Songwriting Away From The Guitar
I recently read a forum post with the following question:
“How to practice songwriting away from the guitar?”
A fellow musician wanted to know if he should go through the diatonic chords in all keys, spell out the notes of chords in his head and do all kinds of other things, that could be done while being away from his guitar.
I told him to go out, live life and be present to his surroundings: People, places, smells, light, shadows, conversations, stories…these are things you should pay attention to as a songwriter, because this is where your material comes from.
It´s very easy for us musicians to forget that music is just a tool, and that all the things that go along with practicing our craft are just means to express ourselves. But first - we must have something to say!
The content for this is not found in music theory books and exercises - it is found in life itself.
A musician that never pays attention to life, but practices day and night, is like a writer who spends all his time working on his grammar, punctuation and, when he leaves home, he conjugates verbs in his head to further improve his skills while not having access to his typewriter…
Will all of this make him a better writer?
No, because his craft first and foremost depends on having a story to tell!
If he´s a bad observer, not interested in learning more about all the facets life has to offer - all the writing skills in the world will not help him.
We have to be careful to not get sucked into seeing the means as an end, because then we get lost in theory and technicality and all we say will mean nothing.
We have to go out, fall in love, get hurt, experience joy and pain, loose our path while be a good observer.
Only then can we translate our experiences into music, and only then - our music will actually mean something.
Here´s a great quote by Werner Herzog on this topic:
“…so long as you are able-bodied, head out to where the real world is. Roll up your sleeves and work as a bouncer in a sex club or a warden in a lunatic asylum or a machine operator in a slaughterhouse. Walk on foot, learn languages and a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema. Filmmaking - like great literature - must have experience of life at its foundation”