Violin section of an orchestra

Changing Instrumentation May Be All the Innovation Your Song Needs

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting, 4th editionChapter 5 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows how melody and lyric need to work together. Learn how to do it right! Get the entire 10-eBook Bundle along with a free copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.”

Most songwriters will, from time to time, worry about their songs all sounding a bit too much the same. There are some typical things you can do at the songwriting level (before you ever get he song into the recording studio) to make sure that you’re avoiding some obvious similarities:

  1. Use a good mix of different tempos from one song to another.
  2. Put your various songs in different keys, with a good mix of major and minor.
  3. Start the songwriting process with a style that’s somewhat different from the previous song you wrote.

If you adhere to those three ideas, you’ll likely avoid any sense of similarity. But sometimes, even with these three ideas in play, you’ll worry that your fans are going to feel that your pool of ideas are starting to overlap.

If you find yourself in this kind of quandary, there is one other idea to try: make a radical change to your choice of instrumentation.

Just as we can suddenly realize that we’ve been writing our songs all in the same key, or with the same or similar tempo choice, we can fail to notice that everything we write assumes we’re using the same or similar instrumentation.

With today’s technologies, it’s pretty easy to come up with something unique. But there are ways to go beyond just relying on computer-based instrumentation to come up with something fresh and interesting.

For example, if you live in a city with a university-based music program, you might make contact with instructors in that program to see if you can make use of a string quartet or brass quintet as the instrumental backing for your new song.

Also, you can partner up with another songwriter who plays an instrument different from the one you play.

Paul McCartney made great use of different instruments in otherwise typical instrumental choices: string quartet (“Yesterday”), recorders (“Fool on the Hill”), bagpipes (“Mull of Kintyre”), etc.

Adding unusual instruments will grab the attention of your listeners, and any other similarities between this song and previous ones will often not be noticed at all.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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