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Songwriting Tools Are Not Rules

There are a lot of truisms in songwriting – old school rules of thumb that remain valid and useful today in many, if not most, kinds of songwriting… things like ‘Verses should match one another in their melody, rhythm, and scan’, or ‘Lyrics should be sung the same way you’d pronounce them when spoken’, or ‘Don’t make the range of your melody so wide that it’s hard to sing’, or even ’Repeat the Title a lot’, or… I could go on; there are many.

But it’s important to remember that these are tools of songwriting; not rules. It’s often when the ‘rules’ are broken that individuality emerges. And breaking with the familiar or expected, in lyrics or music, is often a powerful way to emphasize a particular point in a song.

But I think it’s also extremely important to know, whether through osmosis or study or both, the tools of songwriting. Without them it’s very hard to not just repeat yourself.

It’s like having game in sports. Being skilled. Having a variety of moves, of weapons. Not being predictable. If the listener knows where you’re going next because you do the same things all the time, they’ll get bored fast. (And, to flip it, if you do different things all the time, and don’t create patterns that you can then vary, that’ll get old fast too.)

The tools in your toolbox are there to grab when songwriting challenges (problems) emerge. And part of the fun of writing songs is that they always present challenges. Skills help to resolve these challenges in new and interesting ways.

And what are the skills? Familiarity with the tools. Just remember that they’re tools – not rules.


Let me know your thoughts, additions, disagreements in the Comments section below:

no rules just tools


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2 responses to “Songwriting Tools Are Not Rules”

  • Rich Meitin

    Tools, not rules, but you have to understand them because these tools emerged from centuries of trial and error in trying to construct music that people would respond to. They aren’t arbitrary or some classroom exercise. They are more like the documented lessons of history.

    Ok then: NOW go ahead and break one, based on understanding it first.

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