Here’s an experiment you can try: take your favourite song and play the first 10 or 15 seconds of it, and then listen to the last 10 or 15 seconds and compare. What do you notice?
For most songs, you’ll hear a strong similarity between the beginning and the end. Generally, the feel, key, tempo and mood are established even before melodies. And you’ll find that the melodies at the end of the song are laid atop of whatever has been laid down from the start.
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This shouldn’t be a stunning revelation to you as a songwriter. Hopefully you’ve noticed the importance of having a song intro display that kind of important musical relevance and connection to the rest of the song.
But there is another way of looking at this, one that naturally follows, which is that the way you start the writing process will usually determine how your song ends up sounding.
If you find that all your songs have an unpleasantly similar sound, where all the chords sound the same, all the melodies tend to have a similar shape, and you don’t know how to break out of that rut, there’s a simple solution:
Stop starting all your songs the same way.
What do I mean by “same way?” If you’re typical go-to process is to sit in a chair and strum some chords on your guitar, and then improvise some words and melodic shapes, you’ve got a problem.
The problem is that, similar to muscle memory, when you set yourself up the same way each time, the same musical ideas are going to keep popping into your head. Sure, you’ll try to modify those melodies so that you’re not simply copying what you’ve done before.
But the gestures will all be the same. The feel will tend to be the same, the kinds of words you use will be your favourite phrases, and there you are, giving your audience the same song you’ve given them 25 times before.
If you take 10 walks around your city, and you start them all by going in the same direction, you have to spend at least part of your time contemplating how you’re going to make this walk different.
Or… you could simply start by walking in a direction you’ve not gone before.
In songwriting, and in any creative activity, your start influences your finish. How you begin, and what those first 15 seconds sound like, will act as a template for what the rest of the song will be, and how it will end.
If you really want to be creative, it’s the first 15 seconds where you need to be unique.
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