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What are the First Steps to Become a Successful Singer Songwriter?

Play open mic nights to accustom yourself to performing in front of an audience.
guitar image by April K from Fotolia.com

Singer songwriters are musicians who write and perform original songs. Often just one person can perform the songs, though some singer songwriters have a band or other musicians accompanying them. The guitar and piano are the two most common instruments singer songwriters use to write and perform their music. For people who want to dive into this field as a profession or a hobby, there are a few tips that can help them become successful.

Listen for Inspiration

Listen to other singer songwriters to get a feel for the style of music you enjoy. Find inspiration in the lyrics, melody and chord progression of various songs. Listen closely to discover the specific elements or sections with which you really connect.

Take a Songwriting Class

Take a songwriting class through a local college or music store. These classes can teach you the basic theory behind writing a song, including various structures and how to transition from one section to the next, musically and lyrically. Classes often analyze popular songs, giving students a glimpse of how other singer songwriters work. You might also want to consider taking a few piano or guitar lessons. It is not necessary to play these instruments to write good songs, but they can help you compose music to accompany your lyrics.

Study Music Theory

Take an introductory music theory class or buy a book to learn on your own. You can do this while learning to play an instrument or wait until you become proficient enough to play songs. Basic music theory will teach you the concepts behind harmony and chord progression, such as which progressions work well together from a listener's viewpoint, as well as the different scales and the moods they create.

Play on Your Own

Learn how to play and sing some of your favorite songs. This helps accustom you to singing and playing an instrument simultaneously, as well as helping you understand a song from the performer's perspective. Practice regularly until you can play the songs well, with no mistakes or unintentional tempo changes.

Write Your Own Songs

Begin writing lyrics and chord progressions on your own. Some singer songwriters start with the lyrics. Others start with the music and some write both simultaneously. Find a system that works for you. If you already have poems and lyrics written, try to write music for them. If the lyrics are emotional, sad or heartfelt, try writing music in a minor scale to fit the mood. If they are more upbeat and positive, try a major scale. You could also alternate between minor and major scales throughout the song, writing verses in a minor scale and the chorus in a major scale. There is no right or wrong way to compose or structure a song; use whatever format works best for you.

Welcome Feedback

Play your music for trusted friends or family members. Listen to their feedback openly and make changes based on the comments with which you agree. If your musical career takes off, it's best to become accustomed to others critiquing your work. Learning to accept feedback, whether positive or negative -- and discovering how to handle it -- is important when you're just starting out.

About the Author

Chris Newton has worked as a professional writer since 2001. He spent two years writing software specifications then spent three years as a technical writer for Microsoft before turning to copywriting for software and e-commerce companies. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from the University of Colorado.