Singer composer Barry Manilow
Do you need to learn music to be a good songwriter? Do you really think that in order to write good songs, you must firstly be a good or trained musician? If you do, it's ok because most people will think that way too and you are not an exception.
What if I tell you that many non-musicians can be great songwriters and some trained musicians can be very terrible composers? Would you believe me? You don't? Sigh, guess I've got a long explanation to do then.
You see, I know of many songwriters who play musical instruments and composers who don't. Those who play music instruments reasonably well or who are musically trained will understand pacing, tempo and syncopation better. They will probably also understand the creation of melody or tune along with the structure of harmony and music theory better than most non-musicians.
This is not only because they are trained in music but also the many songs through the years they have played with their instruments, these musical and rhythmic elements are naturally ingrained into their brain's so called "muscle memory" both in theory and in practice.
These skills are certainly an advantage when it comes to writing your own songs. Of course, there are also talented and untrained non-musicians who are gifted with these skills as well.
However understandably, more musicians will have these elements than non-musicians. Although this could be an advantage on the musician's part, it could also be a disadvantage and thus the paradox.
Many musicians find it difficult to write great songs simply because of this same reason. Duh, why is that so?
Well you see, some musicians are so mentally structured or schooled that they are pre-programmed into thinking that perhaps a certain melody must be panned out in a certain way, or maybe a chord sequence should not be formed out of a fixed structured progression because subconsciously they get caught up in some music theory that indirectly tells them "this ain't the way" thus cramping their musical style.
In contrast, the good news for aspiring songwriters who don't know anything about music theory or playing any musical instruments will be able write freely without the mental baggages. That will mean that they won't think of whether something is musically or theoretically correct or wrong.
Of course, that doesn't mean that you can write some musical crap and expect to get an encore. However, it could also mean that you can write the song the way you want it to be without having to think about the first verse having 8 bars and the second have twelve. Who the heck cares? If your composition sounds great, then it’s great. Period! Don't you agree?
On the other hand, an untrained musician who go on to learn some basic guitar or piano chords and rhythms can give themselves an extra edge on their creativity in writing their own songs. So, if you play an instrument and you wish to be a good songwriter, then don’t think too much about what's musically correct or wrong. Let your creative juices flow freely and the chords and melody take you away on an exciting trip.
Yes, by all means, stick to the rules of music, but just don't get too caught up in it and let it become your hang-up. If you not a trained musician, then you may wish to learn some basic chords on the keyboard or guitar as this will definitely give your songwriting prowess more "ooomfpt". You will be amazed with the kind of stuff you can produce when you do just that.
Now, don't let anyone ever tell you that you can't be a good songwriter if you are not a musician!