Eight Steps to Improving Your Composing and Songwriting Skills
By Jeffrey P. Fisher
You want your musical skills to get better and better, right? Of course you do. If you are nowhere close to reaching your peak performance it’s because you don’t understand the process that helps you produce your best music all the time. Here’s what you must do to constantly improve your talents:
- Compose something every day. The best way to make sure you get the most from your talents is to use them. This is simple advice, yet crucial. Write a piece of music every day. This doesn’t need to be extravagant or even complete, rather just put your first thoughts down on paper, tape, disc, etc. Make composing part of your daily routine. Not everything you do will be “good”, but the exercise will yield some bits and pieces that you can later turn into something special.
- Listen to music every day. Take that oh-so-important music bath every single day. If you’re like me you have tons of music in your collection from Aztec Camera to ZZ Top. Don’t just play it in the background, though. Take time from each day to really sit down and LISTEN to the music. Study carefully and then apply what you learn to your own work.
- Imitate other composers by writing in their style. The easiest way to grow is to get inside another composer’s head. Many musicians learn through copying their favorites. While this is useful to improve your mechanical skills, imitation is critical to improving your composition skills. Pick artists you admire and compose in their style. To imitate without directly copying is harder than it sounds. Yet, this assignment tells you much about music, how other composers think, and what this means to you.
- Try other styles and forms of composition that you usually ignore. O. K. so you’re a rocker. Nothing wrong with that. But have you considered composing for string quartet? No matter what your level of talent is, try this: Choose a simple tune like Row Row Row Your Boat and try to write multiple versions in various styles like rap, jazz, orchestral, new age, etc. Without having to worry about the melody, you are free to experiment with structure, chords, counter melodies, and so forth. Just because you don’t like or aren’t comfortable in a particular musical genre doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a whirl. Creativity means looking outside the boundaries. Leaving your comfort zone is the doorway to your best work. Do you really want to risk shutting out this world and stifling your musical talent? Then what are you waiting for?
- Play your pieces for friends and associates and ask for criticism. Find someone whose opinion you trust. While many friends don’t want to upset you, ask them to be candid: “In giving advice seek to help, not to please, your friend.” Ask for their help and constructive ideas. Don’t apologize or interrupt. Just play your music all the way through and then ask open-ended, leading questions. Next, play the track again and analyze it in detail. Someone with musical knowledge means you can discuss the track on the same level. Wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, and your mother’s opinion are worthless with this exercise. No offense, just the truth. Once you get opinions and advice, go back to the drawing board and put all you’ve learned to work and repeat the process again.
- Seek advice from a recognized expert. Find a mentor to review your work. Objective opinions, constructive criticism, and useful suggestions will really open your eyes and give you insight into your work. You might consider a professional critique. Some services review your work and make suggestions for a fee. It’s a service I offer to my readers. You send me your demo tape and promotional material and I review them making suggestions on how you can make them better. Contact me when you want to take advantage of this special service.
- Produce your demo and send it into the market. Once you’ve been following the above steps diligently, you will be ready to put together your killer demo tape and start marketing your music talents and services. This is the real test of your skills. Don’t fret rejection, use it to your advantage and make your work stronger.
- Evaluate your past work. Don’t let your old music fade away. Dust it off and give it a critical listen. I once discovered an old song on a long-forgotten tape, reworked, recorded, and turned it into a jingle for a major advertiser. Once you’ve let music sit for some time, the warts really stick out. Use this distance from your work to improve your past, present, and future music.
You must follow this eight step process throughout your musical career. This crucial advice is essential to making sure you grow as an artist. That’s what you want isn’t it? This is how you do it.
About Jeffrey and www.jeffreypfisher.com
Jeffrey P. Fisher provides audio, video, music, writing, consulting, training, and media production and post-production services for individuals, corporate, and commercial clients through his own company, Fisher Creative Group. He also writes extensively about music, sound, and video for print and the Web and has authored ten books and two training DVDs (and still counting).
Jeffrey’s library music CD, Dark New Age (Fresh Music), along with his Atmospherics instrumental music CD, and two-volume, buy-out music library, Melomania, showcase his musical vision. He also teaches audio/video production and post-production at DePaul University College of Computing and Digital Media Digital School of Cinema and Interactive Media and at the College of DuPage Motion Picture/Television department in Glen Ellyn, IL. Fisher is also a Sony Vegas Certified Trainer . And he co-hosts the Acid, Sound Forge, and Vegas forums on Digital Media Net.