Using the same instrument all the time when composing can limit your creativity.
Everyone’s got an instrument that’s “theirs.” It’s the one they feel the most comfortable playing. If you’re a songwriter, it’s also likely to be the instrument that you feel the most comfortable writing songs with.
The benefit of using that one instrument when you compose is that it frees you up from having to think too hard about your fingers, allowing you to concentrate on melodies, chords and lyrics.
But there’s a big downside to always using that one instrument as your songwriting companion: the same ideas tend to keep resurfacing. That’s because your fingers have learned, over the years, to fall onto the same keys, or to assume the same basic shape on that guitar.
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The result is that you find yourself creating the same chord progressions while the same melodic shapes keep happening, with the same basic backing rhythms, all because that’s what feels natural to you when you’re holding that instrument.
The advice here is simple: find opportunities to get your hands on a different instrument. And do that as often as possible.
You do not have to be polished on an instrument for it to be a useful songwriting tool. If you’re a guitarist, but your keyboard skills are almost nonexistent, no worries. Here are 3 simple ideas for using a new instrument in your songwriting:
- Improvise. You may not know how to play that instrument, but don’t let that stop you. Just get playing. Anything. You’ll notice that the ideas that happen will bear little resemblance to the ones you’re used to creating, and some of them will be useful in a song. There are no mistakes here; just have fun.
- Play well-known songs by ear. Use your new instrument to try to pick out melodies of your favourite songs. Once you’ve done that, try embellishing those ideas with creative bits of your own.
- Transfer new ideas back to your more familiar instrument. Now that you’re creating new song ideas with your new instrument, return to the instrument you usually play, and try replicating them. You’ll notice that your fingers may not automatically move to those favourite chords you’re always playing, that that’s a good thing.
Switching instruments from time to time is one of the best ways to branch out as a songwriter. That new instrument, even though you may find it difficult to play, can become your best songwriting companion, as it works to free you up from old musical ideas and create new ones.
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