Over the years I've experimented with different types of songwriting. When I started writing music I had a fairly basic idea of what comprised a song. I looked at it in parts: Intro, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, and Outro. After awhile I became skilled at writing using this, lets call it the A, B, C writing method. Each part followed a certain format and this never varied. But as I wrote more and more I realized something. Music theory is less about following a certain "mold" and more about allowing your natural abilities to shine through your music.
Natural writers have it in them to just be able to bust out songs when they feel them coming. They sense something, get an itch to write, and as long as they have a pen handy it just comes out. Having a guitar or piano nearby only makes the transition into song even faster. However, if you're stuck in the thinking that you have to follow an "A, B, C" method, then even your lyric composition may be less impressive than you're expecting. Some of the best songs ever created don't follow any standard pattern for creation. There are songs that begin with the chorus, then move into the verse. Some songs never repeat lyrically and continue to change up chord patterns as they go. Some start off dynamically soft and build until they reach a climax at the end. The truth of the matter is that song creation is just that: you creating. When approaching something as limitless as this you must keep in mind two things: 1) *Do Not Copy Another Artist's Work, and 2) You must think "fourth dimensionally", as Doc is keen on saying in Back to the Future.
I feel it's noteworthy at this point to discuss originality, briefly though, as I'm sure I'll discuss it more in the future. But when you look around and read on TV how celebrities such as Beyonce stole not only musical but dance ideas from other lesser known artists it makes one stop and think, have I done that? The truth here is most people when they begin writing borrow little things from other songs. By little I mean two or three notes in a row, but no more. Any more and we'd be bordering on copyright issues. If you've found yourself in this situation don't freak out just yet, this is completely normal for novice and even some advanced writers. I pose the question, How do we learn to write but by at first mimicking what others do? We wouldn't. After all this is how we learn to talk isn't it? We copy what the world around us does, make the same noises, learn to put them in different patterns, and finally make sense out of it all. If we didn't first "copy" how and what others said we might not be speaking now at all. It's the same in music. You are limited by what you know: how many chord progressions, chords, notes that you know. So when learning you are forced to think like others in order to make something similar. If you find yourself in this place now, I encourage you to keep writing. If you do, you won't find yourself there for long.
Thinking "fourth dimensionally" can be more difficult than one may expect. Being a bit of a science nerd I like to use analogies such as these because it helps me rationalize things I don't already understand completely. When he uses this in the series, he's always referring to Marty not understanding how things will be different after he moves through time. After all, time changes things: landscape, scenery, people, technology, ideals, culture. Things change, and this happens in time. Here though I'm going for a slightly different meaning to this. When thinking "fourth dimensionally", you must think outside of this time and place. We are, after all, in the third dimension (3D), and thinking in 4D would cause us to completely wipe clean the slate of rules we have regarding everything and force us to re-establish the physical laws we take for granted every single day. In the case of music, we're throwing out everything we've taken to be true and starting over. When we classify by genre, that's fitting something into a mold, so let's throw that out the window. We can now write a song with multiple genre influences if we wish. Okay well for the sake of being creative the A, B, C method is gone now too, so our structure for this song can whatever we want as well. Instrumentation, hmm, who says a banjo doesn't fit in a rock band? Let's make our own choice concerning instrumentation as well. Alright, now that we have creative freedom to write our own structure, use our own instrumentation, and create whatever style of music we wish it's now time to start writing from our heart.
Last paragraph I promise! My intent with this post is get you thinking in 4D. Don't let the world decide for you what music you should play. Don't what's already been established keep you in a box and writing like you've been living under a rock for twenty years. You have the freedom to write from your heart, and compose from there as well. Add to music what you can visualize, make it different and creative. Combine styles and their instruments to make something new. Don't sit in a mold and continue writing as if there's nothing else. You have the ability and the freedom to do so. All you have to add now is the initiative and you can soar to some great heights with your creation.
Be free, write on.