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Tuning Your Songwriting Tools

Get your songwriting in tune, by tuning your gear, your ear and yourself... stop making songwriting harder when it can be so easy to make it easier!
Tuning Your Songwriting Tools-Tune Your Gear, Tune Your Ear and Tune into Yourself

Table of Contents

Tune your gear, tune your ear and tune into yourself

I just got my favourite guitar back from the shop – new frets, new strings, strut rod adjusted, oiled, polished… and it sounds better than new!

The awesome feeling of playing my “new” guitar got me thinking about keeping my gear in tune… not just in tune, but tuned up and in good repair.

You Don’t Always Notice the Problems Right Away!

Little problems creep in and you:

  • Learn to play around them. 
  • Adapt, often without noticing, and compensate for the problem. Just as your ear can adjust to “out of tune” 
  • Let them compound on each other to create huge problems!

Then you:

  • Skip regular maintenance
  • Wait to fix the problems…
  • Until you can’t stand it and have to fix it

When it’s in front of you in writing… it’s obvious this isn’t the smartest way to operate.

So why do we all ignore the little problems instead of fixing them?

It usually comes down to a combination of three factors. A lack of:

  1. Time
  2. Knowledge, and / or
  3. Money
Explain that again, it totally sounded like lies, border collie staring with "you're lying" eyes

1. The Lack of Time Problem

You rush through, not stopping to check because you believe there isn’t enough time.

But if you spend a few minutes before you get started, you can avoid wasting time!

A few years ago I was recording a guitar part for a song demo.

Instead of testing the mic setup with an 8 bar trial, I recorded the entire song… three times because I messed up a few bars each time.

It wasn’t until I was listening to the takes that I noticed a string was out of tune.

I would have been further ahead and finished faster with a five minute test and a careful listen.

Instead, I wound up wasting 20 minutes and deleting those takes and re-recording everything.

Invest the time to test first and tune into what you are doing before you start!

2. The Lack of Knowledge Problem

Sometimes we miss problems because we don’t know what to look / listen for….

When I brought my guitar in, a salesman checked my guitar. After he noticed the worn frets (I didn’t notice until I heard a buzzing string and then carefully checked), he looked down the neck from the tuning pegs (same point of view as the Happy Face in the cover photo) and saw that it was slightly bowed because the strut rod needed to be tightened. 

I didn’t know to check for that. Most of my instrumental training is on woodwind instruments. Give me a saxophone and I can take it apart and put it back together in better shape than it was. When it comes to guitars, I’m ready to pay for the help because I don’t have the same level of training and knowledge.

3. The Lack of Money Problem

Sometimes we delay fixing problems because of the cost.

It also depends on your priorities… If you truly want and need it, you can (almost) always find a way by 

I’ll avoid buying a $2 coffee on the go, but think nothing of spending extra at the grocery store. I avoid spending monthly subscriptions but I can blow any possible annual savings in one trip to the music store.

I paid close to a quarter of the original price of my guitar for this year’s maintenance… it was worth it, but I am always tempted to wait a little longer when I know it’s going to cost money… a bad habit I’m still working on!

we got this face who needs a plan?, two border collies sitting in the front seats of a car, songwriting meme

All Three Problems Lead To…

The lack of time (and to a lesser degree the lack knowledge or money) often results in:

  • Failing to plan in advance. Instead of scheduling regular maintenance and fixing problems as they arise, you live with the problems and wait until you can’t avoid fixing them.
  • Rushing ahead without carefully reflecting / listening / planning. I have stepped on stage without properly tuning my guitar… nothing like telling the long version of the story while trying to finish tuning in front of an audience… avoid this at all costs!
  • Avoiding solutions – following old habits / inertia, instead of actively noticing problems and then actively seeking and implementing solutions.

So now we know what and why…

How do you fix it?

Solving “Lack of Time” Songwriting Problem

Find ways to spend time that saves you time and frustration:

  • Teach yourself to make the time to think about what and how you are doing, and follow through when you decide to make changes to your regular routines
  • Pick a reflection time for each writing session (ex: start – reread previous notes, end – write where to start next time
  • Weekly & Monthly Review: make time to review and check your plans and progress towards your goals, 
  • Regularly reread your songwriting notes. I have found all sorts of excellent things that I have written, from great opening lines or chorus hooks to almost finished songs that have been patiently waiting for me to come back and complete them.

Create a maintenance plan for your gear – it’s not glamorous or exciting, but it has to get done. Start with: how often you should…

  • Perform regular checks on your gear, your favorite most used instruments and the ones that you don’t routinely play.
  • Perform routine maintenance, like changing your guitar strings
  • Send you instrument in for regular maintenance

Solving “Lack of Knowledge” Songwriting Problem

Find the right people to learn from, ask the right people the right questions and keep learning!

  • Instead of buying or upgrading music gear, consider investing in yourself… find ways to learn more about using the gear you have.
  • Consider getting lessons or buying training instead of surfing the internet. YouTube is free, but it’s hard to build your knowledge and skills randomly.
  • Understand that spending some money can save you time and frustration. It can be better to spend the money for premium training than wasting your time on random free stuff, hoping it will fill your needs.

Solving “Lack of Money” Songwriting Problem

Yes, you could make more money, but you can also spend more wisely.

  • Saving $20 or $50 from each pay cheque or gig will add up quickly if you are disciplined. Pick a goal, set a regular amount and automatically transfer it to a special bank account. Wait until you’ve saved up.
  • Think about expenses you don’t really need or could change. Pack a lunch for a week and save a crazy amount over a month.
  • Break expenses into smaller chunks… for example, you can think of the Song Starter Kit as $49 or $3.50 a day for the 14 days it should take you to finish this online songwriting course.

Sometimes financing makes sense… but only when you honestly need to do it. A few years ago my two channel audio interface stopped working… dead. So I paid an extra $50 and financed my new Scarlett 18i20 over 6 months at 0%. I needed a new interface to keep recording songs, so I spent extra money for an instant upgrade, instead of buying the same interface again. I balanced need something that works now and my desire to upgrade my gear by paying a little extra for instant results.

One more stick and we can start making fire, Two border collies playing with a stick

Epic Bonus for Tuning Your Songwriting

I saved this for last because if you have read this entire article you have already proven you are willing to go further than most people… more than half the people that started reading this article have already bounced away. 

You are willing to make a bigger effort than most people… ready to go a little further?

Underneath All of These Problems is the “Lack of…” Excuse.

It’s an excuse used to avoid making an effort or changing yourself. For example: if you “don’t have the time,” then you don’t have to do it!

Solving the “lack of” excuses open up endless possibilities.

Anytime you hear or say “I don’t have enough…” of anything, do a gut check and ask yourself if it’s really an excuse to avoid doing it. 

Ask yourself: “what are you (or they) justifying?” when talking like that…

“I don’t have the time” is the number one excuse for avoiding. 

I don’t have the time to:

  • Write songs
  • Practice my instrument
  • Exercise
  • Eat properly
  • Sleep enough every night

It often means: I actually don’t want to do it, but I’d rather not admit to it to myself or to others.

You don’t have to admit it to others, but at least get honest with yourself.

If you want help getting around the “I don’t have time to write my songs” excuse, click here for free training to build a consistent songwriting habit!

Mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them... border collie trying to get ball unstuck

Leave a comment to help other songwriters…

What could you be doing that you’re avoiding? What are your first steps to get started?

More Articles to Get Yourself Songwriting…

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff has taught, played and written music professionally for the last 25+ years.
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