4 Reasons Why You Don’t Know How To Write Music That Accurately Expresses Specific Ideas And Emotions

6 minutes read, by Ryan Buckner

Do you wish you knew how to write music that accurately expresses your thoughts, feelings and emotions? It's certainly frustrating when you don't know how to make the music you write sound exactly how you want it to. In fact, many songwriters never really learn how to express themselves clearly and will only write mediocre music at best. The reason for this is they have never invested time into improving their musical expression skills, so they simply do not have the tools needed to accurate express their ideas.

With this in mind, writing music that sounds truly great while clearly expressing your ideas and emotions requires consistent practice to integrate 'musical' ideas together with the ideas in your head. However, before you do this you must abandon these 4 limiting approaches to songwriting that will keep you from being able to write music expressively:

1. Your main approach for writing music is simply improvising until something 'sounds good'.

One of the most popular songwriting methods for writing music is to improvise on one's main instrument until coming across something that sounds cool. This approach can be useful for creating the 'spark' that inspires a new melody, song section or even entire songs. However, if you are using this approach as your ONLY approach for writing songs, you will run into significant problems when trying to express specific ideas and emotions musically.

The main problem when you write music using this method is you are thinking in terms of "what sounds cool?" rather than "how do I accurately express myself through music?" To write music that truly conveys the thoughts and emotions you are trying to express, you must reverse this way of thinking. Instead of 'only' improvising during songwriting, start writing your songs in a more planned-out manner, by mapping out what you want to express first and then finding the notes to match it.

Use the many songwriting approaches in this eBook about how to create better music to give yourself many additional methods for writing music.

2. You limit your musical expression possibilities by only trying to express the most basic emotions.

To learn how to write music that expresses your ideas clearly, you must gain the experience of writing for a wide variety of emotions in your music. This means not only understanding how to write music for basic emotions such as "happiness" or "sadness" but also for more complex emotions such as "melancholy", "wonder" or "confusion." When you only think about writing for basic emotions, you think with a totally different mindset than when you are trying to express more intricate ideas or feelings.

This is because most people consider basic emotions very simple to understand, so they (often unintentionally) write music using equally simple songwriting ideas. Using this approach, you will quickly run out of ideas after coming up with one or two basic melodies or chord progressions. After a while, you will feel a strong need to add in a different emotion in order to add variety and make your music more interesting. This is why so many "happy" songs tend to have a bridge or alternate song section that feels "sad."

Think of writing a song like painting a picture. By using only basic emotions, you limit yourself to only the primary colors red, blue and yellow. Although it is still possible to create great art by using only these colors, you will give yourself an endless amount of more creative options by learning how to mix the colors together to form new, more interesting combinations.

3. You believe that learning more about music theory will make your songwriting less creative.

Many musicians think of music theory as a bunch of abstract ideas and rules and never bother to learn it. Additionally, some musicians claim that music theory actually 'limits' creative potential - This claim could be no more further from the truth!

Contrary to popular belief, music theory isn't just about stuff like building chords, memorizing key signatures or identifying intervals. Its true purpose is for helping you learn how to connect together music/sound with ideas and emotions. The more you learn about 'how' and 'why' music causes us to feel the way we do, the better you can master the ability to write music that accurately expresses any idea you can think of.

4. You do not 'clearly' understand the emotions you are trying to write in your music BEFORE you begin writing.

It's common sense that before you can explain an idea clearly, you must first have a good understanding of the idea itself.

That said, when it comes to your songwriting, how much time have you really spent to understand the emotions you want to express? Can you quickly improvise a melody that expresses 'specific' emotions on your instrument? Do you know how to recreate the same emotion using different musical elements? Are you able to clearly identify and discuss the way emotions are being conveyed in a song you are listening to (in the moment)?

If you cannot do all of these things already, you need to work on building a strong foundation for musical expression. To build this foundation, use the following exercise and expand your capacity to express emotions in your music.

  • Step 1: Write down one of the following basic emotions on a piece of paper: anger, sadness, joy, fear or surprise. Next, use a thesaurus to find 4 synonyms for this emotion and write them down on your piece of paper as well (leaving about 5 lines of space between each one).
  • Step 2: You should have a total of 5 emotions written down - 1 basic emotion and 4 'more complex' emotions. Beside each one, write down several specific things that cause you to experience that emotion. This will help you 'hard wire' the emotion into your brain by remembering a time you experienced it. When you tie together each emotion to a personal experience that caused you to feel it (by writing it down), you change the emotion from an 'abstract' idea into something more tangible and expressible.
  • Step 3: Now, under each emotion write down the words rhythm, chords and melody. Then, think about the musical elements of rhythm, chords and melody and how you would use them to express each of the 5 emotions you wrote down. Brainstorm to come up with at least one idea using each element and write this idea down beside the space by its corresponding emotion. To come up with a lot of new ideas, improvise on your instrument, use music writing software, listen to some of your favorite songs and use this free songwriting elements resource as a guide.
  • Step 4: Finally, choose any of the 5 emotions on your piece of paper and start writing a new song idea using the ideas you came up with in the previous step. Continue repeating this exercise many times over until you build up a great vocabulary of specific ideas for expressing a variety of emotions in your songwriting.

Keep in mind that when you are learning how to write music in a highly expressive manner, some emotions may be harder to express than others. However, anything 'can' and 'has' been expressed in music, so do not give up. With enough practice, you WILL be able to master musical expression and consistently write music that sounds exactly how you want it to sound!

Do you want to become a more expressive songwriter in a short time? You can, by studying our free eBook about the 7 problems that prevent songwriters from writing expressively. Get it by clicking on the button below:

Learn how to overcome your writer's block once and for all with this course on getting inspiration for songwriters.