How Bad Songwriting Technique Contributes to Writer's Block

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Blank sheet of musical staff paperYou may feel that your latest bout of writer’s block is the result of a lack of inspiration, but all the research into this debilitating condition would indicate that you’re wrong. Lack of inspiration is not usually a cause of writer’s block. Though you may not realize it, the biggest contributor to a logjam of musical ideas is a fear of failure, and it often all starts with the lack of a sensible writing schedule. Or at least an inability to stick to that schedule.

As I’ve written about here, and have outlined even further in my upcoming book, “Beating Songwriter’s Block” (To be released March 11, 2014 – available for pre-order now), researcher Robert Boice worked to help a group of professors get rid of their severe writer’s block.

The results of his experimentation showed that waiting for inspiration was not the best way to get the creative juices flowing. In fact, he found that the more the professors worked, the more inspired they felt. In effect, putting ideas together, even if it felt very difficult to find the initiative to do so, created a spark of inspiration which continued to grow the more they wrote.

If you, as a songwriter, want to defeat writer’s block, the most important thing you can do is to set yourself a daily (or almost daily) schedule, and find the discipline to stick to it.

But there’s another very important cause of songwriter’s block: faulty songwriting technique.

How it works is like this: The things about music that excite and grab the interest of an audience are the same things that excite you: the ebb and flow of song energy, the judicious use of repetition, the strong partnership between melody, chords and lyrics, and so on.

If there are problems with any of those important aspects of music, the song suffers, and an audience loses interest quickly. And more importantly to you as a songwriter, you lose interest. You can hear that your song is floundering, but you don’t necessarily know why.

The feeling that nothing you’re doing is working starts a long and vicious cycle of frustration that leads to fear – a fear that perhaps you aren’t meant to be a songwriter.

If you’re suffering right now through a bout of songwriter’s block, here are the things you need to know:

  1. Sporadic writing makes songwriter’s block worse. Set a sensible daily schedule, and find the discipline to stick to it.
  2. Bad songwriting technique makes songwriter’s block worse. Study the nuts and bolts of good musical composition. Read books, texts and websites devoted to strengthening your understanding of the structure of music.
  3. Don’t wait for inspiration. You may be surprised to find that some of your best writing happens when you feel the least like writing.
  4. Songwriting can be practiced. Give yourself little challenges that don’t necessarily require you to write a complete song. Games and exercises, like the ones I’ve offered here, can help excite you and improve your songwriting technique.
  5. Diversify your musical interests. If you want to become better at creating new and interesting musical ideas, broaden your musical world. Listen to music of all different genres. You’ll find that the kinds of ideas you create will surprise and stimulate your creative mind.


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