Every songwriter and composer, no matter the experience level, has at one time been stuck in a musical rut. Just like instrumentalists, songwriters and composers can find themselves repeating the same musical/lyrical ideas over and over, believing that they aren't improving at all and instead just recycling the same predictable material. This article's purpose is to supply you (the songwriter/composer) with 3 tools that helped me get out of my "rut" when I was composing my debut album, "Exile", and will hopefully help guide you out of your personal songwriting rut.
1. Look for Inspiration in places you haven't thought of before.
Some of you may be familiar with this, as I speak about it in my songwriting videos here, but the importance of this piece of advice can never be overlooked! If you are stuck in a rut and just can't seem to think of anything new to write music on, then I highly recommend enveloping yourself in a completely new experience. Go outside of what you feel comfortable with; whether that be sky diving or rollerblading and experience the world around you!
Also, while you do this, it is always wise to "Keep the Beginner's Mind." So if you are aware of and learn from everything in this new experience, I can guarantee that you will walk away with new inspiration.
2. Just write it down!
I know that many artists, including myself, have found themselves writing about the same topic over and over again. This is not a bad thing, however if you consciously let this fear of "plagiarizing" yourself hold you back from writing a new song, then it can be a very bad thing. I received some great advice from a very experienced songwriter on this subject and I would like to share it with all of you (paraphrased of course).
"Obviously if you find yourself writing about the same topic, then you're not over it. You're still going through whatever it is you're going through at that time and as an artist the most important thing you can do is not censor yourself and be true to every part of you. The dark, the light, the stupid, the funny and it doesn't matter if you've written about this same subject a hundred times before, because the universe won't let you copy yourself note for note or lyric for lyric again. No matter how hard you try, you can't control the nature of the universe and it won't let you copy and paste. So just write it down!"
3. Hit the wrong note!
There is a joke among musicians that if you hit a wrong note once, then shame on you, but if you hit it twice then you're playing Jazz. I know that I've personally used this tool numerous times throughout the writing process for "Exile."
Sometimes I knew the color or emotion I wanted to evoke and could perhaps hear one pitch in my head (primary melody), but no matter what chord I played underneath that melody, it just wasn't right! So for the composition, "Wrong", I consciously made the effort to search for chords I normally wouldn't play. The result was that I ended up with a wacky, colorful progression, but one that fit the lyrics perfectly. However, I would have never ended up with that progression had I not consciously made an effort to hit the wrong note.
So now I urge all of you songwriters and composers to take these 3 tools and apply them whenever you can. Even if you're not stuck in a rut, it can't be a bad thing to go out and experience something new or consciously make an effort to play something different!
Until next time, take care and keep composing fellow artists.
P.S. If any of you have any specific questions, feel free to send me an e-mail; I'd be happy to help.
Kole is currently studying music composition and classical guitar at Indiana University; and will be transferring to GIT, in the fall of 2007. He also is completing his debut album "Exile" through Empire Records and teaches many students for guitar and songwriting.
He has also just finished co-authoring a great new instructional e-book for guitar titled "The Next Step: Serious Improvement for the Developing Guitarist," which can be found and purchased at thenextstepguitar.com.
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