The Muse is Not King in Songwriting (i.e. You Need Skills)

by Debra Alexander

Those participating in the S.A.C. Community Songwriting & Blogging Challenge have their hands full this week with Lesson Five, the penultimate in the series. Our fearless leader, Berklee College of Music Songwriting Professor Pat Pattison, makes a case for working efficiently on writing your song, as opposed to writing whatever comes along, letting the muse strike as you hum or strum or what have you. He is careful to say that spontaneous, inspired writing has a legitimate place, but he contends that involving your head as well as your heart engages your whole self; therefore producing a better end product.

This whole head / heart thing is examined in the book The Rhythms Of The Game, by former major league baseball player and Latin Grammy Nominated jazz musician Bernie Williams.  The Rhythms of The Game draws a parallel between ‘being in the flow’ in playing the game of baseball and in the playing of a musical instrument. Being in the flow, in the context of baseball, is the ability to execute something that looks deceptively simple— but in reality it’s the result of a great deal of applied knowledge and experience along with a wonderful blend of athleticism and instinct. And so it is with songwriting. The dexterity required to manipulate those accented syllables is astounding!

So, “involving your head” means applying all the elements that have been presented since Week One, filtering them through the lens of prosody, and evaluating all the concepts in terms of stability and instability. In addition, this week you’re also considering how to create melodies and melodic rhythms by employing your knowledge of stressed and unstressed syllables. Embracing methods that allow for efficient work include the use of a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary, as well as constructing what Pat calls a “worksheet” of rhyming words—before you ever write a line. Learning to use these structures is not meant to curb your freedom of expression, but rather to set you free. You can cure writers block and make sure your writing process keeps flowing if you rely on “informed instinct.”  Thinking, in an organized way, through the choices you have at every step should contribute to how well you’ve invited your listener to participate in your song.

Hence although the muse is important in guiding our songwriting, Pat Pattison would argue that effective use of the tools and skills he teaches is a way to lead and guide our muse.

SAC Bloggers, please post the following for Week Five:

1. The title to your Week 5 Assignment, along with a list of the 4-6 keywords you used to make your worksheet.

2. The URL to your Week 5 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)


16 thoughts on “The Muse is Not King in Songwriting (i.e. You Need Skills)

  1. Pat Pattison’s taught us some really great stuff in this course. I never realized how much careful thought could go into creating a song. I’ve been really impressed with how much I’ve learned from him 🙂


  2. Week 5 blog. This week I got into reading a bunch of science as well as songwriting … somehow they all merged together. I wrote about love at a rodeo with key words: rodeo, passion, rustler, hazard and tumbleweed. Songwriting was about choosing the setting for the emotion of the lyric to be expressed. The science was about choosing the setting for genes to either express themselves or not. Guess what? Songwriting creates the right chemical environment for our good genes to express themselves and “nasty” genes to stay silent. Who’d of thought?


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