The purpose of these songwriting tips is instant inspiration:
– ideas you can use right now to get unstuck, or find a way to keep working on your track with renewed enthusiasm!
Enjoy, share and please feel free to comment with any of your own!
1 – Reverse your chord sequence:
This is more like a hack that a “tip” but if you are stuck for ideas it’s worth a try.
You can also reverse melodies, basslines and basically anything – pitch sequences, rhythmic patterns…there are no limits to how you can mess around with material to create a new variation on it.
It may turn up an idea you can use right away – or it may just trigger another idea of your own.
Either way it’s a win!
2 – Try writing on a different instrument:
If you play guitar, try picking out notes on the piano – or vice versa.
If you don’t play an instrument, try using a different DAW, or some other way of entering the midi info.
These days you can even sing into most DAWs and convert that sound into midi – why not trying vocalising your ideas?
3 – Make a wall chart:
Keep note of any prospective song titles or lyrics you hear during the day.
I tend to come across loads – and forget so many.
Even misread adverts and random daydreams during the day can be sources of ideas.
I’ve also had musical ideas come to me from the rhythms of certain words and phrases. it’s worth noting down anything that you find inspiring – even if you don’t usethe idea immediately.
It might be something you can come back to and create a song from another time.
4 – Think about what makes your favourite songs so great:
Is it the melody, the chords? The vibe. the energy? What are the standout features? Apply those ideas to your own work.
5 – Create exercises out of your favourite songs :
Take a song you love and write a new tune to the lyrics, or new lyrics to the melody. The former is a lot harder!
6 – Hammer out a random chord sequence:
Take the random idea as a starting point and challenge yourself to make something good out of it!
7 – Build a storyline:
Plan a simple storyline. Create ups and downs and a start and finish. Use this structure to inspire the music.
8 – Listen to music you never normally listen to:
Youtube is actually great for this – type in an artist or style you wouldn’t normally listen to and go through some of the related videos. You can even pick out a country whose indigenous music you don’t know much about. Why not check out some thai wedding music?
9 – Go for a walk:
Many people find that stepping away from the equipment and being active and outdoors can trigger inspiration.
The movement, the new surroundings, the things that can happen as you go – these can all be songwriting inspirations!
Beethoven was a big fan of dreaming up music on walks in the country.
10 – Change your writing environment:
A bit like the previous idea except you might not need to go outside – move your work area around, change what you’d normally do.
Take a train ride and work on the window seat.
Sit in a different room – or lay on the floor.
Sometimes a physical change of perspective can elicit and change in your thought processes too!
11 – Review old projects for inspiration:
Dig out some old unfinished tracks and see if your older self can either finish them off or find inspiration in the ideas.
I find this one ineresting because it’s all about taking ideas from your more inexperienced self and reviewing them with your current outlook and skill set. The older the track is (have you ever gone back to songs written over 10 years or more before? It’s weird…) the more you will have changed, and the more interesting the new perspective could be…
12 – Keep it simple:
This is probably good advice for anything, ever.
Maybe just strip your track back to the absolute minimum it can be.
This was apparently Kurt Cobain’s mantra for Nirvana songs.
But it’s not just about the number of tracks or notes – making a song about one simple thing can be very powerful too.
Keeping a song intellectucally and emotionally simple can actually have the opposite effect on the listener – it can become deeper and more meaningful.
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13 – Start with a blockbuster theme:
Go epic, like you are scoring the opening scene to a huge sci fi movie.
Try to stir up strong emotions and use them to inspire melodic ideas.
14 – Use a family of images:
Find a combination of images that inspire something within you. A group that conveys something that resonates with you and try to express it as music.
15 – Write memorable melodies:
The best tip here is to balance repetition with contrast. Allow yourself to imagine what the melody could do – don’t just seek out notes on your instrument.
16 – Use contrast:
Contrasting wildly different ideas can trigger great song ideas.
Slow to fast…
Simple to complex…
Quiet to loud- Smells Like Teen Spirit is a classic example here.
Whether it’s in the notes, the rhythms or the sounds, contrast keeps the listener’s ears fresh.
17 – Write in a genre:
Limit yourself to a particular style.
If you are feeling brave try to imagine what the defining song in that genre could sound like.
Try to understand what makes that genre unique – what defines it. Concentrate on bringing out those ideas in your own music.
18 – Continued learning:
It pays to always be learning new things to keep your skills fresh.
