Do you feel that your songwriting has plateaued? Are you worried that you’ve reached a level of ability that you’ll never surpass? And if the answer to those questions is ‘yes’, it begs a third question: What can you do to take things to a new and better level?
Stagnation in songwriting — and in fact in any of the creative arts — is common, particularly if you’ve been writing for a number of years. You likely remember back to those first few songs you wrote, and how easily they seemed to happen. In your early days, it seemed that everything you touched turned to gold. Now, you feel that you have to fight your creative brain for every song you write.
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How can you become a better songwriter? Or is this level of writing the way it’s going to be for the rest of your career as a writer? Perhaps you’ve just run out of ideas?
You most certainly can and will improve as a songwriter, but only if you change your current state of affairs and do things differently. And so what should you be doing? Here are 3 simple ways that you can modify your ordinary approach to songwriting and take things to the next level:
- Make connections outside your genre of choice. One of the main culprits when it comes to musical stagnation is the ignoring of whatever else is going on outside your chosen genre. If you write folk songs in a kind of Bob Dylan sort of style, and you find that all the music you listen to, and the musicians you work with, are all of that ilk, you’ve done nothing to stimulate your sense of creativity. Start listening outside your genre. You might even join up with another band, one that plays music radically outside your normal comfort zone. Doing these things introduces you to new ideas, new ways of doing music. In turn, that will influence the way you write music, and you’ll find yourself in a new and exciting musical world.
- Develop a new songwriting process. Like muscle memory, always writing your songs the same way, with your guitar on your knee and a notepad in front of you, almost ensures that there will be a sameness to everything you write. Find different ways to write, ways that get you thinking differently. Use a different instrument, partner with someone else… even find a different time of day from your regular routine. Do whatever it takes to get you away from same old-same old.
- Change tempos, keys and formal design. This may not have occurred to you, but have you noticed that in your songwriting you seem to go for similar tempos and similar keys all the time? You may automatically opt for writing ballads, almost always in some favourite key like C major or G major, and always with a verse-chorus design. If all you do is write something in double time — somewhere up around the 132 bpm tempo, and then switch to a minor key, you’ll have opened the door to a completely new sound for you.
Each one of the ideas above will pull you out of what has always been the norm for your songwriting, and push you into a new and exciting way of writing. Of all of the ideas, the most valuable one, I believe, will be the first one: connecting to other musicians from outside your normal genre.
By doing that one thing, you’ll be discovering new ways of assembling chords, encountering new ways of creating melodies, and even new ways of expressing yourself through lyrics. In the sense, you’ll be creating a new personal genre that will make your songs unique and imaginative.
And once you’ve done that, you’ll be pushing past the plateau that has been frustrating you, and things will only get better!
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