Musical magic is created by human beings: learning their craft, trying things out, practising.
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
The only way to become a better songwriter is by writing. But you want to fuel that writing with tons of different tools and ideas from other songwriters. There are dozens of brilliant songwriting books out there, but here are the six we think every songwriter should own.
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A rhyming dictionary is one of the most important songwriting books every songwriter can have. A good one can help pull you out of any lyrical holes and keep your vocabulary fresh, and Clement Wood’s is the gold standard. Its entries are listed in single line columns making it easy to scan down the list for the perfect word. The dictionary itself is also prefaced with The Poet’s Craft Book, a useful and old-school introduction to the craft of form, rhythm and rhyme.
For over fifty years Strunk and White’s Elements of Style has been raising standards in style and written expression the world over. Get your copy and let its wisdom help give your writing the impact, clarity and panache it deserves. Better yet, get your copy and bury yourself within its pages at least twice a year for the rest of your life.
Paul Zollo’s Songwriters on Songwriting is a unique and important book. More than ten years in the making and in its fourth edition, it’s a hefty volume that compiles the thoughts of 63 well-known songwriters. Zollo uncovers the influences, working methods and experiences of the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Carlos Santana, Lou Reed and Lenny Kravitz. Best of all, Zollo has a Jedi-like skill of helping his interviewees open up and his transcription style makes you feel like you’re there in the room with them. Recommended for the coffee table and the writing studio: his interviews are as entertaining as they are illuminating.
Years in the making, Jack Perricone’s Great Songwriting Techniques is probably the most detailed and technical book about songwriting techniques there is. Being so technical, you’ll get a lot more out of the book if you’re proficient reading music notation, but it’s a must read either way. Chapters cover melody, harmony, rhythm and structure in plenty of detail and there are analyses of dozens of well-known songs by great writers from George Gershwin to Ed Sheeran and plenty in between.
(Black Irish, 2002)
Make no mistake: writing songs – like making anything out of nothing – is a revolutionary act. In his classic book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield lays out dozens of powerful and inspiring mindsets for overcoming all the common mental blocks, pushing through fear and creating your best work. Though The War of Art applies to anyone who wants to be more creative in any aspect of their life, for songwriters looking to win their own creative battles, it’s a must read.
(The Song Foundry, 2017)
Yep, I know. I wrote this. But I wouldn’t have spent nearly two years writing it if I didn’t think it would be an important addition to the tons of great songwriting books out there already. I wrote The Art of Songwriting as a one-stop guide to all the skills you’ll need to be a great writer: not just the craft skills that go in to making structure, rhyme and melody work, but all the real-life skills that help you create something exciting and distinctive. Written in the most personable and down-to-earth style I could muster, The Art of Songwriting is all about equipping you with the knowledge you need to be successful as a writer, challenging you to think for yourself and empowering you to follow your own creative path.