Songwriter - Guitarist

How Playing Music Can Enhance Your Songwriting Abilities

One of the best ways to get inspired to write your next song is to turn your attention from writing music to playing it. As a player, you create sounds under your fingers, some of which come from other people’s songs, and some which you create spontaneously as a product of your musical imagination. Those ideas can then become part of whatever new song you’re writing.

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When your focus is on writing, even with an instrument in your hand you can feel a bit stuck, feeling like you have no good path forward. By putting the focus on playing, and thinking less about songwriting, you take a bit of the pressure off to create song fragments, and you tend you use your ears more.

So if you’ve been finding lately that your songwriting sessions leave you with little to nothing that you can use, here’s what putting your pencil down and picking up your instrument can do for you:

  1. Playing has the potential of putting you in contact with other musicians. Sometimes playing is a solitary activity, but it also provides an ability to hook up with others to create or otherwise play music together. Communication is a powerful development tool for all musicians, including songwriters.
  2. Playing allows you to focus on other songwriters’ music. A songwriting session means that you’re focusing on your own tunes. But playing an instrument gives you the opportunity to study other music from the inside out.
  3. Playing often means improvising. And improvising means that you’re creating ideas that can ultimately make their way into your next song. So it’s not just your imagination at work here; you’re creating ideas in real time, ideas you can hear and not just imagine.
  4. Playing keeps you making music during times of writer’s block. If you’ve been having several days in a row where songs just aren’t happening, it can be very demoralizing. Picking up your guitar or sitting at your keyboard allows you to keep making music — in a different way — and helps to generate a positive frame of mind.
  5. Becoming a better player is beneficial at the recording stage. Even if you think that playing your instrument isn’t helping your songwriting much, it will help you when it comes time to record what you’ve written. Never underestimate the importance of good playing chops when it comes to making a song sound good.

Of those five benefits, I personally feel that number 4 has been the most beneficial to me as a writer of music. I’m a trumpet player, and the times that I’ve turned my focus to playing have usually resulted in an improvement in my compositional abilities.

The same goes for listening to music, by the way. If you feel that your songwriting is stuck, and you’re just not getting much benefit from playing music, try spending a day simply listening to other good tunes. That almost always has a way of jump-starting your musical imagination.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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