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When we just can’t seem to generate anything that sounds like a songwriting idea, we usually chalk it up to writer’s block. But there’s a particular kind of problem that’s a bit different: you seem to be able to come up with fragments of ideas – melodies, chords, lyrics, and so on – but when you try to create a song, the process just seems to stop dead in its tracks. So all the components of a song are there, but the final assemblage eludes us. It can be every bit as frustrating as not being able to generate a musical idea in the first place.
To put it another way, since we know that musical composition is the bringing together of musical ideas (i.e., your creative mind) with your ability to construct things with those ideas (i.e., your understanding of how good music works), the problem we’re looking at here is a problem with the construction phase of writing, not the creation phase.
The good news is that the solution to this kind of writer’s block can be a bit easier to find than the solution for the problem of coming up with unique musical ideas.
Generally, the inability to pull all your musical ideas into a workable song simply means you can’t yet see the finished product. It’s like designing a building. You know that it needs windows, doors, walls, and so on, but beyond that your mind turns to mush as you try to “see” what it all might look like in the end.
If this kind of songwriting problem describes what you’ve been going through, here are some ideas for pulling all those song bits into a finished song:
- Draw a diagram of how your song might look. I did a post about this sort of thing just over a year ago, and maybe some of the ideas there will help. Drawing a chart like this will help you see the form of your song, and help you get things in the right order.
- The problem may be that you can’t seem to think of the verse you came up with as coming from the same song as your chorus. In other words, your verse melody may not logically lead to the chorus you’ve created. If that seems to be your problem, try adjusting the chorus to reflect some of the ideas you’ve created for your verse. This can be a direct relationship (i.e., some of the melodic shapes of the verse appear in the chorus), or it can be a contrasting of ideas (i.e., downward moving melodies in the verse, then upward moving melodies in the chorus). In either case, it’s sometimes useful to pull different components of songs together in this way.
- Each song component you’ve created probably exists in your mind as implying a certain amount of song energy. Since songs should feature a generally rising energy level as it proceeds, the problem may be that your verse feels more energetic than your chorus. See what you can do to reverse that. It should be solvable with instrumentation, but look also at things like vocal range and rhythm.
- Think of song instrumentation as a crucial part of song construction. Let choruses and bridges be more instrumentally active than verses.
- Chorus chord progressions should be simpler (i.e., stronger) than verse progressions. You may be having a problem pulling your songwriting ideas together if this important characteristic has been ignored in the creation phase of your writing. Try simplifying your chorus progressions, or allowing your verse progressions to be a bit more creative. Also, ending the verse on an “open cadence” (i.e., ending on a V-, IV- or ii-chord) may help it to move into the chorus easier.
Beyond these ideas, a songwriting partnership can help pull all those different song ideas you have into a finished product. And another idea: try analyzing other musicians’ songs. It’s a great way to hone your ability to understand songwriting as a craft. Here’s a post that shows you how to analyze music, and really learn from the experience.
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