Songwriting - chord choices

The Artistic Danger That Comes From Your Comfort Zone

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If I were asked to give one piece of advice that might go the longest way to improving your songwriting technique, it would be this:

Explore as many different ways to write songs as possible, and do whatever you can to get out of your comfort zone.

Good songs represent an opportunity for a songwriter to express a unique vision in musical form. Working in your comfort zone makes uniqueness hard to achieve.

What are the things that we might consider our comfort zone? Any one or more of the following:

  • Always writing your songs in the same room.
  • Always using the same instrument to compose music.
  • Starting every song by strumming your guitar, trying to come up with ideas.
  • Choosing the same key, same tempo, even the same or similar song topics.
  • Using the same song form (verse-chorus-bridge, for example.)

The temptation to use the same process that you used for your most recent good song comes from a desire to replicate your most recent success. But you need to trust your musical imagination and purposely stray away from what you did for your last song.

So sometimes that means scrutinizing your songwriting process and coming up with something unique as a starting point.

So for every song you write, here’s what you might consider:

  • Choose a different room, even a different location, to write your song.
  • Choose an instrument that you don’t normally use for writing. This doesn’t require you to be a good player of that instrument, just good enough to make some musical sounds. (A different instrument cures the problem of muscle memory that makes so many songs sound the same.)
  • If you always opt for strumming as a song-starter, try finger-picking, or some other playing technique, anything to change up the sound.
  • Never use the same key or tempo in consecutive songs.
  • Think about the form of your previous song, and consider something different: starting with the chorus instead of the verse, for example, or perhaps an extended solo.

Paul McCartney mentions in many interviews that once he and John had success with one song, they’d completely change everything and come up with a unique approach for their next one. It’s why their music never suffered from excessive sameness.

So give it some thought, and ask yourself: what are you going to do to move out of your comfort zone today?


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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