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How to Know if You Should Keep or Trash a Songwriting Idea

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Every good song starts with a small fragment. From there, you expand on it until you’ve got a completed song. That initial fragment might wind up being a bit of chorus if it resembles a hook. Or it might sit somewhere else in a song.

But no matter what you do with it, it’s fair to say that every good song has that short little bit — that musical idea — as its starting point.

At what point in your songwriting process do you decide that an idea is or isn’t worth pursuing? Not every idea works; you can wasted a lot of time trying to create an entire song based on an initial idea that isn’t going anywhere.

So how do you know if you should keep or trash a songwriting idea? There is a lot that can be said about this, but here are two things to consider right away:

  1. No idea merits trashing, no matter how bad you think it is. That’s because a musical fragment needs other bits to partner up with it in order to sound good. So the problem may not be the fragment itself, but what you’ve been trying to do with it.
  2. If after two or three songwriting sessions you’ve got nothing to show beyond your initial idea, it’s time to put it aside and start a new song. Returning to it a few days or weeks later often gives you a fresh perspective.

I think of a songwriting idea as something you’d put in a treasure box. There’s no need to feel that you must make something of it today. In fact, you might find that you make better use of improvised ideas if you put them away and let them bounce around in your musical brain for a while before trying to create a fully-fledged song.

There are musical ideas that just seem weak, and you find yourself coming up with nothing to pair it up with. In those cases, I still say: Keep it. Store it away for a while. And you’ll likely find, once you take it out again, that your brain is in a new place, and fresh ideas will suddenly come forth for fixing it, expanding on it, and creating a complete song with it.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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