What If I Have No Talent?

You don't have to be a handwriting or calligraphy expert to write great lyrics. You also don't have to be Eddie Van Halen or Mozart to write a great song with the help of an instrument. It's just another tool in your toolbox and it's used in a much different way by a songwriter than by a musician. This is true even if you are Eddie Van Halen.

Instruments are a songwriter's tools for setting moods, building grooves, figuring out chords and signature licks, arranging, trying different keys, working on harmonies, and composing motives or even whole melodies.

Luckily for you, songwriting is different from painting or sculpture in that you can redo a part as many times as it takes to get what you want. This means you can make a million, or a billion, mistakes on your instrument and it won't matter one bit. All that matters is the one time when you come up with the part you need for the song. Let's use baseball as an analogy. How well could you play baseball if you could take as many swings as you needed to hit the ball? That's what playing an instrument is like for a songwriter. Come to think of it, that's what songwriting is like: You just keep swingin' until you hit it, then run with it and let the publisher (umpire) decide if you're safe or out.

Learning to play an instrument, even badly, can enhance your songwriting immeasurably. Some of the worst musicians in the history of the world have been some of the greatest songwriters. Unfortunately, some of the best songwriters have been overlooked because they didn't try to learn at least a little about the music side of the music business. To return to the baseball analogy, the best left-fielder in the world can't hit a home run unless he or she steps up to the plate and swings.

Am I too old to start?

You're never too old to start playing an instrument. You may never become a virtuoso, but, then again, you just might. Jazz great Wes Montgomery was in his mid-thirties when he first took up guitar and was so awful at first that even his wife wouldn't listen to him.

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