Singer - songwriter at the piano

How to Avoid Getting Locked Into a Predictable Songwriting Style

Every songwriter has a style. If you’re a well-known writer, that style may be part of what makes your new song immediately identifiable to your listeners, even before they hear that you’re the one who’s written it.

More often than not, however, a song’s style of performance is what will give the song’s authorship away, not the style of writing. You might recognize a Springsteen song, for example, because of the way the melodies, lyrics and chords work together, but truthfully, you’re more likely to recognize the performance style of the various players in the band before you recognize the aspects of music that make it a Springsteen tune.

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Nevertheless, your songwriting will benefit gratefully by asking a simple question for each song that you write: How does this song differ from my last few? Am I locked into a writing style that’s become too predictable?

If you find your songs are all exhibiting a kind of sameness about them such that your latest songs no longer take the listener on a unique musical journey, you’ve got a problem to solve.

So how do you make sure that with each song you write, you continue to explore new musical pathways while still giving your loyal fans something similar to what brought them to you in the first place?

Here are some tips for making sure that you continue to push the boundaries of your songwriting style without alienating your most dedicated and faithful fans:

  1. Explore new instruments in your production. If you typically use acoustic guitar or keyboard instrument, it’s time to expand. Find ways to bring new players in to your recording sessions, including someone who can help with fringe instrumentations such as string quartet, brass ensembles, fiddles, or anything else that might give your music a unique sound.
  2. Always seek out new ways to start the songwriting process. How you start something when creating music often dictates what the final product is going to sound like. If you always start your songs by strumming chords, you’ll hear an annoying sameness about each tune. So develop your abilities to write lyrics first, imagine melodies, or any other musical component that isn’t necessarily your go-to method.
  3. Seek out new songwriting partnerships. A partnership that exists merely to increase the number of songs you’re writing isn’t necessarily going to produce better music. So look for ways to find songwriters that are good collaborators… people that are like-minded enough (but different enough) that you’ll write something truly unique and interesting.
  4. Consciously change your writing style by trying to imitate one of your songwriting heroes. You may worry about this, as you might think it will lead to plagiarism. Don’t worry – it won’t. Just get your guitar out, and imagine that you’re Justin Vernon… or Sufjan Stevens… or Patty Griffin… or anyone else. What would they do? How would they proceed? It may seem strange, but it can work really well to get you thinking differently about how you write.
  5. Consciously change time signature and key (including mixing major and minor) from one song to the next. If you have a favourite key, that’s a sign that you’re writing too much in the same one. Change things up. Try other time signatures other than the standard 4/4 that we hear all the time. Try 3/4, or even something more complex like 5/4. You’ll find that with a new time signature, the entire feel of the song changes. Remember that it’s usually possible to take a song you’ve written in one meter, like 4/4, and change it so that it works in a new one, like 3/4. It usually takes a bit of experimenting, but it can work, and will allow you to hear new possibilities.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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