It has been my pleasure to have worked with singer songwriter, Henry Hoagland, to launch the music nonprofit Pavoh, Inc. and our website http://www.pavoh.org. He wrote a series about songwriting and I’m featuring some of his advice below. He has a maturity beyond his years and an intuitive way of writing that speaks directly to his young audience.
As a parent of a young musician who spent some time songwriting on his own and collaboratively with his band, I wish I had known some of Henry’s songwriting tips. About the only advice I could share with my son was what I had once heard from a country songwriter: for every good song, you have to write 10 bad ones. The sad fact is that I really didn’t even know if that was true – I wish I had known Henry then.
I like Henry’s advice better: Start all the songs you can. Only finish the songs you have to.
According to Henry, “There is a certain pressure on all artists for maximum output. For young songwriters, the typical advice is to write as many songs as you can…the more you write, the more you learn how to structure songs, write hooks, control the peaks and valleys of a composition, etc.”
“While that craftsmanship is essential to the artist, the pressure for original output can stifle the songwriter’s search for his or her own voice. It can obscure the essential questions to an aspiring artist, “What am I trying to communicate?”
Now you can share with your young songwriter some of these tried and tested tips. Let your teenager in on the secret that Henry shared on pavoh.org: “the best songs, ideas, and emotions we communicate are those that explode out of us and impose their own will. All of us songwriters are waiting for those moments of clarity and inspiration.”
Here are Henry’s five songwriting tips:
1.) Learn other artists’ songs. Learn your friends’ songs. Unpack the musical moments you love, and try not to shy away from their difficult moments. Learn the map- the chords, the structure, the words- and then drive on it yourself. Whether you change the tune and put in your key, adapt a piece to your instrument, or highlight a different emotional framework, figure out how to navigate someone else’s roads as yourself.
2.) Listen. All the time. To everything. It all ends up kicking around in your head. Your internal jukebox is essential.
3.) Write what you know and not what you’ve heard of. Write often and don’t edit as you write. Blurt it out. Practice keeping a pad of paper between you and the world.
4.) Be patient with your ideas. You can record all of them easily these days. Listen back to your sketches. Nothing disappears, but know when to let go.
5.) Work your chops. Practice your scales. Practice your intervals. Practice sight-singing. Practice difficult rhythms. Your fitness with those musical tools are what will help you develop, structure, and polish those flashes of inspiration.
Now the challenge will be to convince your teenager to share what he or she has written. On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t try.