Self-Expression Through Songwriting

Jan 20, 2016

blog Self-Expression Through Songwriting

We are fortunate enough to live in a time and place that allows most of us a fair amount of of free time to pursue our own interests, and if we’re extremely luck, the money to follow through. In this cultural framework, self-expression has become an important part of our lives, and in fact, has become an important part of how we deal with the stresses of the other half (or more) of our lives, and how we deal with many mental health difficulties. One of the many, many ways people choose to express themselves, is of course, music, but music itself is a hugely broad vehicle for self-expression. We have talked at great length in the past about the amazing impact practicing and making music can have on overall physical and mental health and well being, but we’ve mostly focused on the learning to play, and playing existing music aspects of this unique form of human magic. This week we’re going to flip the coin a bit, and talk about songwriting as an important form of self-expression and useful tool when it comes to mental health and well being.

Think about the lyrics of your favourite songs. Think of the songs that really speak to you, that feel like they are being sung directly to you. We all have these songs that seem to fit into our lives effortlessly to describe our trials, difficulties, and successes. It may seem obvious, but these songs hit so close to home because the people who wrote them went through something similar enough to what you’re experiencing that the metaphors they used to express their frustration, anger, elation, or excitement easily cross over to your experience. What all this means is that songwriting isn’t as difficult as it may seem to someone who has never tried it. If these so-called “stars” can write something that makes you feel like they are singing to you, you can too. Human emotion is a universal characteristic we all share. Now, a beginner may feel daunted at first, but remember, the goal is not fame, the goal is to express yourself. Write what you know, and you’ll connect with someone that can relate.

Of course, writing for others isn’t the point or the goal either. As with all other forms of self-expression, songwriting is about getting what you have inside out on the page. And just like any other art form, putting what you’re feeling out into the world can be an extremely cathartic and exciting experience. Universities have even studied the effects of songwriting on a group of first-year university student to see how it would affect their personal development. This study, performed by and at The University of Vermont, simply looked at the interaction and song lyrics from an existing class meant to help develop and refine the student’s songwriting skills. Like any good study, the researchers needed to collect some sort of data, and in this case it was based on the student’s original song lyrics, reflections, and interactions with the group. When the semester was complete and all the data was collected and analyzed, the researched came to some interesting, if not quite unexpected results. The first of their biggest findings was the sense of emotional stability the students felt came as a result of songwriting. Many of the students talked about how songwriting helped them get a lot of emotions off their chests throughout the difficulties of the semester. On student in particular pointed out that when she was backed up with work and most stressed out, writing music helped her remind herself that everything would be alright.

The second major finding was how the students used songwriting as a form of emotional therapy for those times when they weren’t feeling so stable. The students, and really any songwriters at any skill level, began to feel a sense of peace of mind when a song was completed. One student, refereed to as “Ellie” even went so far to say “When I feel stressed out or under pressure, I will write a song. It does not even have to be about the core stressor in my life, simply writing and playing with words is truly therapeutic.”

The third finding is probably the most obvious, but it is still worth discussing, as it is the point we started on; self-expression. Every single student found the new outlet for self-expression to be exciting and an important new aspect to their own lives. The participants talked about expressing themselves through reflecting on feelings, emotions, and moods in song. Some even said that they felt like they has finally found ways to express themselves live they had never thought they could. In this humble blogger’s opinion, this is really the most important part of this whole thing. All the other findings and feelings really come under the umbrella of self-expression. As “Joseph” pointed out when talking about his discovery of self-expression, “During times when I have felt down, all I had to do was write dark lyrics and I all of a sudden felt cured. In times when I was happy, nothing felt better than reflecting on my happiness through song.” And his original lyrics reflected this truth:

Crumple your fears in a ball

And throw them up against the wall

Let them drain and leak out of your skin

No filtration necessary in the scheme of things

Self-expression is just a way for us to attain those other findings; emotional stability and emotional therapy.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been writing songs for ten years or ten minutes, if this is the way you choose to express yourself, then you will find these benefits to you’re mental health too. So don’t be worried about if you’re any good, or if anyone will like what you write. Those things aren’t important. All that is important is that you write things you like, things that are true to you. Everything else will follow in time. And remember, have fun!