Keyboard and guitar

Your Chosen Instrument Influences Your Songwriting

It’s fair to think that your songwriting ideas come from your musical mind, and so your uniqueness as an individual, including all your life’s experiences, will influence those ideas. But the instrument you use to give life to your ideas also influences your songwriting.

In a way, your chosen instrument acts as a kind of filter — or perhaps a kind of mold — into which your ideas get formed and shaped.

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And it happens in several different ways. As a melody aid, you’ll find that you’ve got certain figures and shapes that your fingers automatically perform after years of playing guitar. As you create ideas in your mind, your fingers will reshape those ideas.

And the same thing happens as you create chord progressions. You’ve got a certain repertoire of chords that you’ve always played — the ones you find easy to play —  and those chords will be the ones that your fingers, from years of musical muscle memory, will play more than others.

This, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with your own songs having a kind of sound that everyone recognizes, and it’s hard to avoid anyway.

But if you’re noticing that most or all of your songs have a sameness about them that you’re finding to be undesirable, there are two ways to solve that:

  1. Improve your instrumental skill level. If you find yourself playing the same chords with the same voicings all the time, you need to start working on expanding your abilities. This may mean taking lessons with an excellent professional, but even without lessons you’ll see improvement if you:
    1. Increase the number of chords and chord voicings you can play.
    2. Practice major and minor scales, as well as delving into modal scales.
    3. Learn the solos from your favourite songs.
  2. Learn a new instrument. To use an instrument as a songwriting aid, you won’t need to be able to play it well; just play it well enough that you can find your way around the instrument. A new instrument deals with the problem of musical muscle memory because you won’t have the same go-to melodic shapes or chords under your fingers.

So if you’re a guitarist, try switching to a keyboard for songwriting. If you’re a keyboardist, try guitar or mandolin or ukulele, or any other instrument that feels new in your hands.

The instrument you use to flesh out songwriting ideas doesn’t need to even appear in the performed version of your song, so don’t worry about wondering if the instrument is appropriate for your song or chosen genre. Just make the switch and you’ll probably see exciting new ideas happening.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle includes “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression”. Learn how to write great songs by starting with the chords, and then avoiding all the potential pitfalls of the chords-first songwriting process.

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