Guitar in a nature setting

When You’re Stuck in Ballad Mode

If you listen to early Bee Gees tunes, you’ll notice how much they favoured slow tempos. Everything (well, almost everything) seemed to be a ballad. That’s not a criticism of their compositional prowess. But they were definitely, at least mostly, in ballad mode in their pre-disco days. Check out their 1971 album “Trafalgar” and you’ll see what I mean.

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Once their album “Main Course” was released (1975), their preferred tempos became quicker. And of course during their disco phase, tempos were upbeat and energetic, and ballads became less prominent.

Do you find that you’re stuck in ballad mode in your songwriting? There may be lessons you can learn from The Bee Gees that can help. Here are some ideas:

  1. Consider new genres. The Bee Gees, struggling to find a new sound in the mid-70s, were encouraged to explore their love for R&B, and it led to a whole new concept for what songwriting meant to them. It may be time to redefine who you are as a songwriter by discovering or targeting new genres.
  2. Change your composing instrument. If while sitting at the piano you automatically start playing slowly rolling arpeggios, you’re going to settle back into that ballad-y tempo that you’ve been stuck in. Switch to guitar — perhaps see what electric guitar with some edge might do — or any other instrument that gets you thinking in a new way.
  3. Force a quicker tempo on your music. There is no song ever written that can’t work at a different tempo. Sometimes you just have to force that new tempo on your music and see if you like it.
  4. Raise the key. There’s an energy that comes from the vocals when they’re placed high in the singer’s range. That higher key can give you the vision you need to picture your songs at a faster tempo.
  5. Broaden your listening habits. You may find that you prefer listening to ballads. Not that that’s such a bad thing, but if ballads are serving as your main models as a songwriter, no wonder everything you write is sounding that way. Find new groups, new styles, new genres, and then experiment with, and improvise in, those new styles in your songwriting.
  6. Find a songwriting partner. Working with someone else can help you find a new direction in your songwriting. It doesn’t have to be a permanent arrangement. But even just working out a few songs with someone you like and you trust artistically can finally nudge you toward musical energy and away from the perpetual slow dance.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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