Book Review: Tom T. Hall’s ‘How I Write Songs, Why You Can’

Tom T. Hall's How I Write Songs, Why You Can

In this worthwhile albeit flawed first book, songwriter Tom T. Hall (“Harper Valley PTA,” “Old Dogs, Children, and Watermelon Wine,” etc.) purports to explain how almost anyone can become successful at his craft. Underlying the text is the assumption that mastering some simple “rules and tools” and learning a bit of music biz terminology will make composing as easy as A-B-C.

It won’t, of course, and therein lies the main fallacy of How I Write Songs, Why You Can. If you haven’t got what it takes, no volume is going to put your name on the charts. If you do possess some basic songwriting talent, on the other hand, you may find much of Hall’s material to be obvious, irrelevant, or both.

Moreover, even though the book runs less than 160 pages, it suffers from a plethora of filler. Hall features an interesting but only marginally relevant 20-page autobiography, for example; he includes an outdated map of Nashville’s “Music Row” and 10 pages of wholly unnecessary bad snapshots of himself; finally, while the inclusion of some of the author’s lyrics and sheet music was probably a good idea, the 16 pages of Hall compositions here seem a bit much.

My strong objections notwithstanding, however, Hall’s book does deserve a reading by aspiring songwriters. As I’ve said, I doubt the author’s advice on getting ideas, rhyme, meter, and the rest can teach you much. But if you’re already on the right track, Hall’s volume can probably reassure and encourage you. At the least, it will certainly entertain.

One comment

  1. A very balanced review that is neither a ringing endorsement nor an outright slam. Jimmy Webb said, “Songwriting is hell, if it isn’t you’re doing it wrong.” I agree with Mr Burger — masterful country songwriting is maddeningly simple. It seems like it should be easy to do but even then the best spend most of their careers struggling to produce even a few hits. The truth is that books like this can’t teach you how to do it beyond imparting a knowledge of basic framework. But what they can do when authored by a master like Tom T. Hall is tell you if you’re on the right track to fashioning your own sound, if your instincts are sound or even magical.


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