You could be practicing at your
piano, trying out a bluesy progression in G, or plucking a fingerstyle
riff in dropped D tuning on your guitar, when suddenly you get that
Perhaps the chord progression has
pulled an image from your memory; or Maybe a phrase you’ve been walking
around with fits the riff you’re plucking. Either way, you’re sure it’s
a breakthrough—this could be the beginning of an original song.
Many amateur musicians play for
years before it ever strikes them to write their own songs. The
fulfillment a songwriter gets from completing a composition can be as
magical as the inspiration that began the process, inspiration that can
come from an array of sources, from work to literature to faith.
However mysterious the beginning of
a song, or marvelous the end product, it’s important to remember that
there’s plenty of work, no less fulfilling, in between.
Songwriting is more than just
expression, it’s a craft, like poetry or painting, that can be taught.
Luckily, there are a number of programs and workshops available to
budding songwriters to help them grow into masters of this craft.
Peg D’Amato, 44, had been playing
piano for more than 30 years before she started creating her own songs.
About five years ago the renewal of her faith went hand in hand with a
musical revelation, and she felt compelled to write songs. “Inspiration
began to happen through my spiritual journey,” says D’Amato, of
Wethersfield, Connecticut. “It came when I became a believer.”
Joe Manning, a 64-year-old retired
social worker and accomplished songwriter, found inspiration elsewhere.
Manning, who is also a creative writer, was able to incorporate his
literary interests into his songwriting. The Florence, Massachusetts,
native also feels his work has been informed by other art forms,
especially film, and he thinks of his songs as “little movies.”
Both Manning and D’Amato approach
the first stage of the creative process differently. Manning, who began
writing songs while fooling with a guitar during a stint in the Air
Force, starts by working out chords on a piano. For D’Amato, words
usually come first, perhaps while sitting with a pen and a pad of paper.
Along with the words come a melody, and then she takes it to the piano
to create the music.
It’s after this exploratory stage
that the lessons learned at a songwriting program come in handy.
Listening to words of advice from a mentor or hearing the critical input
of other songwriters is a useful step toward creating songs that will
touch an audience.
Songwriting coach Bill Pere stresses
the importance of shaping the raw material of inspiration. This can come
in the form of a group oriented workshop or a one-on-one tutoring
Pere has experience in both forms of
instruction. He is the executive director of the Connecticut Songwriters
Association, where beginning songwriters can learn the craft in
workshops, and founder of the Connecticut Songwriting Academy, in which
more experienced songwriters hone their skills, with Pere acting as a
“The biggest mistake new songwriters
make is to think that the initial creative surge that generates an
outpouring of music and words is in fact the finished song,” Pere said.
“It’s the application of techniques and principles that turns the raw
gem into a finely cut diamond.”
However, before taking a song to
others, some songwriters might have to overcome the fear of rejection.
But opening a song up to critique doesn’t have to be a traumatic
In fact, Manning found it relieving
to be in a room full of songwriters. He knew they were all there to
really listen, something you might not find at home. “You need to have a
thick skin, but also the ability to say ‘I don’t agree with that,’” he
D’Amato explains that in her
experience in the Connecticut Songwriters Association has enabled her to
associate with positive, supportive people who share her interest in
songwriting. From her experience she found that “people genuinely want
you to succeed, and they’re very kind.”
While it may take a little courage,
participating in a workshop helps your art evolve in many ways. Manning,
who has worked with the songwriting association since 1980, says that
critiquing the work of others, for instance, helps him look at his own
songs with an objective eye, making him a better editor of his own work.
“I wasn’t disciplined,” says Manning. “I was getting it over with and
going on to another tune. You kind of get drunk on your own creativity.”
D’Amato also thinks that songwriting
programs really helped her learn the method of making a song better, in
particular, the editing process. “On my own I never thought of
Desire to Create
Another obstacle some aspiring
songwriters worry about is age. Pere has encountered this fear while
guiding new songwriters. “I’m frequently asked ‘Am I too old to be doing
this?’ I always reply that as far as creative pursuits go, it’s never
too late to begin.”
In fact, age can be a benefit when
it comes to writing a song, says Pere. The experience that comes with
maturity provides a well of knowledge to draw ideas from.
D’Amato says he overcame her own
self-doubts, and her advice to others is simple: “If you have the
desire, just do it. You never know how your music can speak to other
No matter what the source of
inspiration, and despite any trepidation, both amateur songwriters agree
that creating a song gives a great sense of accomplishment. If you do
begin to write your own songs, you may just find that communicating your
own thoughts on a deeply emotional level makes your musical hobby even