How often does this happen to you: You sit down with your guitar, and within moments you’ve got something nice. A great little hook, a riff, or some other kind of musical idea. You play it over and over and it sounds great.
And then you draw a blank.
And it doesn’t seem to matter what you do with that idea, you just can’t expand on it to form a completed song.
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It can drive you crazy, and make you think that all you’re capable of doing is to come up with 2 bars of gold, and then a ton of garbage.
So what do you do to create completed songs from your short, 2-bar ideas?
Here are 8 tips to help:
- Figure out where in the song your idea should live. Most of the time you’ll create a little hook and just assume that it’s the chorus. But if you keep drawing a blank, it could be that it’s not really a chorus hook. Try thinking of it as a verse fragment, and you may suddenly see the creative juices flowing. Or perhaps it might even be a part of a bridge. Just keep changing the way you look at it, and the possibilities will start to grow.
- Keep changing the chords. Songwriters will often create an entire verse by taking the same short fragment and changing the chords underneath. It sounds like they’ve just written 8 bars of music, but in fact, they’ve taken the same 2-bar idea and presented it over and over with different accompanying chords. Try it!
- Collect ideas, then mix & match. A 2-bar idea may seem like a failed song to you, but in fact, if you’ve got a few or even dozens of them kicking around, you’ve now got a collection of ideas that you can try to pair up. Lots of successful songs came from bits that were pasted together.
- Find a songwriting partner. Taking your ideas to someone else create the magic you’ve been looking for.
- Change the instrumental ideas. If your short idea was something you created with a guitar, take it to your synth or computer and see what happens when you recreate it using a totally different sound. The change may spark new ideas.
- Change the time signature. I’ve written before about Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, which was originally in 3/4 (waltz) time. Putting in its more familiar 4/4 gave it the personality we know and love today.
- Change the tempo. I wish more songwriters experimented with tempo, because it has such a powerful effect on mood. A different tempo puts the song in an entirely new light, and can kick-start your imagination to create new ideas. For many songwriters, a new tempo makes an old songwriting idea feel like a new one.
- Reverse the direction of your melody. If your short fragment consists of an upward-moving melody, try keeping the chord progression but creating a downward-moving idea. Next, change the chords of the downward-moving idea to some substitutes that work with it, and now you’ve got perhaps a verse-pre-chorus combo, or a verse-chorus structure.
You may think that songs need several ideas in order to be complete, but that’s usually not the case. Two ideas — one that forms the main part of a verse, and one for a chorus — will often give you most of what a song needs.
Stay positive! Even just two bars gives you a lot more than you think you’ve got!
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