Tips for aspiring singer-songwriters from Bill Henderson

Bill Henderson
Bill Henderson

Music styles come and go through the years but songwriting will never die. The urge to sing is deeper and more lasting than any style. So if you’re a songwriter, don’t worry, as long as you write songs that people like to sing, you’ll never be laid off. Of course people prefer great songs over good ones so that’s what writers try to create. It takes lots of craft and a little bit of magic.

The craft can be learned. In fact, excellent songwriters have learned it so well that it can seem almost forgotten. They don’t have to think about it.

But also, for most hit song writers, the songs of theirs that really connect with a massive audience come from somewhere beyond craft. Call it the muse, call it inspiration, or maybe just call it magic. This magic is the difference between a good song and a great one. And believe it or not, it is something that can be nurtured.

Both aspects of writing are essential and in the most intuitive writing sessions they work together like one thing. And even though both aspects are present, the writer isn’t thinking about either of them, they’re just writing.

Here are some ways the aspiring songwriter can develop their craft and nurture magic:

1) Get up – Get out of bed and write down that great idea you’re having or sing it into your iPhone RIGHT NOW, while it’s happening – that just may be where the magic is.

2) Get going – Set some time aside everyday for new ideas and to finish old ones. They say it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. That work is the real teacher, so just get going!

3) Get informed – Explore the fundamentals – harmony, song structure, Lyric writing, melody, groove, arranging etc.. Then, when you listen to songs, you will be more aware of how they function and integrating what you learn into your own writing will be perfectly natural.

4) Get connected – Find opportunities to collaborate and network with songwriters, musicians, publishers, and managers. Immerse yourself in the music industry by going to seminars and workshops and joining various associations. Some of the connections you make will become very valuable to you in your career.

5) Get gear – Learn an instrument. You don’t need to be a hot-shot. Just develop a good working relationship with it. Musicians and songwriters are two different things. Get a computer music program and learn to make demos with your computer, but keep ‘em simple and effective, learn to do decent mixes.

6) Get groovin’ – Play and sing your songs. Take every opportunity – in front of an audience, for your friends, or for your co-writers; and make it fun. Even when the song is serious, groove with it. Remember, you sing the blues to lose the blues. If the audience is paying no attention, and they miss your songs, it’s their loss. Don’t let it bother you. Stick with your muse, look for fun opportunities to play, and keep groovin’.

Finding a forum to learn, connect, and perform can be challenging so to guide singer- songwriters through fundamentals of the craft and help channel artistic development the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music (VSOSoM) has recently launched a Singer-Songwriter’s Workshop that will kick-off for the first time this August. The first of it’s kind in Canada, the workshop combines individual coaching, song circles, and instruction in all aspects of lyrics, song structure, melody and harmony, arrangement, performance and the business of music, providing students the formal and informal training necessary to find success.

For more information about the VSOSoM’s Singer-Songwriter’s Workshop, visit:

Bill Henderson is best known for his work with ‘Chilliwack’ one of Canada’s top recording acts in the 1970’s and 80’s and has been honored with a Juno award. Joined by fellow Juno award-winning songwriter, Shari Ulrich, Bill will lead this summer’s VSOSoM Singer-Songwriter workshop.



4 thoughts on “Tips for aspiring singer-songwriters from Bill Henderson

  1. Bill has proven himself to be an outstanding craftsman of song over many years. What makes him really stand out to my mind is his unwavering commitment to nurturing others, and it comes across when one meets him in person and watch him on stage performing. His genuine sincerity shines, and in an age when there is so much negativity it is always wonderful to be in the presence of a powerfully positive force. Bravo!


  2. I have admired and loved the music and songs of Chilliwack for years. Their songs are not restricted by time and will live on and on. Thank you, Bill Henderson for these tips, which I will implement, AND for the musical memories.


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