You know that part in the Karate Kid, where the wise old teacher promises to teach the hero (Daniel) the art of Karate, but instead makes him paint his fence, sand his floors, and wax his cars? And then when Daniel confronts him, the old man throws a punch and Daniel instinctively blocks it using the same motion he used to paint the fence? Remember that?
Usually this opening paragraph is where I try to sound funny and charming. I tell some sort of relatable disarming joke or anecdote, and hopefully you the reader then think to yourself, “Oh he’s funny, I think I’ll read what he has to say about songwriting instead of scrolling through Reddit while I’m on the can.” But recently I had another baby boy, and am currently very sleep deprived. So instead, lets pretend like I said something hilarious and you are now laughing uncontrollably (go ahead, i’ll wait)… Done? Good, now that you are sufficiently entertained, lets talk about songwriting.
If ever there was a competition for the most ambitious blog title ever, “How to write a song” would probably win first prize.
“Well, geez Chen” you’re probably asking, “Will I know how to write a song after reading this article?”
No, don’t be silly. I did not in fact lay out the keys to mastery of one of the most ancient and profound art forms and aspects of the human condition in five hundred words or less. The title was just a trick to get you to start reading (And well, it worked, cause you did).
1. Be functional on at least one instrument
Many of the best singer-songwriters were also great instrumentalists, and many famously were not. Being at the very least functional on at least one instrument will open many doors for you to create freely. If you have a guitar and capo and know 4 chords, you can pretty much play anything. Being able to accompany yourself, at least during the writing process, is crucial to knowing what your ideas sound like. You will automatically gain a basic understanding of the way your melodies work with chords. The term ‘music theory’ is such a turn off to so many artists, but if they play an instrument, they know more than they think! There’s a reason why the phrase ‘3 chords and the truth’ exists. A lot times, that’s all it takes.