Songwriting is often seen as a talent that one either has or does not have. It’s true that talent can’t be taught, but if you are musically talented, you can still learn some techniques to improve your work. Writer’s block is often one of the most difficult challenges for a songwriter-it’s terrible to find yourself uninspired and frustrated. It seems the harder you try to force the words, the less willing they are to come. Here are a few tips and techniques to help you analyze your writing and get you out of the rut:
1. Titles. Keep in mind that you will always need song titles, and anytime you hear a word or phrase that evokes feeling or has a special meaning, write it down. Keep the list on your wall for inspiration.
2. Listen to other artists. Chances are, if you are an aspiring songwriter, you enjoy music. Listen to a wide variety of artists, especially those considered classics. Dissect the music and learn to recognize arranging tricks and song structures, then find out how to work the ones you like into your own music. This is a study, just like studying math or science-the more music you expose yourself to, the quicker you will learn how to apply tips and techniques to your own music.
3. Reverse chord order. Let’s say you’ve created this awesome chord sequence that you are completely in love with-and now you are banging your head against the wall trying to figure out what comes next. Sometimes, reversing the chord order of the sequence you already have and applying it to the next part of your song will work. If that doesn’t prove helpful, try reversing just one section of the chord sequence and repeating it, or doubling the length of time that each cord plays. You can also halve the note values in a chorus to create an illusion of increased tempo.
4. Switch up your instrument. If you prefer writing your songs with a keyboard, try using a guitar, and vice versa. Chords take on such a different resonance with different instruments, and that change can be helpful in formulating a melody. Sometimes it is helpful to write verses at the keyboard and use the guitar for the chorus.
5. Use free association. Free association can help you get started on lyrics when you have a song subject but are struggling with the actual writing. Sitting down at your computer, or with a notebook, and just writing down everything that comes to mind in association with your subject can result in a lot of usable words and phrases.
6. Develop a rhyme scheme. Some songwriters really struggle with rhyming. Many successful songwriters work rhyming into their music because it pleases the listener. Of course, every song doesn’t rhyme, but many hits have rhyming components that really work. If you really can’t develop a rhyme, don’t force it-rhyming too much or just badly will ruin your song and turn listeners off for sure. A rhyming dictionary and thesaurus are very helpful when attempting to develop a rhyme scheme. The rhyming dictionary will help you quickly find rhyming words, and a thesaurus is great for finding synonyms.
7. Hooks. We all know a successful song has to have a hook, but what many people don’t know is that a song should really have several hooks. In addition to your main musical/lyrical hook (which is the high point of the song), secondary hooks will maintain a listener’s attention. Short riffs between lines, catchy cord changes, or a vocal ad-lib are all great examples of secondary hooks.
8. Make your song interesting. There should be enough dynamic and metric interest in your songs to make them peak and subside. If you write a song that maintains one level throughout the whole thing, it’s not going to be interesting. Verses and choruses should differ-if one is short and choppy, the other should use longer, sustained notes.
9. Co-write. If you are really having trouble getting a song completed, try co-writing with another musician that you know. Gaining another artist’s perspective can help you write a unique song.
10. Change the number of chords. Try changing up the number of chords you usually use in your songwriting. If you usually use a lot of different chords, limit yourself to three. If you don’t typically use more than three, try writing a song with six.
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