Writing Song Melodies When Writer's Block Sets In

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Songwriter working at a piano keyboardWhen songwriter’s block is setting in, it can make you feel that everything you try to write is garbage. With anything that’s difficult, the best solutions will come from simplifying what you do. Here’s one way to simplify the melody-writing process when ideas are few and far between:

  1. Create a short, 4- or 5-note melodic idea.
  2. Accompany that idea with one or two chords.
  3. Create a longer progression that works well with your melodic idea.
  4. Repeat the melodic idea as you work through your progression.

Using that approach, you can create a reasonably good chorus melody in two minutes or less. Let’s look at each step in a bit of detail. I’ve created some very basic MIDI files that demonstrate how each step might sound.

  1. First, create a short melodic idea. You might come up with something like this: [LISTEN] (Each sample opens in a new browser window or tab).
  2. Next, find a chord that will accompany that idea. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, keep things simple. I used a C chord in my example: [LISTEN]
  3. Now, work out a simple progression, something tonally strong that would work as a chorus progression. The chords I came up with were C  Am  Dm and G: [LISTEN]
  4. Now, add your melody. [LISTEN]
  5. For the 4th run-through of the melodic idea (i.e., as you reach the G chord), change it up and create something different that stays in the spirit of the first idea. Here’s what I came up with: [LISTEN]

As you create your first idea, you can add a line of lyric at that stage, and then work on the lyric as you proceed through the steps.

As I say, you can come up with a passable complete melody in two minutes or so. But better than that, it helps fix the creative block you’re going through by reducing your stress and anxiety. It shows you that even despite feeling the effects of a block, you can create something quickly and easily.

As you can see, for each chord you use, not all the notes of your basic melodic idea won’t necessarily fit. But that’s OK. As you hear, the notes of the melody that are most memorable are the first one (G), the middle one (E), and then the last one (E). Those pitches, G and E, will still sound acceptable for any basic diatonic chord.

And repetition of that idea makes putting it all together very easy. It reinforces the principle that chorus melodies of major hit songs from the past several decades often feature repetition as a crucial organizing element.

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Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter 

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Gary is also the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, published in hardcopy by Backbeat Books, and available from Amazon and any other online bookseller.

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