Plus it means new ideas going in all the time – which is sure to keep your creative juices flowing.
19 – Know your goal:
What you are writing and why.
What is it you want to achieve?
Who is the song for?
What will they feel?
What emotion(s) are you evoking?
20 – Practice imagining:
Your musical imagination is your most precious asset…exercise it and keep it working well!
Experiment with writing purely in your head.
It’s very hard to start, but it pays off massively if you can work out those muscles.
Start out with a single idea and try to let your imagination expand on it – what can you add to it? What would come next?
With practice you can relax and let your imagination flow…
21 – Do what’s best for the song:
Don’t add in clever stuff just so you look smart.
Serve the song, serve the listeners experience.
If you are stuck or uninspired try thinking about the song as it’s own living thing – what would it choose to do next?
Where would it organically choose to go?
22 – Watch out for serendipity:
Take advantage of happy accidents and mistakes that sound good! It’s not uncommon to hit a wrong note and open up a new idea that potentially sounds better than what you had in mind. Be open to these…
23 – Be aware of the texture of the music:
The way the notes are split across the sounds playing them can be altered, contrast and evolved…this change of texture can result in deeply satisfying music.
24 – Shake up muscle memory:
We all fall into habits.
As instrumentalists we all have patterns that fall comfortably under our fingers. In software we have favourite set-ups and presets. Refresh yourself – intentionally break those habits and keep trying new things.
25 – Keep a smartphone handy:
So you have a way to jot down ideas on the go – you never know when a melody or sound will pop into your head.
26 – Practice subtractive composition
Keep it clear and simple, adding in more stuff doesn’t always make the song better. Don’t be afraid to try taking elements of your track OUT.
27 – Step back and evaluate:
We’ve all rocked out on the night and then been embarrassed the next morning.
Hemingway used to say “write drunk – edit sober”. The point is that you take a cold hard look at your work, outside of the mental state you made it in.
28 – Limit your options:
Lack of choice breeds creativity. It also avoids the feeling of “staring into the abyss” that can come from infinite options.
29 – Don’t let the voice in your head hold you back:
Everyone has doubts, feels insecure about what they make – but you need to work on stuff right now.
Don’t get put off working by doubts – you have to make your music to see how it turns out. Doing nothing will just be a bigger downer.
30 -Play it to a pro:
Find someone further up the ladder than you are who is willing to give your ideas a listen. It’s not just a great way to terrify yourself but you will either get a great pep-talk or something to learn from.
31 – Don’t wait for inspiration:
Stephen King once said “Writers write, amateurs wait for inspiration”. Just get started and have faith that your talent will be infused in what you come up with.
32 – Start with a title:
Scour the world around you for an evocative title.
Then imagine what a track with that title might sound like.
How can you evoke the story or atmosphere that the title hints at?
33 – Don’t try to be different:
Just be yourself.
I’d take this as a guideline as I think it can be valuable to go outside your comfort zone too.
But it can be inspiring sometimes to just make the music absolutely how you want it – completely honest to your own taste.
34 – Sing your melodies:
Whatever it is, a bassline, a melody…When you sing it you’ll very quickly find out if they work!
You might also get some ideas for ways to change it to make it feel more natural when you voice gravitates to certain notes.
35 – Change the order you normally write in:
For example if you tend to come up with a chord sequence first and then work on a melody to fit them, try reversing that process and start with the melody.
This is especially useful if you are getting stuck or frusrated with a particular section. Move onto another section, or create a new one and try to get things flowing again.
36 – Alter the Structure:
Try switching up the verse/chorus pattern. Variation is good!
Add in a different section.
Change a chorus.
Put in a solo or a break down.
37 – Change the instrumentation/timbre:
I’d say this is a top tip, at least in the right context. You can change what sounds play the various ideas as you move through the song.
This is a great way to add interest to the arrangement. But just trying out different sound as you are writing can also trigger new ideas.
38 – Know Who You Are Writing For:
Who is the audience you want to reach? Can you see them in your head?
What do they want to hear? Are you writing about a subject that is going to connect with them?
How can you make this song their favourite?
39 – Put The Truth In Your Songs:
Nothing connects better with listeners than keeping it real and telling the undeniable truth.
Even a song that is a science fiction epic can contain universal truth.
What have you got to say that will resonate with everyone?
What have you got to say that’s important?
40 – Be Original
Nothing wakes up the listener better than hearing something they’ve not heard before.
