The hardest part about writing a song is finishing it. Wouldn’t it be nice if they all just flowed out of us in one, sweet sitting with no editing necessary? More likely is the fact that we’ll have to work at it to get it done. When you find yourself struggling to finish a song, consider these five points:
I came across an article the other day where the author insisted that writer’s block really didn’t exist. My guess is that he was trying to draw attention to his blog by coming up with something that might be, in the songwriter’s world, considered “controversial”. Like a sucker, I was drawn in and I protested his claims, and therefore I guess I did exactly what he wanted. I engaged.
There’s more advice on songwriting on the web these days than there ever has been. If nothing else, MY only piece of advice to you is to consider who is writing this stuff before using it. Or believing it.
Writer’s block exists. I know, because I have it. In a bad way.
I have been writing songs since I was 12 years old. I’m not saying I wrote every day, or that I have a thousand songs to my credit. But I was consistently inspired and if not coming up with something new, always working on something unfinished. A couple of years ago, I finished my last song, and that was a laborious task because I had been working on it for some time. My excuse might be that I have had a lot of personal things to overcome, one being the death of my father last December after a long battle with Alzheimers. It wasn’t fun and it shook me to the core. I kept telling myself that eventually this would give me fodder for more songs, but so far it really hasn’t.
I was, however, inspired recently when I read an excerpt from an interview with Sting, who had a very long dry period until he went back to the town he grew up in, and found that writing in someone else’s voice was his cure. He wrote from the perspective of the people who lived in his home town, past and present. I think that’s a good idea. Not just the idea of going back to your home town, but trying to write in someone else’s voice. I’ve rarely, if ever, done that. So I’m going to try.
I have written several articles on finding inspiration but when I wrote them I was having no trouble myself. I had a muse or two back then, but they have long gone. For awhile I told myself that maybe I just wasn’t going to write any more, and I haven’t pushed it. But since reading that little snippet by Sting, I have found the odd line or phrase or verse coming out. My intention is to continue to explore that.
I’ll let you know how I’m progressing.
No such thing as writer’s block? Yeah, sure.
I was flipping through my most recent copy of SOCAN’s Words and Music and found some interesting songwriting tips from Matt Mays, a Canadian songwriter who finds himself on the road quite a bit. Check out his website.
Here is his list of tips:
1. “One thing that has really helped me is to be moving – whether it’s on a train, boat, or car, or even walking around my apartment while I’m writing, instead of sitting in one spot.”
2. “Try writing lyrics on newspaper. It rather distracts you because there are other words underneath. That means yours don’t seem so final. The words underneath may spark something else too.”
3. “Always change the key up. Learn the song in other keys, and that helps keep you from getting bored.”
4. “Change instruments. I’ll go to a ukulele, or piano, or try open tuning.”
5. “There is one tip from John Lennon: never leave a song until it’s done. You may never get that spark, that excitement, back. If you get an idea, finish the song, even if you have to miss your best friend’s funeral. Finishing that song is more important than anything else.”
Some excellent tips here…some of which I’ve encouraged myself, but some new ideas too. The newspaper idea is a good one, I’ll have to try that some day!
On a more personal note, I have come back to my old way of writing; on paper and without any technology (i.e. a computer) around. This was my “old” way of writing and it seems to be working again. Also, I’ve moved around the house to write in different places; not quite the idea of being on a moving train or boat as Matt suggests above. But changes places seems to have helped me too!
Best wishes to all of my blog followers for the New Year!
This is geared mostly towards guitar players, but could still apply in some respects to those of you who write with a keyboard. Are your chord choices and your chord progressions getting boring? You might find yourself always turning to the same chords when you’re sitting down to write…and let’s face it, you can probably only sing in certain keys so those chords work for you.
However, they’re not very inspiring after awhile, are they?
Maybe you need to introduce yourself to some new sounding chords, chords that have different extensions (more about that in a minute), but still work for your voice. There are many, many chords out there, but most of the time we stick to the common chords. It’s not that common chords are bad, but they are what we know. I get an awful lot of visitors to one of my articles entitled “Chord Keys” because people aren’t sure what chords sound good together. In fact, they often use the search terms “what chords sound good together” to find that article!
So if you aren’t sure about chord keys, that’s a good primer. However, beyond that, why not teach yourself some less common chords. Chord “extensions” are simply added harmonic notes that change the sound of a chord. For instance, a basic G chord changed to a Gadd5, gives it a fuller, more majestic (for lack of a better word) sound. A Gadd5 is fretted like this:
Gadd5 ----------- | | | | | | |_|_|_|_|_| | 1 | | | | |_|_|_|_|_| 2 | | | 3 4 |_|_|_|_|_|
I was at a funeral for an old acquaintance yesterday and on the way home it occurred to me that there were a lot of lines and phrases spoken by others that I could easily use in a song lyric some time in the future. Quite often you may have come across the idea of reading or watching TV or seeing a movie to find some inspiration, but the truth is that your very own life is probably a great source if you handle it just right.
Of course, many of you already write about your own life, and many songs you’ve heard over the years are a reflection of the writer’s life, not just fiction. But instead of writing about the typical things like love, loss, partying (:-)) and every other clichéd topic, there are probably events or snippets of conversation happening around you all the time that might make for interesting lyrics. So any of you out there complaining (and many of you do!) that you don’t have anything to write about, maybe you only need to open your ears and eyes a little more. Almost anything can inspire a song lyric if you know what to do with it.
For instance, one thing that was said yesterday by the brother of the person who passed away was that in losing his brother, he learned something about him, and he also remembered something that he had forgotten. The “new” learning came in the form of stories that people told him after his brother died. The thing he had forgotten was how he had always thought of his brother as his hero. I could see turning that into an idea for a song. Another idea that came to me was when the pastor spoke about how we only know a part of a person, and when we get together during such an occasion, the memories others have, when we put them all together, paint a much more complete picture of that person.
Do you see what I mean? Whatever lyric came out of that wouldn’t even have to be about death, only about getting to know someone, or a kind of philosophy of life.
I’m not even afraid to share these ideas with you because I know that if you use them, you would probably write a completely different song than I would 🙂 Years ago I used to lead a kind of online songwriting workshop on a songwriting message board I used to hang out on, where I would get everyone to submit a song title. Then we’d vote on the title and have a week or two to write a song around that title. Sometimes it wasn’t a title, but just a lyric idea. It was a great exercise, but what it taught me most was how completely different all of the songs were that came out of it.
So take something from my experience above, if you like, or pay more attention to your own experiences and don’t be afraid to share them. You never know where you’ll find a new song!