Whether songwriting is your hobby, your full-time job, or anywhere in between, it can be tough to carve out enough time for your craft to actually progress when life gets busy. And when you do get a chance to finally sit down with your instrument or notebook without interruption, you want to ensure that you’re making the most of the precious songwriting time you have.
The key is to incorporate it into your existing routine, and actually plan out your songwriting schedule and goals. Follow this guide, and you’ll be writing more songs in no time!
1. Plan out your workweek
It can’t be stressed enough: Planning is essential to being a successful and productive songwriter. Now, before you run to CVS and buy a planner and a bunch of pretty markers, it’s important to know the most effective way to plan. There are so many different ways to approach this, but here’s a method that we find helpful:
Create a timeline for yourself
Before you pack it in for the night, take a few minutes to plan out a realistic timeline for the next day, making sure that you block out a specific period of time in your schedule for songwriting. Treat it just as seriously as any other meeting or appointment.
“I take time blocking seriously, dedicating ten to twenty minutes every evening to building my schedule for the next day,” explains productivity guru Cal Newport. “During this planning process I consult my task lists and calendars, as well as my weekly and quarterly planning notes. My goal is to make sure progress is being made on the right things at the right pace for the relevant deadlines.”
Be sure, however, to allow a little wiggle room with your time blocks. We tend to underestimate how long tasks will take, and you never know when something unexpected will pop up in the middle of the day.
Example of timeline planning:
8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.: Commute to the office
9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.: Check email and respond to urgent messages
10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.: Meeting with George and Sue
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Songwriting practice
12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Lunch
Set weekly goals
Writing out weekly goals will help you put your achievements into perspective. Set aside a small amount of time at the beginning of week to get prioritized. This doesn’t have to be some big, stressful event – you could simply create a quick list in a notebook or on your phone.
For instance, say you want to learn 20 new chords on the guitar. To make that feel less stressful and more doable, you’d want to break that goal down into smaller chunks, such as setting a weekly goal of learning five chords. Then, if you use the timeline planning method outlined above, you can drill down even further and turn that weekly goal into a daily task of learning just one new chord per weekday. Not so daunting anymore, right?
2. Be specific in your planning
One of the most common reasons why people get frustrated or off track when they try to plan and set goals is because they don’t get specific enough. For example, instead of the generic statement that you want to write one new song this week, turn that into something like: “Write the verse and chorus of a song about being broken up with a pet store in the middle of winter in January.”
It may sound oddly specific, but in the end, this will help you become more focused and much more likely to achieve your goals.
3. How much time do you need to set aside to practice songwriting?
When it comes to music and songwriting, practicing more frequently for shorter periods of time is generally more effective than infrequent, longer sessions that happen sporadically. Making a daily habit out of songwriting, even if it’s just a few minutes each morning, will help you progress more in the long run. Practice time is going to look different for everyone, but if you start by simply doing what you can, when you can, you’re already off to a great start.
Experts’ opinions on the ideal number of hours to practice music every day differ pretty widely. According to performance psychologist Noa Kageyama of Bulletproof Musician, “Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark. The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.”
He also notes that how you practice – specifically, mindful practice rather than practicing on autopilot – is so much more important than how long you practice for. “The real key here is not the amount of practice required (as the exact number of hours is debatable) but the type of practice required to attain an expert level of performance,” Kageyama explains. “In other words, just practicing any old way doesn’t cut it.”
4. What should you practice?
Customize your songwriting practice based on what your long-term goals are. For example, if you want to get better at melody writing, your practice session could consist of coming up with a bunch of improvised melodies over a couple of chord progressions. Meanwhile, someone else who might want to work on improving their lyrics might spend 30 minutes on lyric writing prompts.
Whatever you decide to do, try to keep your practice routine well-rounded by rotating what you work on in each session. By spicing up your routine, your brain will be constantly stimulated with new ideas and challenges to overcome, helping you learn more quickly and flex your creative muscle.
The most important thing to remember in this process is to have fun. When you’re practicing songwriting, you’ll get your best, most creative ideas when you turn off your inner editor and just let your ideas flow without any judgment.
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