Recording Studio - Producer

8 Tips For When All You’ve Got Is One Good Song Idea

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. Find a songwriting partner. Taking your ideas to someone else create the magic you’ve been looking for.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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