Sunday, October 5, 2014

Acoustic Guitar Journal #3: Songwriting as Practice

As I continue with my acoustic guitar lessons, I've been writing songs at a good clip. There are four I'm working on, with three I could perform as complete material. Very proud of this and thrilled at how easily it is coming. It just feels amazing to be consistently creative again after years of running dry. It's clear to me that the issue was the hours/stress I was dealing with from my job. It took over my life, and I did not sufficiently deal with the situation to maintain control of my life. It's been a big lesson to realize how much impact it had on me and that, as soon as I was in a place where I could breathe again, all the creative energy came back. Never again!

As happy as being creative makes me, songwriting is much more than an emotional indulgence. From a practical standpoint, it's propelling my progress on my instrument in a really organic manner. Part of learning is exploring chords and how to move between them. However, doing this while writing songs pushes me at a much higher level. It's not about just playing random chords and getting used to the changes (which is excellent exercise), but I'm now doing this while staying in the rhythm and feel of a song. This changes my whole way of thinking when I practice. From the outset, my standard is not "I'm practicing" but "does this sound like a good performance?". This is a much higher bar of mastery to demand from myself at the start, and it naturally is going to drive me to learn more quickly.

Not to say that I've mastered barre chords yet. I still have trouble with the G string going dead on minor 7ths, and I can't switch to these chords with much speed. However, the repetition of playing my own songs using these chords and not being pleased with pauses and rejiggered fingering is definite motivation to learn more quickly. I've ended up pushing myself a lot more insistently because, within a songwriting mentality, once I am exposed to anything I want to learn it so I can use it. It's like adding words to my vocabulary as a child. I feel limited by only knowing the basic chords, and I naturally want more tools in expressing myself. So I'm more invested in getting things right.

Songwriting is also helping me get more out of songs I learn by other people. It helps me 'find the song' in something like "Stolen Car" (see AGJ #2 post). I'm also paying a lot more attention to what these songwriters do, which is education all by itself. Lastly, it keeps me from getting too comfortable. I had begun veering away form finger picking, which is tougher for me to write and perform in. As soon as I noticed I was doing this, I course corrected and forced myself to continue with it and progress. Because I'm writing my own songs, not learning something is denying myself a songwriting tool. I refuse to let this happen, not from any internal discipline, but simply because if I want to write good music I can't allow it!

Overall, songwriting is a great motivator in learning my instrument as well as simply being very satisfying to do.

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