Guitar and music paper - Songwriting

An Idea for Increasing Your Songwriting Output

For some songwriters the process that takes you from that initial idea to a completed song can be long, meaning that the number of good (finished) songs you write per month might be relatively low – maybe 1 or 2.

Your instincts might tell you that the easiest way to become a more prolific songwriter would be to write more: have longer songwriting sessions, with less days off. But that might do the opposite; longer sessions where you don’t feel particularly productive might result in you feeling a greater sense of frustration, and that can lead to writer’s block.

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To increase your output, it often has more to do with how you’re using your time than how much time you’re using. So the real question is: how are you using your time?

Here’s an idea you can try that might result in a few more completed songs every month:

Creating Alternate Verse and Chorus Melodies Over a Chord Progression

Let’s say you’ve written a good chorus hook, and now you’re trying to work out a verse melody that pairs up with it. You don’t feel particularly frustrated, but it’s coming together rather slowly and you’re not sure if the verse you’ve almost finished is the one. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Write down the chord progression of your existing verse, then put that verse aside.
  2. Over that progression, start a new verse melody that does the following:
    1. Starts on a different note from your existing verse melody.
    2. Begins by moving in the opposite direction of your existing verse melody. (If the one you’ve been struggling with starts on the E of a C chord, and moves up from there, try starting on the G of that same C chord, and move downward.)
    3. Strive to make this new melody as different from the first verse you wrote as you can. Different notes, different rhythms, etc.
  3. Get as much of a new melody working as you can. If lyrics are presenting themselves, that’s great, but don’t worry too much about words yet.
  4. Now put that new melody aside, and do the same thing: Start a new verse melody, and try to start it on a new note, and or/moving in a different direction.

When you’ve done this for an hour or so, you may have 3 or 4 new melodies, all of which might work with your chorus. Choose the one (or borrow bits from the several you’ve created) that seems to work the best, and modify it until you like it.

Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a good verse for your chorus, but you’ve actually got more than that: you’ve got 2 or 3 other melodies that can serve as material for new songs.

Using Chord Substitutions

The only problem might be that they’re sitting atop a chord progression that you just used. So do this: write out your verse chord progression, play it and sing your melody. Then work out substitutes for various chords.

For example, let’s say your verse progression was this: C  Am  C  Am  F  G  C (repeat). If you’re not sure how to substitute chords, you might give this post a quick read. You can play around with the chords, and wind up with something like this: C  Am  C/E  F  Am  G  C. Or perhaps: Am  C  Am  C  Dm  G  Am. You get the idea.

Now you’ve got a new melody that’s sitting over a new progression, and then try changing the tempo, the key, maybe even the time signature, and you’re on your way to a new song that doesn’t sound much like the original.

The benefit of this is that, in the process of writing one song, you’ve actually given yourself some of the material for 3 or 4 new ones. It’s also good at this point to remind you: don’t throw any song fragments out, even if you have no idea what use they’ll be. Those fragments can be the start of something new, and something great.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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