Songwriter U: How are you improving?

Written by Judy Stakee

The 10,000 hour rule is a theory that posits that 10,000 hours of work experience is needed to master any skill. It was first discussed in a 1993 report by Florida State University researcher Anders Ericsson, who studied German violin students and noted that long hours of deliberate practice helped them move from proficiency to virtuosity. Later popularized by Malcon Gladwell in his book Outliers, the 10,000 hour rule provides us with a framework for improving our own songcraft.

The collective imagination considers artistic creation as a divine gift. But, for those of us called to be creators of art, we are bound to dispel this myth. Instead, we need to look at songwriting as a skill that we can develop through deliberate practice. Once we accept that improvement is possible, we can look for ways to implement a deliberate practice routine into our own lives.

For eight years, I’ve produced songwriting retreats that help burgeoning talents develop routines for improving their craft. My retreats are carefully planned to create an optimal learning environment.

We get up early for yoga to align our minds, bodies and souls. A morning singing lesson follows in order to properly stretch our vocal cords. Then the writers are divided into groups of three for co-writing sessions where I step in with commentary. Then we attend a critique session where we analyze the flaws in the songs and determine how to improve them. Our day is completed with the performances of the songs of the co-writers of that day.

We repeat this process over several days. By the end of the retreat, the songwriters have gained so much: a framework for daily practice, a new community they can co-write with, and the skills to determine if their songs are hitting the right notes.

Photos by Emily Magers Photography.

Outside of hyper-focused retreat spaces, songwriters can find other meaningful ways to implement deliberate practice. Perhaps the most productive method is individual study with a teacher whose feedback interests you. Sometimes we need a teacher’s perspective to overcome the stages of our development. Private guardianship should be preferred.

In the absence of independent study due to financial or schedule constraints, songwriters have several options. Analyzing one’s favorite records and figuring out which songwriting devices rock a song is meaningful. Your analysis can help you discover the power of alliteration, repetition, metaphor, autobiographical storytelling, or new chord progressions. After careful study, you can implement these concepts in your own work and watch your songs flourish.

Regular co-writing is, of course, a powerful way to deepen your understanding of your craft. We learn from others as we co-write, incorporating new methods into our craft and eliminating flaws in our creative process. It’s important to note that many of the best-selling records in the music industry are made in a collaborative space. Learning to collaborate effectively is therefore essential.

The goal for all of us is the same: to become a great songwriter. Concentrated study, private tutoring, and deliberate songwriting are the trio of activities that will help you master songwriting. Find time for those 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and marvel at your own growth.

For more information and to register for Judy’s TN Retreats, click HERE.

Main photo courtesy of Judy Stakee

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