Compose Yourself: Songwriting & Composition as Practice

Daniel Deutsch
Daniel Deutsch

Songwriting as a means of practice is a great idea! The engagement with the sound you’re making goes deeper than when you practice scales, or other techniques, because you own (on many levels) the sounds you’re creating. And you don’t have to have special skills to do it, just dive in and start figuring it out. Daniel Deutsch is a teacher of composition who gives some superb examples in this NAfME article <snip>:

He says, “Because most of us learned composition in theory class, there is a natural tendency to teach composition as a set of theory exercises, using narrowly prescribed formulas.  In my opinion, it is better to start with idea, expression, and emotion.  “How does it feel to score a goal in soccer?  Let me hear that in your musical idea!”

I believe anybody can be a composer or songwriter, and the added ability to express emotion helps make living in this crazy world a little better. You don’t have to write anything anybody else will hear. Think of composing like writing a journal. You’re not going to show that to anybody. Why would you? It’s too personal. Composing is a process, not a product, and that process will further your musical ability.

Erin McKeown
Erin McKeown

Composing the music and lyrics for songs is one of the ways singer-songwriter Erin McKeown got her chops. During her high school years she began spending a lot of time with her 4-track recorder, making songs. If you’ve written a song before, you know there is a lot of trial-and-error, a lot of repetition, a lot of assessment. But it doesn’t feel like “normal” practice because it’s fun and engaging.

I love seeing how creators create, whether it’s authors, songwriters, composers, visual artists, whoever. There’s a new way to gain some insight into songwriters’ process over at the Song Exploder podcast. Pretty cool resource. Read Songwriters on Songwriting for even more good insights. If you’re a teacher, you need Maud Hickey’s excellent book on teaching composition, Music Outside the Lines.

Whether it’s writing a short melody, creating a song, or composing a motet, give composition a try. Engaged practice is the best practice.



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