guitar and music paper

Tips for Writing Two or More Songs at the Same Time

Most songwriters I know are well able to keep two, and often more, songs on the front burner at any one time. Working on several songs simultaneously isn’t really all that hard to do, as long as you follow a few basic tips.


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One of the benefits of having several songs on the go is that you’re probably writing more songs per year than if you stick with one song until it’s completed. But if you find it hard to write several songs at the same time, here are 5 tips to keep in mind:

  1. Make your simultaneous song projects as different as possible. Work on songs that have a completely different tempo and different basic feel. That makes it easy to switch mental gears when you change from one to another.
  2. Experiment with different time signatures. If all the songs have the same time signature, it increases the possibility that they’ll start to sound a bit too similar.
  3. Try different instrumentations, both to compose and possibly in your final version. You don’t need to be an expert on an instrument to use it as a composing aid, so try writing one on guitar, one on piano, perhaps even try one on mandolin. Composing on a particular instrument doesn’t necessarily mean the finished product has to feature that instrument. But it will help you come up with new, unique ideas.
  4. Go for odd keys. Again, you don’t have to keep your finished song in the key you used to write it. But choosing radically different keys (especially contrasting major and minor) makes it less likely you’ll use similar chord progressions. Singer-songwriter Randy Bachman of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive mentioned recently that he purposely wrote “No Sugar Tonight” in F# major to prevent the musical muscle memory that comes with writing in more commonly-used keys.
  5. Take a short break when switching from one song to another in the same writing session. That short break gives you a chance to get the new song in your head, and makes it less likely that you’ll drag ideas from the first song into the second one.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook bundle includes several chord progression eBooks, including “Chord Progression Formulas”. Learn how to create chord progressions within seconds using these formulas.

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Worrying about writer's block

Are You Dealing With Writer’s Block — Or Is It Just Normal Downtime?

Writer’s block is lousy when it happens, but most of the time it’s either mild or moderate, and given time, it will usually solve itself.

Severe writer’s block is a more worrying creative block, because it can sometimes be very long term, or even permanent. But you likely don’t have that, so don’t worry about it.


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One of the things that makes writer’s block worse is, in fact, the worrying about it, and it creates a self-fullfilling prophecy. A typical scenario goes like this:

  1. You have a day when writing is unproductive.
  2. You worry that you’re being unproductive.
  3. You wonder how long you’ll be unproductive.
  4. The worry you’re feeling interferes with your ability to be creative, and so your creative block deepens.

But here’s the most important bit: the human mind goes through fairly regular cycles of being creative and non-creative. It’s not common to be able to churn out musical ideas at will without some need for downtime.

The fact that creativity is cyclical is important to know, and it’s an important part of defeating writer’s block. If you’re currently finding it hard to create musical ideas, you should assume that this is a perfectly normal condition, and you should divert your musical attention elsewhere for the day (or a few days).

If you make the assumption that your brain will cycle between being creative and being less so, you’ll have a better chance at avoiding excessive worry when you suddenly feel that your songwriting has ground to a halt. It’s normal. You’re on a downtime, so relax and engage your creative mind in some other activity.

And don’t automatically jump to calling it writer’s block. One of the benefits of having other musical activities you can engage in is that you don’t even get to the point where you’re excessively worrying about your writing stoppage — you’re now writing poetry, or you’re doing technical exercises on your guitar or keyboard, or you’re editing/producing songs you’ve already written.

It’s the worry that’s the worst part of a creative block. Worry is what deepens it, and it’s what makes you doubt yourself and your abilities.

The sooner you see this bout of songwriting non-creativity as simply normal downtime, the better.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle includes “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” Discover the secrets of making the chords-first songwriting process work for you.

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chord progressions

My Guest Article at Songwriting.net: Chord Progressions

I was asked by the folks over at Songwriting.net to write an article for their website. They posted it yesterday, entitled “7 Ideas for Creating Chord Progressions.” I hope you’ll take a look. I’ve put a short excerpt below:

There are basic principles about the way chords work that aren’t much affected by genre. What that means is that whether you write rock, heavy metal, country, folk or some other style of music, most chord progressions are interchangeable between genres, with a few minor considerations.

If you’re a chords-first kind of songwriter, you can find your process grinding to a halt if you can’t come up with a progression that you like. So if you find your ideas for chords are drying up, the following seven ideas will help, regardless of the kind of you music you typically write.

Those seven ideas include “borrowing” from already existing songs, trying existing chord progressions backward, creating progressions that are palindromes, and more.

Please read that article, and feel free to put a comment at the bottom, especially if you have a tried-&-true method for creating progressions that I haven’t mentioned in that article.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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Peter Gabriel

The Best Songs Fluctuate Between Fragile and Strong Moments

I talk a lot about the concept of “fragile” versus “strong” in songwriting, and particularly when I’m talking about chord progressions. In that regard, “strong” means “clearly indicating the key with a short, unambiguous set of chord changes.”

