedious, hang with me for a second.

I understand the impulse to focus on writing full songs, especially as someone who primarily writes to work through what I'm going through and as a way to express myself. But I also have a love for the craft and I want to always be improving.

Recently I've been thinking about how the things I dislike such as cleaning and math are actually things I don't think I mind that much. But cleaning is considered a chore so I internalized the idea that it's boring and annoying, and everyone talked about how much they hated math so I started saying I hated it, too, and at some point that became true. Now I think I don't clean as much as I should because I have it in my head that it's something I don't like, but it never takes as long as I think it will and I really feel neutral about it while I'm doing it. And the truth is I'm good at math, and I actually really liked math, and now that I don't do it anymore I actually kind of miss it sometimes.

If you're hesitant to practice songwriting this way, getting into the skills that make up the craft, think about why. Is it because it reminds you of the busywork you had to do in school? Is it because it feels like wasted creative effort when you could be focusing on writing a song? Is it because you don't want to feel like you're writing to fit into conventions?

Also think about what you want to get out of it-- becoming a better songwriter, sure, but is that because you want to communicate your ideas better or because you want your songs to be more commercially viable? This will impact how you practice and how you approach it. Think about why might be resisting it, and how you might address that.

Practicing is just as important as writing a finished song.

Even three years out of Berklee, I still find myself practicing skills the way we did in my courses, both in songwriting and in other areas of my life. Most recently I've been trying to get better at music production. Right now my exercise is recreating drum beats on Logic. While I don't plan on doing anything with the finished product, I know when I set out to make my own beat it'll be easier because I'll be more familiar with the process.

Your exercises might live in your notebook or your computer forever and never see the light of day. They still will have served their purpose. But they also might lead you to ideas you never would have had, or even become full songs later on. Either way, you become a better songwriter, so it's a win-win.

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About the Creator

Robin Owens

Hey there!

I'm a singer/songwriter from Illinois currently studying songwriting at Berklee College of Music. I'm a cat-lover, tv-binger, and avid reader.

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (2)

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  • Mattie :)9 months ago

    Loved this!

  • MecAsaf10 months ago

    Excellent work

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