"Songwriting and the Creative Process"
An Internet Tutorial

Lesson 1. Introduction:

Can songwriting be taught? Yes, of course it can. You might just as well ask if driving can be taught. You can learn to drive by watching others and by experimenting, but a friend can save you a lot of trouble by suggesting you let a boiling radiator cool down before you take the cap off, or that you might consider shifting into a lower gear before you start down Six Mile Grade.

When songwriters talk about their craft they discover that they've encountered many of the same problems but often have different ways to explain the lessons that this work has taught them. This book owes its beginnings to the "Courting the Muse" articles which are a regular feature of Sing Out! Magazine. In these columns songwriters have found a very enlightened forum for just such a discussion.

"Courting the Muse" has given the rest of us a chance to read the words of some of the most interesting songwriters of our time. They represent a wide range of musical experience and write for a variety of reasons. Some have sold millions of records, some have written for Broadway, some have written for children, and some have actively taught songwriting.

There are insights and valuable advice in all their articles and each has given freely of his or her best ideas. All of the "Courting the Muse" articles are included in the book, "Songwriting and the Creative Process" but have not been included in this Internet tutorial. The book also contains interviews with successful songwriters, and graphical representation of musical examples.

As students of the art and craft of songwriting, we already know a lot about songs. This knowledge comes from our very early and mostly unconscious enjoyment of music over a lifetime. Much of the job of the writing teacher has to do with helping us to codify and access what we already know. To suggest that there are principles of songwriting or that songs follow rules is only an attempt to give the writer a working frame of reference. The good songs all bend or break the rules in interesting ways.

Can thinking be taught? Can self-expression be taught? Yes and yes again. But it begins to become clear that there is an aspect of all these endeavors that depends on the abilities and the determination of the individual. Ability is a relative term, but it must be obvious that anyone reading and understanding these lines has at least the verbal ability to write good song lyrics. The musical talent involved in songwriting can also be developed and improved upon and with simple practice, progress can be made.

Determination is a much more interesting and productive area of discussion. Educators and artists alike have recognized that motivation is inextricably linked to passion and joy. Because music is an emotional activity and is in itself very enjoyable, we as listeners can make the transition to being composers fairly naturally. And if as songwriters we can connect with the immense energy of emotional truth in the heart of each of us waiting to be expressed and acknowledged there is no limit to what a song can accomplish.

Many books that talk about songwriting present the subject in the context of the commercial music business. There are good reasons for this, of course. Most writers wish to have the opportunity to participate in the music industry and earn its rewards of wealth and celebrity. Also, the songs which are used as examples are widely known.

The limitations of the music industry as a source of inspiration for the serious considerations of artistic life, however, should be obvious. If a thought, no matter how insightful does not lend itself to the radio or the video, it is not likely to have much of a chance to be heard. So much depends on how well the work endorses the values and the issues of the programmer and the sponsor. There is the opportunity to reach a great number of people but the window can be an extremely narrow opening.

There are many very good reasons for the existence of art and creative activity which cannot be justified in terms of the top forty charts. This book attempts to help the songwriter to explore the paths of creative process and to connect with his or her best energy and insight -to have the experience of being in touch with this gift and to be confident and open enough to speak directly to the needs and loves of our greater society for the reasons of the heart and the soul.

Special note:

I strongly encourage the reader to follow along through the music examples. They progress from the very simple to the more complex in a gradual and understandable way. If you do not have a piano or electronic keyboard you might wish to purchase one. Inexpensive battery operated keyboards are available in stores everywhere, but even a child's xylophone would be adequate to play the examples in the book.

If you do purchase a xylophone, especially for a child, make sure that you get one that has been made to a high standard of accuracy in pitch. This will make a big difference in the development of a good sense of musical intervals. It's important to be able to hear the notes ring together and hear the subtle relationships of dissonance and resonance.

This course is based on materials from the book, "Songwriting and the Creative Process" by Steve Gillette. Published by Sing Out! Press. Used by permission.

You can order the book by credit card from our Online Store, or by phone by calling (866) 412-5943, toll free.

To obtain an autographed copy of the book send a check or money order for- $ 15.00 plus- $ 2:00 for shipping and handling to:
Compass Rose Music * Post Office Box 1501 * Bennington, VT 05201

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