Songwriting: 3 Simple Steps To Get You Going When You’re Stuck
The Three Stages of Human Development
As children, our senses and our minds are opened by certain people, places, events, songs and stories – we become inspired.
As adolescents and young adults we adapt and learn by observation and experimentation – we imitate.
As adults we distill our skills and become specialists; letting go of endless possibilities - we embrace limitation.
I think the same three stages are mirrored in the process of creating something. As a songwriter and composer, here’s how I see it.
I invent nothing, I rediscover. Auguste Rodin
Whenever we create something it begins with inspiration. Even deciding what to make for the evening meal needs an idea – where does that idea come from? We visualize the meal or we smell something during the day or we just use whatever ingredients are in the fridge. Either way, something has triggered the process that ends in a meal. When it comes to writing a song or composing music we need inspiration. If it doesn’t come, think of your memories and personal experiences as a collection of random items like the ones at the back of the fridge. Delve in. Right at the back there may be a jar of something that you’d forgotten about that will turn your basic snack into a taste sensation.
Memories are a powerful sauce (sic) of inspiration. Think of a time when a song or a piece of music really moved you in some way. What was it about it that had that effect? Use this feeling to get you started.
Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing. Salvador Dali
Even Bach began by imitating his musical forebears. So whenever the muse abandons you remember there’s always plenty of material floating around in cyberspace to get you started.
Borrow a chord sequence from one of your favourite songs and write a new melody over it. That’s what The Beatles did - and many others too. Borrow the groove or rhythmic feel of a song. Find a drum loop you like and start jamming on it. Before you know it the ideas will come. Just be sure to catch them before they fly away and are gone forever! Remember that imitation is only a starting point - a launching pad to set you off on a journey of discovery.
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. Oscar Wilde
The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.Orson Welles
Now you have an inspiration and a starting point it’s time to set your sites on the details. By setting limits we draw more out of ourselves. We dig deeper.
Technology has created many wonderful opportunities and options but it can also get in the way. The creative process needs to flow and not get bogged down in technicalities. Sometimes we face too many options. Always make sure that you control the machines and not the other way round.
So…set some limits before you start to write your music. Such as:
The style or genre
The number and type of instruments and sounds
The structure - don’t include too many sections within the music, instead reuse and develop previous material
Do not fear mistakes - there are none. Miles Davis
Make accidents occur. Joni Mitchell
Accidents and so-called mistakes are at the heart of creativity. Always stay alert to a chord pattern, a melody, or a sound that happens by mistake. Try not to instinctively correct it - turn it into something new and wonderful.
The final ingredient…Perspiration
Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. Stephen King