Creative Songwriting: Try the Second Thing that Comes to Mind

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Piano with musicLet me get right to the point: sometimes, the best things in music are the things that come naturally. Sadly, however, that’s not usually the way it works. There are very few songwriters who can claim that their music is the product of an epiphany. More often than not, the best songs are the end result of an initial burst of writing, then rewriting and rewriting. And if all you’re doing is fixing a note here and there, your songs are likely not all they could be.

And that rewriting can sometimes take weeks or months. But there is a way that you can minimize the time you spend in editing mode, trying to get the most out of your songs. Try writing down the second thing that comes to mind.

So what does writing down the second thing that comes to mind do for your song? Frankly, it allows you to skip over your first idea, which was probably based on a formula or procedure that you’ve been using a lot. It’s probably why that idea popped into your mind first.

Obviously, not every first idea you get will be boring or overused. But as you get going into your song, creating backing rhythms, working out motifs, hooks and other ideas, there is a tendency to resort to the tried & true – the things that have worked for you in the past.

So if you come up with a standard strumming guitar accompaniment for that melody, or if your fingers automatically go to “their place” on the synth, you may not be taking the time to realize that this is how you started the last few songs you wrote. So… go immediately to the second thing.

If you think about the songs you love, the music that has helped to shape you as a musician, you’ll become aware that it’s often not the obvious elements that really make you love that tune. It’s often the things that are hiding back in the background. A backing rhythm in the percussion, or some accompaniment figure, or perhaps a little melodic motif.

So it’s often the little, often-overlooked things that can turn your song into a winner. Another way of saying this is: sometimes, all that’s keeping your song from being a winner is that the little things are missing. A unique accompaniment element.

For example, it’s hard to think of “Penny Lane” without thinking of that piccolo trumpet solo. Or how about the guitar/recorder intro at the beginning of “Stairway to Heaven”? Imagine if they decided to go with a simple strumming figure?

So if your latest song starts with you doing something unremarkable at a keyboard or guitar, ask yourself, “If not this, then… what else can I do?”

You may be surprised that the second thought that comes to mind is actually the more creative one.

Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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