7 Songwriting Habits I’d Like to Have More Of

Laptop with blank notepad and pencil with sheets of crumpled papIt’s hard to break old habits, but it’s also tough to establish new ones — and that’s certainly true for me when it comes to songwriting. Here’s the 7 songwriting habits I’d love to encourage in myself. How about you?

1. To finish songs I start.

So often, I’ll bring in a tune to a songwriting group for some feedback, and then bring it home and put it aside without making edits and really sitting down to finish it. Sure, it’s fine to toss a tune in the trash if you hate it, but there are plenty of songs I’ve written that probably would be groovy if I just disciplined myself to sit down and fully finish more of them.

2. To have a daily songwriting practice.

Having a daily practice of songwriting — something, anything — is a great habit to have. However, I tend to get going when the spirit moves me , rather than as a regular ritual. However, whenever I DO make it a habit to spend 15 or 30 minutes putting something together, it always works — creation happens.

3. To listen to more music by great songwriters.

I think listening to music helps songwriting in so many ways — and sometimes I think I skip over that part. Delving into a songwriter’s catalog, or more deeply into albums you haven’t heard much, can be inspirational and aspirational. Excuse me, I’ve got to go get some PAID downloads!

4. To practice finished songs regularly.

It’s one thing to finish a tune you really like, but could you really play it out? So often I’ll want to try a new tune at a gig, but haven’t really practiced it…so it would be great to get more into the habit of practicing new tunes as soon as I finish them and debut them, perhaps, at open mics before going full-throttle at a show.

5. To be more fearless as a songwriter.

I have made attempts, of late, to try writing songs in varied chord progressions, melodies that aren’t my usual habit, or different musical styles. But I could do so much more of that…if I didn’t fear making a fool of myself. Fear keeps lots of us from trying new things, as we worry we’ll look foolish or just out-and-out fail. But it’s the only way to grow as a songwriter.

6. To stop feeling envious of other songwriters.

It’s so easy to start playing the envy game — the one where you start saying (hopefully silently, to yourself) things like “I wish I had written that song,” and “Why does that person win all those songwriting contests?” and “I’m so &$#%@( jealous of that songwriter I could spit!” I admit, I do it sometimes myself. But a habit of gratitude — for any modicum of talent you might have and your mental/physical ability to write in the first place — is SO much better.

7. To go over old ideas that I’ve written or recorded.

Whether you have piles of old papers with lyrics on them or old tapes/Garageband recordings of ideas, it’s so sad to have evidence of inspiration and then never use any of it! I’ll probably never have a good system of organizing lyric or melodic ideas — I don’t have a great organizing system in the rest of my life, either — but it’s always inspirational to just sit down sometimes and go through stuff, and then write something new based on something old!

  • Thanks for the article, Shannon.

    I agree with #4 “practice finished songs regularly”. Often, I also finish writing a song and even recording it, but a month or two later I forget how to play it on the piano!
    This is the weakness of modern recording technology, we can record every single idea we have (and even flesh it out). Back in the day, songwriters had to choose their best songs to make it into the cut.That’s why I’m also trying to practice my finished songs more often. Cheers,

  • Jewelle A.J. Maynard

    Great article… I’m still hoping one day to master no. 2, having a daily songwriting practice, so I totally understand

  • angelo

    Excellent! Love the way these practical, highly productive points are brought together here, stuffing this one into my Evernote Songwriting notebook, thanks!

  • Fear is a big one for me. I think I’ve shut doors on myself far too often from fear of sounding stupid, fear of going it alone, or even fear of success. One thing I’m trying to do lately is to find something that scares me, and do it. Taking the age old advice of facing fear head on.

  • Martyn Croston

    Sound advice here. All these habits are important, but number 6 is particularly useful. It’s easy to forget that other songwriters don’t write fantastic songs every time. If you listen to albums of your favourite artists, there will always be those ‘filler’ songs that are there to make up the numbers. Even The Beatles didn’t write hit songs every time!

  • Nicholas_Lee

    These are all really great tips. I use numbers 3, 5, and 7 regularly.

  • I read the title and before opening, I was like ‘to finish songs I start’, hehe. A few hundred mini ideas on the phone still, just listening to them all may be longer than writing a full song from scratch, hehe. Great list man. Makes me feel like I’m not the only songwriter with a few areas of discipline to address 🙂

  • Cory Snider

    Very cool piece here! There are a couple of habits I do on the regular, for example, I go over old ideas often. But many of these are helpful habits to push into! Thanks!

  • Great article – glad to read people have the same issues! I’m pretty much guilty of all the points covered. I have been trying to come up with a regular schedule to write, daily would be nice, but right now I’m just aiming for 2 days a week for an hour a time. And, I have been going through my ideas I’ve recorded, which is nice because many of my ideas I’ve recorded I only recorded up to where I ‘got stuck’. Reviewing them again after some time has gone by has either shed some new light on the song, or it just completely sucks and I delete it:) Thanks for writing this up!! Happy writting!!

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