With chords, “fragile” means the opposite: making the key less clear — less obvious, by creating a progression that doesn’t give you those chords that make the key clear. So while I-IV-V-I (C-F-G-C) makes the key of C major crystal-clear, something like ii-vi-bVII-IV-V7-I-IV-I (“Dm-Am-Bb-F-G7-C-F-C”) is fragile because part of it makes F sound like the key, while part of it sounds like C major.


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As you can see, the term fragile is not meant to be a negative assessment at all. In fact, some of the most beautiful chord progressions in music are beautiful specifically because of their vagueness and wandering quality.

Applying “Fragile” and “Strong” to Other Song Elements

Even though I use those terms mainly to describe chord progressions, the fact is that the best songs are the ones where all of the components (or certainly at least most of them) fluctuate between strong and fragile.

Take a good look at song lyrics, and compare the words and phrases used in the verse to the ones that are used in the chorus. You’ll find that, just as with chords, verse lyrics tend to be the ones that are most creative and most imaginative — the ones that make images in the mind.

Contrast that with chorus lyrics, and that’s when you’ll see words and phrases that are more straightforward, clear, and descriptive of some fairly obvious emotions.

An example from Peter Gabriel’s “Come Talk to Me” (from “Us” – 1992):

Verse:

The wretched desert takes its form, the jackal proud and tight
In search of you I feel my way through the slowest heaving night
Whatever fear invents, I swear it make no sense…

Chorus:

Ah please talk to me
Won’t you please talk to me
We can unlock this misery
Come on, come talk to me

When you listen to the melody and the chords, you hear the same quality: long, wandering verse melodies supported by progressions that include several non-diatonic chords. Things tighten up considerably in the chorus, where the melodic phrases become shorter, more repetitive, and the chords become stronger, more clearly outlining the key of A major.

In your own songwriting, take a good look at as many elements within your songs as possible, and compare what you do in the verses with what you do in the chorus. In most cases, verses should feature “fragile” elements, ones that seem very imaginative. The chorus should stand in fairly clear contrast: shorter musical ideas that are clearer and less ambiguous.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook bundle includes several chord progression eBooks, including “Chord Progression Formulas”, as well as a Study Guide. Discover the secrets of great songwriting!

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Christina Perri

Curing the Melody that Aimlessly Wanders

Writing melodies may not be the part of songwriting you find easy at all. You may find it easy to create chord progressions that you like, and you may even be a decent lyricist. But if you’re finding that your melodies sound like aimless wandering — a disorganized collection of notes — that’s a problem that may not be all that difficult to solve.

One of the most prevalent qualities of good melodies is repetition. It’s practically impossible to find a song melody in any genre that doesn’t use repeating notes and/or repeating phrases.


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Sometimes those repetitions are exact, where you’ll hear a short phrase of melody, followed by the exact same phrase, over the same (but sometimes different) chord progression.

Like the chorus of “A Thousand Years” (Christina Perri, David Hodges, Steve Kazee), you get a short melodic fragment (“I have died every day waiting for you”), followed by something identical (“Darling, don’t be afraid, I have loved you…”).

In that particular example, the first melodic fragment is set over a Bb chord, with the second fragment over Gm passing through Bb/F at the end. The fact that the same fragment gets harmonized with different chords distracts listeners from hearing that both melodic fragments are identical.

Repetition is an extremely important part of the structural strength of music. Repetition, for example, is one of the most important aspects of a song hook.. Without repetition, listeners can tend to feel a bit lost, not knowing where a melody is headed. Repeating a melodic idea makes an audience feel that there is an important quality of musical organization.

You hear that when you listen to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock“, where each phrase of the verse melody is either an exact replica of the phrase before it, or at least almost completely exact. Also, check out Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” (Max Martin, et al), where the first two phrases of the verse are identical.

Even when repetition is approximate, where just the general shape of the melody is the same, can serve as an important structural element, as we hear in the verse of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

If your melodies sound like they’re meandering around, seeming to lack any sense of organization or structure, I’m willing to bet that the culprit is the lack of repeating melodic ideas. As I say, it’s hard to find any song in any genre that doesn’t use repeating melodic ideas. That’s where you need to start your troubleshooting.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” covers every aspect of how to write great songs. Contains a Study Guide that keeps you focused on becoming a consistently better songwriter. Get today’s FREE DEAL when you make your purchase. Click below for details.

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Gary Ewer

I’m Gary Ewer. For years I’ve been helping songwriters understand the basic fundamentals of good songwriting. I do that mainly through the free articles on this blog, and also through my 10-eBook bundle. If you lack consistency in your songwriting, and you want to take your abilities to the next level, everything you need to know is in that bundle package, so please take a look at those ebooks. And if you want to browse through the more than 2300 posts in the blog archive, scroll to the bottom of this page.

Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of any article. I love reading what others are thinking about music.

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