One of my new projects is doing a podcast interviewing local singer songwriters about their process. This got me thinking about the theory and ‘rules’ around song writing and whether it is necessary to know these rules?

I studied musical theory when I learnt to play the piano many moons ago but I have not studied song writing. I read various blog posts and articles by people who do know about this stuff and they talk of ‘ABAB’ structures and the like and I wondered if this is a help or a hindrance when creating new music? I understand that labels can be useful when describing something to someone else, or in putting things into certain pigeon-holes but I often find that this kind of constraint can be problematic. Inevitably there is some level of compromise in order to get a certain label to fit and this can then lead to confusion.

Does this level of constraint also cause problems when applied to song-writing?

I have not applied any song writing theory to the production of my songs and I wonder if they are the better (or worse) for that. Other people have reviewed my songs and described the song using song-writing theory and that is fine but it was not necessary for me to understand this to create the song. I only know a limited number of chords on the guitar and I find that I write using those chords most of the time. There have been occasions when I have changed the tuning on my guitar so that I can no longer use my ‘go to’ chords and have to create new sounds and shapes just based on what I hear rather than my theoretical knowledge. I find this freedom liberating and it usually results in a song that is new and exciting. My knowledge of guitar chords therefore can become limiting to my creative process and I think that too much knowledge of song theory will have the same effect.

So for now I will leave the theory to someone else and continue in my creative ignorance.

Music paper