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I truly believe that songwriting is something that everyone is capable of.

Songwriters can be incredibly artistic and inspiring people, and maybe you don't feel like that's you.  But have you ever written a story in school?  Even a poem of some sort, whether it was something you wanted to do or had to for an assignment?  At some point in school, this surely took place, and along with the fact that you have your own original thoughts and feelings every day of your life, you find yourself halfway there. Throw the musical factor into the equation, and voila!

The feeling of having completed something of your own design, your creation - it's unparalleled, and becoming increasingly important these days.  You feel accomplished, fulfilled, and when it comes to songwriting, you have something of your own to reflect on, and it stays with you as long as you'd like it to.

Having a working knowledge of music theory and song format (verses, choruses, bridges, intro, outro) is an asset, but it's not imperative although it helps.  Sure, you could aspire to be a carpenter and build a table once you knew what a table was and what it's made of, but you'd have a huge advantage if you would have at least read some instructions at some point, even if you don't always do it the same way.

Unless you're composing choral or a cappella (and even then this is a huge help), you'll of course need to develop some skill with a musical instrument.  The most popular choices would certainly include the piano and the guitar.  With a rudimentary grasp of how to form chords, follow scale patterns, and develop a melody, you'll be able to put forth your ideas in a musical context, transforming poetry into song.

Looking to the musical simplicity of greats like Leonard Cohen, often there isn't a lot happening in the music, but he spent time on his words, delivering a message that resonated, making them flow together for the art of it.  Listening to his first collection of songs from 1967's Songs of Leonard Cohen, you could probably identify that the form of his writing doesn't necessarily follow a typical verse-chorus format.  The songs were purely written, and yet from this he's come to be known as one of the greatest songwriters ever (direct any contention to that title in the way of "Hallelujah" - case closed!)

There's also, of course, the voice.  Looking again to Cohen here, proof jumps out that you don't need to be an accomplished vocalist to put words to song.  Countless examples come to mind of singers who may not be known for their angelic vocal abilities.  Many people can relate to that, and yet, if they had not gotten over this and decided to do it anyway, many of the world's most favourite songs would cease to exist. 

The beauty of songwriting is that it can be infinite - everyone has original thoughts, as we age and grow and learn, experiencing new things in life.  If you think, and speak, and understand basic language, you can put thoughts into written words and have something that's your own, whether it's something you've seen or felt.   

The idea of songs and songwriting being infinite is that there will never not be things to write about, even if someone has "already done it."  The very fact that we're all different defines how different our writing can be. 

In modern days, it's near impossible for an artist to not be inspired or influenced by other artists, and often times their songs can be inspired by other songs, without sounding like a direct tribute.  It's because everyone has their own take on life's experiences that we have such immensely diverse genres of music and approaches to songwriting.  Whether to share with others, or to keep to yourself, why not try expressing these experiences?

Sure, it can be hard to take the time for it, but songwriting really isn't hard. When you hit pause on life to take the time to focus on your thoughts, maybe just to process or to focus a creative output, that's when the magic happens.  Some writers find it works to schedule this time with the intention to churn out something tangible.  For others, simply narrowing your field of vision to what you're feeling and thinking, grabbing your instrument, and something to record your words and ideas, will illicit the forum for creation.  With the technology of 2017, it's easier than ever to capture your ideas quickly with a portable sound recorder (or even your phone!)

Take some time to play around with chords and try to hum a melody over them.  You might find it more natural to instead write down words, then try singing them in some format, and strumming along some chords behind them.  Start on the piano with some chords you know, even just two or three notes, and that's about the best start anyone has!  It could also be helpful to think about breaking down a well-known composition into how it's formed (aren't nursery rhymes brilliant songwriting?)

A great many things take practice, and whether it's the goal or not, songwriting is no different.  It's a difficult thing to start when it's so easy to hear what great songwriting sounds like, but everyone starts somewhere.  The reality is that the beginning must be embraced - you could spend five years working on material that never sees the light of day until it's "perfected," but what's to say it ever is?  Many artists have done this, and had amazing results, learning along the way. Ideas and inspiration can be in everything, everyday, and each new experience in life could potentially bring a new opportunity to practice writing songs. Practice often, delivering songwriting results that maybe no one likes, and you could have 50 songs by the end of those five years (but probably MANY more, in reality) - that's a lot of practice! 

For anyone involved in music, whether as the parent of a child playing an instrument or taking lessons, a student who loves music and wants an outlet, or as an undying passion that we live for every day, music is about expression.  Great writers are people who have something to say, and use their voice to contribute something, giving back to the world of art and literature.  Giving our inner thoughts and feelings a life, whether comical in nature, or sometimes dark, helps us connect with the world, while providing a therapy no money can buy.  Everyone needs an outlet sometimes, and I believe that if you try, a song could be born of whatever it is that wants to get out!

Check out our other blog post about Seven Exercises for Getting Past Writer's Block.


Geoff joined Long & McQuade almost eight years ago, after playing guitar in rock groups after high school, and studying audio engineering at the Centre for Arts and Technology in Fredericton, NB.  He currently works at the Moncton location, primarily in the Band department, and works toward learning other instruments besides guitar.

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