The thing that’s bad about a songwriting formula is the predictability of it. When you write to a formula, you’re working out a song based on the notion that “when I do this, I should then do that.”
And if you write that way, every song you write is going to have an undesirable sameness. Not only that, most songwriting formulas exist because so many other songwriters have used them. So not only will your new songs sound like your old ones, but they’ll also sound like lots of other songs out there, and then it’s practically impossible to get any sense of uniqueness for your own tunes.
If you like the chords-first songwriting process, you’ll want to be sure to avoid some common problems that can arise. “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression” shows you how to make the most of the chords-first method of songwriting.
It’s impossible to avoid formulas when you write. Even just the verse-chorus format is a formula of sorts. What that implies is this: not every songwriting formula is bad. Particularly when it comes to chord choices for your song, sticking to predictable changes is often a very good way to go.
But chords aside, what can you do to make sure that your new songs aren’t just following some formula that every other songwriter is using? How can you ensure that, in amongst all the predictable nature of most songs, there is something unique and innovative with the songs you’re writing?
The best model for how to write songs that sound like they’re creative and original is to follow the example given to us by The Beatles, who were always looking for new ways to “package” music. Their favourite way of staying innovative was to borrow ideas from other music:
- Borrow ideas, playing techniques and sounds from other genres. The Beatles were a rock and roll band, but were always borrowing ideas from related genres: funk (“The Word”), French Café (“Michelle”) metal (“Helter Skelter”), country (“Don’t Pass Me By”), and so on.
- Borrow ideas, playing techniques and sounds from other groups. The Beatles looked to other groups as a way of changing up their own sound: The Byrds (“Nowhere Man”), Bob Dylan (“Norwegian Wood”).
- Create new instrumental sounds. Starting with the Rubber Soul album, The Beatles began experimenting with new ways to record and present their instrumentation, and this idea peaked with their Sergeant Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour albums. Sitar, the inclusion of classical instruments, radically equalizing instruments and voices… they all contributed to a new sound and a new approach to songwriting.
None of these ideas were, on their own, radical departures, but when combined, resulted in a sound that was unique and fresh. In that sense, The Beatles didn’t abandon anything; they simply took fairly common musical ideas and dressed them up in a new and exciting way.
And perhaps that is what all songwriters should be doing: not so much abandoning common ways of writing, but rather infusing standard ideas with innovative treatments. In the end, it sounds like you’ve found a new formula, and that’s the best result you could hope for.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
Sometimes all you need are lists of chords to get the songwriting process started. The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle includes “Essential Chord Progressions” and “More Essential Chord Progressions.” Use the suggested chords as is, or modify them to suit your own songwriting project.
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