Band Improvising

Overcoming Songwriting Paralysis: Improvising Your Way Through the Tough Times

Every songwriter experiences “feeling stuck”. You get a good idea for a new song, but then you just don’t know where it should go from there.

There is an expression — and you hear it a lot in the creative arts — that applies here: paralysis by analysis (or analysis paralysis).

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The expression refers to the fact that you can find yourself in a situation where you think and overthink something to the point where you can’t seem to move in any direction. And boy, does that ever describe the “feeling stuck” situation that songwriters occasionally deal with.

Freeing Up Songwriting Paralysis

There is nothing like real-time improvisation to help avoid analysis paralysis. Improvising as a songwriting technique has several obvious advantages:

  1. You get to try out the ideas that just naturally occur to you in real time. Humans have a natural ability to take ideas and build on them. Songwriting is a perfect example. If we come up with something that sounds great, our musical minds are naturally disposed to come up with other ideas that match. Improvising lets you hear those new ideas in context.
  2. You avoid being overly judgemental. Because you’re improvising on the spot, you don’t have time to obsess over how bad a particular new idea might be. You tend to just naturally toss the bad ones without severe judgement, and try something new.
  3. You experience the songwriting process as a kind of evolution. If you’re improvising with bandmates, you’ll notice that the song gradually changes and modifies as new ideas are tossed in. In that sense, songwriting becomes a process where you create an idea, and then you help it grow.

If you’ve got part of a song written, and you find yourself thinking about what to do next, stop thinking and start doing. Pick up your guitar, sing what you’ve got, and when you get to the trouble spot, sing whatever comes into your mind.

That “whatever” will either be bad, in which case you simply toss the new idea and regroup, or you allow the new ideas you spontaneously come up with to guide even newer ideas.

Thinking and analyzing can be good, but you’ll get more from a good improvising session than you will from thinking, at least most of the time.

Allow thinking to help guide your songwriting sessions, but ultimately you need to experiment in real time. That’s the best way to avoid paralysis, and it’s the best way to avoid writer’s block.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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