When you have an idea, think about how you can make it uniquely yours. What can you do that no one else would – or could?
What is your “thing”?
Your arranging skills?
Your instrumental skills?
Your vocal delivery?
The emotional impact of your songs?
41 – Don’t just write – write a lot.
You have to write a bunch of not-so-great songs before you come up with something that anyone will care about. (I endorse this one!)
With each song created, whether it’s good or bad, you gain experience and learn something.
If in doubt – write something.
42 – Finish songs :
This is an interesting one – and surprising hard if you are a habitual non-finisher.
Get it finished!
There’s an alternative interpretation of this that is quite fun – Finnish songs…perhaps use google translate to change your lyrics into Finnish and try putting them to music then. I’m only half joking with this!
43 – Be selective about the opinions you take to heart:
Only really listen to the criticism of people whose opinions you respect.
This will help you hone your ideas in the right direction.
44 – Beware weak melodies:
A weak melody is simply one that does not grab you or keep your interest.
Which kinda begs the question – how do you grab and keep the listener’s attention with a melody? Take a listen to what you’ve written – how can you make it stand out? What will grab the listener’s attention and stick in their mind?
45 – Have concrete imagery in mind:
When a song has no real focus…you run the risk of writing something that doesn’t say anything.
One single vivid image is enough to inspire a song.
Think of a situation, a person and place or an event.
How can you tell the story of that image?
46 – Avoid making your song’s road-map too complex:
When you start getting confident and more ambitious in your work you can sometimes over-write.
When this happens you can find yourself bogged down in a big song – stuck in the mud.
Strip off any fat – songs tend to work best lean!
47 – Write about subjects you are passionate about:
Which may sound limiting, but what do you think will happen if you write about something you are NOT passionate about?
At very least, someone who IS passionate about that subject is going to trump you, right?
48 – Do something crazy:
I’m torn on this one. The idea of the tip is that you lead a wild life to have interesting experiences to write about. That is a fair point – but it’s also quite possible to live a quiet life and have an incredible imagination.
I think this one is up to what suits the individual. (By the way I’m a quiet on the outside/outrageous on the inside type).
49 – Use a hat:
This does not mean to literally put on a hat whilst writing.
Although you can feel free to try that.
In this case they mean something like the cut-up approach where you write down ideas on scraps of paper, fling them in a hat and pull them out at random to create a new logic to your material.
50 – PJ Harvey on songwriting:
“If you want to be good at anything, you have to work hard at it. It doesn’t just fall from the sky.” PJ Harvey
51 -Fiona Apple on songwriting:
“If you’re not overflowing with something, there’s nothing to give.” – Fiona Apple
52 – Trent Reznor on songwriting:
“If I come up with rules or limitations it focuses me in a direction. And those rules can change if you realize it’s a dumb idea. You start to mutate it to see what fits best.” – Trent Reznor
53 – Bob Dylan on songwriting:
“Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years.”
54 – Dolly Parton on songwriting:
“It’s therapy. It’s fun. It’s creative. I love getting on a big writing binge and staying up a couple days working on songs and knowing at the end of those two or three days that I’ve created something that was never in the world before.”
55 – Dare To Suck!
Pretty self explanatory this one but it’s a good one – don’t be so concerned that your song will suck that you don’t write it at all.
56 – Answer these questions when writing a song:
What are you trying to say?
Who are you trying to say it to?
Why would anybody want to hear what you’re saying?
57 – Know your creative times:
I’ve almost always written in the evening, but only a few years ago I discovered I’m ten times more productive if I work in the morning.
58 – Don’t try to impress others:
Songwriting is about your individuality more than anything else.
If you try to second guess what others will like you can end up betraying your own values and style.
59 – Don’t talk for a whole day:
Just listening, taking your own voice out of the equation and simply getting a new perspective on the sounds around you is a very valuable thing!
It can clear out the clutter from your mind – and give you a new perspective on what you are working on.
60 – Play a handful of songs at once:
Especially ones you don’t know. Listen out for weird coincidences and unexpected combinations!
A melody or chord change may just jump out at you!
61 – Vary the length of your verses:
Drop a line here, add in a line there.
It opens up new choices for you as a songwriter, and makes the song less predictable for the listener.
It can be engaging as a listener when the verses do not repeat exactly – it grabs your attention back.
As a songwriter it’s also an opportunity to flex your songwriting muscles and get imaginative with your track.