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Beware The Songwriting ‘Expert’ (Including Me)

I’ve been writing songs for a long time, and teaching and coaching other songwriters for close to 20 years.

I hope that I’m helping some of those writers (and readers). But I never call myself a songwriting ‘expert’. In fact, beyond being a proud songwriter, I don’t know what to call myself, other than a songwriter who’s trying to help other songwriters get better.

Teacher? When I teach Songwriting for Beginners, laying out the basics of the craft, that is certainly teaching. Beyond that, I point out various things writers might’ve missed and possible solutions, or ways to think about solutions, to problems they’re having with their songs or with songwriting. I do that a lot.

But once people start writing their own songs (and, if they’re not, I get them doing that as quickly as possible)… it’s not so much what people think of as teaching anymore.

Why not? Because to me helping a writer get better is like that old proverb, “Give someone a fish, they’ll eat for a day; teach them to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime.”

I’m trying to help writers learn to fish for themselves. Not to fix their songwriting problems for them, but to help them learn to think more clearly about their own songs and to have more options for improving them. And, as I hope some of you who’ve taken my workshops or had one-on-one consultations with me have experienced, I really enjoy doing that.

So this brings us to ‘expert’. Sometimes I find myself in teaching situations where I’m referred to using that flattering word.

But, before I’m a teacher, I’m a songwriter. Which means I never get to forget how challenging it can be to actually write a decent song, and then another one, to bring an idea to fruition… and how humbled I myself often am by failing more than i succeed in that process.

You know what’s much easier than writing a song? Telling other people how to do it. Being an ‘expert’.

Expertise and experience are invaluable. I certainly believe in passing along what’s been given to me and what I’ve learned. I’ve seen that I can help songwriters improve. But

I think ‘experts’ (like me) should always be viewed with a certain degree of skepticism. And, for us ‘experts’, a strong dose of humility is always in order.

Because, as stated, relatively speaking it’s so easy to tell someone how to do something… in theory. And so hard to do it consistently well oneself… in reality.

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4 responses to “Beware The Songwriting ‘Expert’ (Including Me)”

  • Regina Smoler

    Great wisdom here!

    Thank you.

  • Robert Berardi

    Great blog. I get what you’re saying; “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” But you are indeed an expert on songwriting. I teach high school art in the South Bronx. Every September I’m faced with 30 teenagers who would rather be looking at thir phones. I teach them skill sets that I’ve more or less mastered: anatomy, perspective, color theory, shading. Once they learn the rules they can break em. As far as songwriting, I’m more of a student. I hear melodies in my head and I have a knack for clever, sassy lyrics, but I’m not an accomplished musician. When I read your breakdown of Bruno Mars’ That’s What I Like or a Beatles song, I realize how much I need to learn about chord progressions, essential parts of composition. You always hit that sweet spot of useful technical advice and inspiring prompts. Your expertise -in both songwriting and teaching- is indeed appreciated!

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