Tried and true refers to anything that is a proven success. In most things in life, you’re doing well to look for a tried and true method. These days we might call it a “life hack.” But no matter what it gets called, tried and true won’t let you down.
Except… it can let you down in the creative arts, including songwriting. Because in the world of songwriting, “tried and true” is another word for “formula.”
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For songwriters trying to be creative with each song they write, formulas can be a problem. Formulas generally happen when something gets done a certain way, enough that it implies a set of steps you should follow.
In songwriting, about the only element where that kind of predictability is acceptable is a chord progression. We tolerate predictable progressions, as long as the lyrics and melody are suitably unique.
If you’re the kind of songwriter who leans a lot on that crutch we call a songwriting formula, you need to look for something new. A new “tried and true.”
Of course, if it’s new, it can’t be tried and true. Can it?
New To You
A tried and true, as long as it is new to you, will often suffice. So yes, borrowing someone else’s tried and true can be a great way to push you out of the creative block you’re enduring.
To borrow someone else’s formula for success means familiarizing yourself with it. For songwriters, that means you need to be constantly replenishing your repertoire of ideas for getting music written.
Replenishing ideas happens when you make listening to good music a daily activity. And not passive listening; I’m talking about active listening, when you make note (literally) of what you like, and why you like it.
In that sense, you’re borrowing someone else’s tried and true. But because you’re a unique individual with your own ideas on what good music should sound like, this “new to you” kind of formula can actually sound fresh and innovative.
The “Sound Like Someone Else” Solution
If you’re stuck and can’t come up with songwriting ideas, try this as a solution: purposely try to sound like someone else – a different songwriter that you admire.
I wrote about that a few years back: “Deliberately Sounding Like Your Songwriting Hero,” and it’s a technique I truly believe in. In the attempt to sound like someone else, you give yourself permission to relinquish all the characteristics that have contributed to your previous songs.
What does that do for you? It allows you to look at the problem of songwriting in a new (i.e., new to you) way.
I know you think it will lead to plagiarism, but it won’t. Not if what you’re trying to copy is the sound of your songwriting hero. You’ll come up with new melodies, new chords and lyrics, and — because you’re who you are — it will be unique and creative.
In that sense, borrowing tried and true songwriting ideas from someone else can be just the thing to jolt you out of your creative malaise and set you off in a new and exciting direction.