Alternative Approaches to Songwriting When You’re Stuck (Video)

girl writing songs on a couch

+ This lesson is presented courtesy of Soundfly’s course, The New Songwriter’s Workshop, for beginner and amateur songwriters. Preview the course for free today. 

Here are some alternative techniques to help you get down to writing when you’re in need of a jumpstart, or to help you through a bout of writer’s block.

Approach #1) Give yourself limitations, pick a story, and then a template.

Sometimes setting some limitations for yourself can be a great way to spark creativity and focus your mind, particularly in those moments where the blank canvas feels intimidating. With fewer unknowns, your mind can often feel allowed to wander more freely.

So, the first step is to pick a story. Here are just a few ideas to get started:

  • Something that happened to you or to someone you know,
  • A story you heard about on the news,
  • A painting or photograph.

Write about the scene in your head and try to capture what happens next in the scene’s storyline. It doesn’t really matter what the stimulus is — as long as it resonates with you in some way.

Write the story out once you’ve decided on your narrative direction, and take a moment away from your instrument to write it down in as much detail as you can — describing the events, the characters, what they’re doing, feeling wearing, etc. — without worrying about the quality of what you’re writing.

Then, pick a template. This could mean any number of things for you, depending on your style or aesthetic preferences, but basically just try to fit this story into one of the song structures you typically come back to. If you have a rhyme scheme you like using, try using that too!

Now you’re ready to go and write it; don’t look back!

Approach #2) Brainstorm in color.

Make a playlist of songs which resonate with you, and grab a pad of paper and some crayons. Put some headphones on and jump between the songs, making notes of words, ideas, and thoughts, which come to you as you listen.

Now just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you copy exact lines or phrases that you were hearing, but rather I’m encouraging you to write down words, themes, and ideas, which are inspired by what you hear. Drawing will engage a different part of your brain and will awaken another set of senses.

Soon, you’ll have a colorful page full of words, thoughts, and ideas to run with. If you look closely at the words on the page, I bet you’ll find some common themes. And those can act as the starting points for your song.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “4 Ways to Develop Your Musical Idea Into a Full Arrangement.”

Approach #3) Exercize the muscles.

There is more than just a grain of truth in the old adage that any creative endeavor is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. It simply means that the key is in the doing.

To get you in the zone of exercizing your songwriting muscles, why not challenge yourself to come up with one new idea every day for a week. Whether it’s a melodic, lyrical, chordal, or a story idea, keep track of what you come up with. And after a few weeks exercizing your writing muscles, you’ll find a greater ease writing from scratch as it will start to take you progressively less time to get into the writing zone.

When you circle back to your ideas after a week or so, you may find that you already have the bones of a song, a verse one day, a bridge the next, and so on.

Don’t stop here!

Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with artist-led courses by Ryan Lott, Com TruiseJlinKiefer, RJD2, and Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production.

Jlin: Rhythm, Variation, & Vulnerability

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