songwriting frustration

Moving Beyond That One Good Song Idea

It’s a common problem for most songwriters at one time or another: you come up with something that’s really catchy, and sounds like the start of a killer song. But then… nothing. You just can’t seem to move beyond that catchy fragment of music. What can you do?

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There are several potential reasons why finishing a song is hard, even if it starts with incredible promise, and it could be a mix of reasons:

  1. You haven’t thought about where in the song that catchy fragment belongs.
  2. You’re reluctant to keep the songwriting process going because you’re afraid you’ll “wreck it.”
  3. Even though the fragment you’ve come up with is hooky, it’s not obvious what the song is about, so you find it hard to move on to the next step.

Of those three reasons, the one that could be most responsible for your creative block might be the first one. It may be that you haven’t really thought about where in the song your song idea belongs — where it works best.

Identifying Where That Fragment Belongs

So here’s how you can handle that:

  1. Take a look at the chord progression. If it’s short and solidly in one key or another (in other words, if it doesn’t wander around visiting other key areas), it’s likely going to work well as a chorus hook. In fact, most short, catchy song ideas are usually chorus hooks.
  2. Take a look at the melody. If it’s comprised of quick notes that use interesting syncopated rhythms, it will likely work well as a verse, and possibly a bridge if it’s pitched high.
  3. Take a look at the lyrics (if you’ve written any yet). Verse lyrics are narrative and descriptive, and chorus lyrics are emotional. Depending on the musical structure as per points 1 and 2 above, you can change lyrics to make them more appropriate to the section.

Dig In and Write Something!

Sometimes you just have to pick up your guitar and a pencil, and start writing something – anything. If you find that the fragment you’ve written works well as a chorus hook, put it aside and start writing a verse.

As you start to work on the verse, your fear may be that you don’t know how to write a verse that relates to this chorus fragment. Don’t worry about that for now — just dig in and write something. It’s good if you can keep melodic ranges in mind: keep your verse generally lower than the chorus fragment, but those two ranges should overlap.

You’ll find that you can mainly ignore the catchy fragment you’ve written, and start the process to write another part of the song — the verse. Once you’ve come up with a semblance of a verse, stick that verse idea at the start, before your chorus hook, and see how they work together.

In other words, the best way forward when you’ve written a catchy fragment is to identify what part of the song you’ve written, put it aside, and start a new process thinking of a different part of the song.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. As someone who runs into this problem often, this exercise is so helpful. For some reason I have never thought to identify where the line could be placed (i.e. verse or chorus) to then write a different section of the song – I just focus intensely on finishing the writing around that specific line to which I give up and never touch again. I can’t wait to use this tactic for all the little ideas I have filling up my voice memos.

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