Improving a Songwriter’s Imagination

Thinking beyond the world of songwriting gives you the best chance to improve your imagination.


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DancerAny time a work of art is created, whether that’s a song, a sculpture, a painting, a poem, or anything in the creative arts, it’s the bringing together of one person’s (or one group’s collective) imagination and sense of creativity.

That’s an important point to make: a work of art is the product of imagination and creativity. Those two words are not synonymous, and it is indeed possible to be imaginative without being particularly creative.

Writer’s block can happen when you’ve got a problem with either one of those components. In the world of songwriting, if you’re generating ideas, but you can’t seem to form them into a good song, you’ve got a creativity issue. If you can’t seem to generate any ideas in the first place, then you’ve got a temporarily compromised imagination.

This blog, and in fact most books and sites that deal with songwriting issues, usually addresses the creativity aspect of the task. For example, when I talk about how to structure melodies in a verse, how to build song energy in a natural way, how to create a more interesting instrumentation, and whether or not to include a bridge — these are all factors in the creation of music.

It’s easy to improve one’s sense of creativity, the best ways including listening to lots of music and doing lots of reading. By hearing other songwriters’ solutions, listening to them discuss their music, and talking to others, you find your own abilities improving as you then take what you hear and apply them in your own way to your own songs.

But can you improve your imagination? Imagination is fuel by one’s own life experiences, and the fact that they are unique to each individual is the main reason why we usually don’t find ourselves plagiarizing others: it’s usually easier, and more artistically satisfying, to come up with our own solutions (even if our solutions sometimes start to sound very similar to existing songs).

So you might think that the best way to improve your imagination is to get a more interesting life! There is truth to that, and to that end, here are some ideas:

  1. Tap into other art forms. You’ll find, if you pick up a brush to paint a picture, or write a short story, or express yourself through dance, that there are some similarities between all art forms, but also some differences. By tapping into those other art forms, you’ll find yourself “feeling” different and processing your artistic thoughts in a different way. That will ultimately find its way into your songwriting, and that’s always a good thing.
  2. Focus on playing. By improving your abilities on your musical instrument, you will find yourself with improved abilities to generate musical ideas and fragments that can be used in music. Your physical freedom with regard to your playing abilities has a direct effect on your musical imagination.
  3. Learn a new instrument. This has benefits beyond the obvious, the obvious being that you have a new instrument with no previous “muscle-memory” issues that guide your fingers into the same patterns. Learning a new musical instrument can often bring you into new musical communities, meeting new musicians, with new people to discuss ideas with.
  4. Stream-of-consciousness creation of musical ideas. Sometimes we’re so careful as we work that it makes it difficult to use our imagination effectively. So try the opposite. Grab your guitar, and start singing and strumming as if you’ve got a live audience waiting for you. Most of what you generate will be garbage, but you’ll be surprised that some ideas that are quickly and spontaneously imagined are worthwhile bits that can work their way into future songs. This kind of speedwriting breaks down inhibitions and allows you to see the extent of your imagination.

No matter what you do, songwriting (and all of its related activities) improves if you make it a mostly daily activity. Take breaks when you feel frustrated, but work mainly every day. By reaching out to different art forms, you will do much to increase the pool of ideas that form your imagination.

Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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