As a songwriter, you’re going to encounter your fair share of frustration mixed in with the joy that writing music should give you. Writing something that works and sounds great gives you an incredible rush of excitement and confidence, and so when you find that your next song isn’t working, you can feel a bit crushed.
The sense of frustration can be a surprisingly powerful downer especially to a new songwriter who might be expecting an easier ride. After all, your first song or two seemed to happen easily, and now everything you try to write is sounding a bit lame, and you don’t know what to do.
Following a chord progression formula ensures that your chords have a strong sense of focus and direction. Use “Chord Progression Formulas” to create dozens of your own progressions in mere moments, using some tried-&-true methods.
Here’s a short list of common problems and mistakes that novice songwriters deal with, and then some ideas for getting past those problems and get back in the songwriting flow:
- Your lyrics sound lame or corny, or just generally don’t work. More often than not, weak lyrics are the result of two possible problems: a) your lyric’s emotional content is disorganized; or b) your lyrics are unfocused, making it difficult to make chronological sense of what you’re trying to say. Regarding the first problem, be sure that your verses stick to a story or describe a situation, and leave full-on emotions for the chorus. Regarding the second problem, try writing a short 1- or 2-paragraph short story to help keep your lyrics moving in the right direction. (I wrote about this recently, and you might want to give that post a quick re-read.)
- You don’t know what to write about. There are lots of ways to tackle this problem, but one good way is to keep a notepad or your smartphone handy, and write or record song topic ideas as they occur to you throughout your day. A good song topic will need to resonate with the emotions of the listener, so singing about the Periodic Table won’t work no matter how impressed you are with it. Write anything down that you see or encounter that might touch the heart of a listener: giving to the poor, an argument between lovers, losing a job, world peace… anything that you think has possibilities. Having a good topic is just the first step. Here’s what you can do once you’ve got an idea.
- Your songs are all starting to sound the same. One of the biggest causes of music that sounds the same relates to your songwriting process: if you start your songs the same way, you run the danger of them all following a similar path to completion, and the end result is that they all have an uncomfortable sameness about them. So don’t use the same songwriting process for consecutive songs. Here’s more on that: “Which Methods for Starting a New Song?“.
- Your chord progressions are too complicated and disorganized. Notice that I haven’t mentioned at all that your chord progressions might be too simple. That’s because most of the time, simplicity is a virtue, and a simple, 3-chord song can be lovely. But disorganized chords, where it’s hard to hear where it’s heading, are a problem. Listeners can get frustrated or bored when they can’t follow the chords. If this is your problem, try this article: “Giving Chord Progressions a Sense of Direction.”
- Your production sounds messy. One the best things a novice songwriter can do is to listen to good music daily. Start with your own genre, but be sure to be listening to good music from all genres. If you don’t know how to find it, online searches for “best of” lists is a great way to familiarize yourself with what’s out there to listen to. My blog deals mainly with songwriting structure, so if you need help with production issues, I can think of no one better online these days than Bobby Owsinski. Check out his production blog.
Any creative endeavour will come with its fair share of frustration as you work to improve your craft. When you feel frustration building, take a break. When you come back to writing, you’ll find that your head is clearer, and the ideas will flow more freely.
Good luck, and stick with it!
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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