Knowing the Rules

 I just received my first hate mail. After reading all my songwriting articles, the gentleman said I was trying to put every songwriter into the same box. He called me the master of the formulaic approach. This actually made me chuckle a little, since my music has been referred to as “avant garde with elements of pop”. But I took it as a compliment.

Yes, I teach formula. I believe in knowing the rules, theory, everything. Why? Because he who has never known boundaries is more lost than free. Only if you know the rules can you truly rebel against them.

I remember when I wrote my first piano song using the chords A minor, G, and F. I thought I was so cool! Surely, no one had ever discovered this magical combination of notes before! And then I heard that progression in half the pop songs written since. Sound familiar?

If you don’t train yourself and expose yourself to as much information as possible, you won’t know when you are being cliche. I know it sounds like a contradiction to use formula as a tool against cliche, but it’s not.

By learning the tricks and devices, you know what works and, more importantly, WHY it works. Then you can make it your own. Do the exact opposite! But do it deliberately.

I know I should feel hurt that this guy hates everything I’ve written. He even told me to stop writing (Ha!). But if my advice makes someone so mad that they purposely go against what I’ve said and it leads them to finding their own sound-- Then my work here is done.

3 comments

  • Elaine

    Elaine

    Makes perfect sense to me!

    Makes perfect sense to me!

  • 6fei

    6fei

    Robin I rely on formulas to learn guitar. Because ever since graduation from campus, and inability to buy a tenor sax, theories have served my guitar practice.

    Robin I rely on formulas to learn guitar. Because ever since graduation from campus, and inability to buy a tenor sax, theories have served my guitar practice.

  • Sean Postlewaite

    Sean Postlewaite Burlington, Vt.

    Maybe you hit nerve with this "gentlemen". As I learn about music, formulas from music theory help guide the way my songs progress. I think some rules help keep the music familiar to the ear of listening population, but the rules also say to have some surprises in your composition also! So the rules are flexible, as they should be, or all songs would have been written by now :)

    Maybe you hit nerve with this "gentlemen". As I learn about music, formulas from music theory help guide the way my songs progress. I think some rules help keep the music familiar to the ear of listening population, but the rules also say to have some surprises in your composition also! So the rules are flexible, as they should be, or all songs would have been written by now smile

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