Music Theory Tips for Professional Songwriters

Why Music Theory is Important for Professional Songwriters

We all have that 1 song we’re absolutely in love with. Sometimes it’s a handful of songs we feel this way about. We simply can’t get enough of them. It’s almost like we’re addicted to them. The music, the harmony, the arrangement, the way the lyrics compliment the instruments. Some of our favorite songs are truly masterpieces. Have you ever wondered to yourself how did someone create this? How did they come up with something so magical? Something that has touched all audiences from every walk of life. Besides the artist singing or rapping the song to bring it to life, the answer is the songwriter. Whoever wrote the song established the foundation for this mesmerizing piece of art. If you’re a songwriter or aspiring songwriter you probably desire to write a song that good one day. You may wonder to yourself “how do I do it?” Surprisingly knowing music theory can help take your songwriting skills to another level. It may seem optional, but here are 7 great reasons why music theory is important for professional songwriters.

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1) What key is the song in?

When thinking of music theory, most think of it on the expert level. You may say “I don’t need to know all that tedious stuff to become a professional songwriter.” However, when stating music theory is great for aspiring and professional songwriters I mean the basics. Just knowing music theory 101 can take your songwriting skills to the next level. You don’t have to be as skilled as Stevie Wonder or Beethoven in music theory to utilize it for your songwriting skills. Knowing basic music theory will allow you to determine what key your song is in. A lot of songwriters write to already recorded instrumentals/beats. Or the songwriter simply takes a pen and pad then write what they hear in his or her head. However, nothing’s official. They don’t have a key for the song. They don’t have any chords established. When they go to work on the song they have to describe everything to someone else, or play it by ear. This can work. Many songs have been created like this. But if you want to follow the steps to becoming a professional songwriter knowing the exact key of the song is a good route. What exactly is the key of the song? A song key is when the notes of a song or piece of music all revolve around a main note. The main note all these other notes revolve around gives the song key it’s name. The revolving notes have to fall in the scale of the main key. For example, if a song is written in C major that means all the notes in the song have to be apart of the C major scale. To fully grasp this you would have to know what the C major scale is (C D E F G A B C). This is why knowing the basics of music theory is a great trait to have for professional songwriters. Now instead of simply writing a song, you can tell others it’s written in C major, D major or E minor.

A professional songwriter doesn’t have to be as musically inclined as legendary Stevie Wonder to benefit off of knowing music theory.

2) What voice type is your song good for?

Professional songwriters don’t just write impressive lyrics and create catchy beats. Professional songwriters have a vision for their song. They know who they want to record the song. They know who the song would be good for. A lot of this comes from understanding music theory. If you understand song key, voice types and how music composition works it’s easier to determine who your song would be good for. If you study famous songwriters and watch their stories you’ll notice this. Most of them had at least 1-3 artists in mind they wanted to record the songs they were shopping. If you get in contact with an A&R executive or manager and they ask you “who do you want to record this song?” Or they may ask “who do you see recording this song?” If you say “anybody” or “whoever decides to pick it up” that’s a turn off. You come across as amateur and unsure. You have to be confident and know your audience. Studying music theory and expanding your knowledge of voice types and how they work will help you achieve this goal.

3) Easier to work with other professional songwriters

Another reason why learning music theory is great for aspiring professional songwriters is the great team work it produces. Having a knowledge of music theory makes it easier to work with other professional songwriters. If you have a song written in music theory format versus standard line paper it’s easier to explain your vision. You can describe the melody to the song better simply because it’s written out. You can explain the instruments you want to be added to the beat. You can explain what tone or how you want the song to be sung. It makes the creative process a lot easier. Of course this isn’t to say knowing music theory is the only way to have a great creative process. However, it does make it easier and takes the process to another level. Most of the best songwriters of today know some level of music theory and it does nothing but helps them.

Legendary Motown songwriting trio Holland Dozier Holland are great examples of professional songwriters knowing music theory being able to work together to create timeless hits.

4) Song produces more quality

The reality is even knowing music theory 101 gives your songs a better quality. It helps establish the difference between good and great. Have you ever heard someone sing you a song they wrote and it may sound presentable, but not good enough to be played on the radio. Maybe it’s missing someone. A lot of times what the song is missing a special quality that allows music to have universal appeal. A lot of times song lack this feature due to the songwriter being hindered. There are many factors that can cause this hindrance. One of them can be not having much inspiration or variety. This is where knowing music theory comes in. Learning how instruments, the voice, melody and harmony all come together can give any song you create a certain level of quality.

5) Broaden your horizons

Learning music theory to become a professional songwriter also broadens your horizons. Instead of being a songwriter who only writes on pen and pad, you know have multiple skills. It can only make your talent better. It’s a great way to further perfect your craft. The more your mind is opened to any subject the more possibilities you encounter. It can even help you better understand other genres of music. This can result in you becoming a more versatile songwriter. One of the biggest things you need to know about how to be a good songwriter is how to work with multiple genres of music.

6) Write timeless songs

One of the many songwriting secrets professional songwriters use is their knowledge of music theory. Many songwriters who you seem to always write hit after hit have knowledge of music theory. It may seem like they just write and write off the top of their head. However, they have a structure and system they’re following. The structure they’re following revolves around the rules of music theory. Writing a song with proper music theory rules and methods in mind will help you produce a classic song. If you follow a certain structure a song is composed of in regards to music theory your song has a better chance of sounding mature, professional and appealing. This is because certain chords and progressions are designed to specifically invoke certain emotions in the listeners. This is how a lot of classic songs that the whole world seem to love come about. The song on the surface may just sound very good and captivating. However, the music theory behind the song is following certain chords, structures and patterns that help give it a certain mood and aura. This is why learning about harmony, chords, major and minor chords are important. This is where studying music theory comes in. For example major chords are known to create happy sounding songs. Minor chords create sadder more serious songs. Diminished chords are often used for songs that create suspense.

7) Develop your own sound

Legendary singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson is an excellent example of a songwriter who knows music theory which allowed him to have his own writing style and write countless hits

As you pursue your career as a professional songwriter you want to be create your own style. You want to be considered one of the greats. You want to be a songwriter, lyricist and composer. One of the best ways to create your own sound is to gain knowledge of music theory. Once again you don’t have to learn it extensively. You can simply learn music theory entry level and it’ll take your songwriting skills to another level. Legendary songwriters who have their own style and also have knowledge of music theory are Smokey RobinsonBabyface and Diane Warren. It may seem like they simply just write songs to beats in their head. This is very far from the truth. Those and other professional songwriters have an understanding of melody, harmony, chord progressions and song emotions. They understand a song should follow a particular musical pattern. Say you want your songs to always be written in 4/4 time. Say you want your songs to have a lot of 4 note chords in them. Maybe you want your slow songs to always have a strong climax in the bridge, this means you would add a 7th chord to a lot. These are just some examples of how knowing music theory will help you develop your songwriting style.

Don’t feel bad or discourage if you have no knowledge of music theory whatsoever. You can always start now. There are countless videos and online sources that are free. The beginning level is very easy to catch on and you can alway seek a tutor or professional coach.

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