by Marty Dodson
May 28, 2019
Communication vs. rules…
I had a mentoring session with someone recently who was very frustrated. He had read a book by a leading songwriting teacher and had tried to apply all of the songwriting “rules” that the book taught. The end result was that he felt he was writing worse and worse songs the more he tried to follow the rules.
I told him a story about going bowling as a teenager. Neither I nor my friends were good bowlers, but one friend was getting strike after strike. Being the competitive people we were, my other friends and I kept trying to mess him up. Nothing was working. Finally, I said “I need to learn to bowl like you do! How many steps do you take before you release the ball?” The next time he was up, he counted his steps and guess what happened? Gutter ball. When he started trying to break down what he was doing, it messed him up.
Forget the rules!
So, I told the writer I was mentoring to forget all of the rules and to look at songwriting only from the aspect of communication. If you and I are having a conversation, there are no rules. But, if I want you to understand me, I must learn to communicate clearly. I asked him what “rule” he had broken in the song that had been critiqued. He said “I changed from first person in the verses to second person in the chorus.” I said “That’s not a rule.” He looked relieved.
I said “Johnny, you have always been a great friend to me. I appreciate the way you are always there when I need you. He is an awesome guy. I’m glad I got to know him.” Suddenly, he got it. He didn’t break a rule, he just communicated in an odd way. Just as you would be confused if I’m talking TO you directly and then I start talking ABOUT you, you aren’t going to know what happened.
Learning to communicate.
The more I teach and mentor, the more I see that it’s not about songwriting rules, but about learning to write (and re-write) until you are communicating precisely what you intend. If you do that, then there aren’t any rules.
Map out your song so that YOU know precisely what you are trying to communicate. Then, make sure that you are communicating clearly and forget the “rules”.
Write on! ~Marty
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