This is part of an article series about how to write songs, which I am writing entirely from my own experience as a songwriter. I don’t have any formal training and haven’t studied under any great teachers in the field, but I seem to have a knack for it, and it is my passion and livelihood. I have taught a number of successful songwriting workshops and am happily pursuing a career as an independent recording artist, performer, and producer. I hope these articles help you. If you like what you see, please comment with your own songwriting tips, questions, or success stories.
In this article I will share five different techniques that have helped me to shake myself free of writer’s block.
1. Take a Walk
I have written many, many songs while walking. I once wrote an entire song while delivering flyers for my home teaching business. (If you’re a fan of my music, you might be interested to know that I’m talking about It All Winds Up in the Glass from Thought Experiment.)
Taking a walk is a time-honoured technique for clearing the mind. Try not to think too much about the songwriting process at first, and don’t give yourself a destination. Just walk around for a while and the ideas will start to flow, like magic. It might be a good idea to take a recording device along with you to record your ideas, unless you have a very good memory. If you normally write with an instrument, like a guitar or piano, you might be surprised at how beneficial it can be to get away from your instrument for once. Which brings me to my next tip:
2. Change Instruments
If you normally write on the guitar, give the piano or keyboard a try. Even if you don’t think you know how to play the piano, plunking around on the keys might give you an idea for a melody. Getting away from instruments entirely can also be helpful. We tend to fall into certain habits and patterns when we play an instrument. If we get away from them and just hum or sing to ourselves, it gives us a chance to approach songwriting from a new angle.
3. Automatic Writing
Sit down in a quiet, calm place with a pen and paper (or your computer) and just write. Write as fast as you can and do your best not to think about it. If you haven’t done this before, you may feel self-conscious at first, but be patient. Once you learn to write without thinking, you will begin accessing your subconscious mind and giving it a voice. You may be very surprised at what comes out. This is a good way to come up with lyric ideas. They may need editing, but automatic writing can produce some wonderfully visceral and powerful lyrics.
4. Draw Stories From Your Life
Some of the best songs you can write will be based on your own experience. I’m talking about vivid life experiences: the very best and very worst things that have ever happened to you. What matters most, though, is not so much what has happened to you, but how you feel about it. For instance, if you had a difficult breakup, you may resist writing a song about it, thinking that it’s already been done to death. If you think about your own experience of that breakup, though, you will find something unique that could make a truly beautiful song. How did the pain feel, physically, in your chest, belly or throat? What were the dreams that you had to give up? What are the images that come to your head when you think of it? Going to the heart of your own experiences can create very powerful lyrics.
5. Draw Stories from Mythology and History
Are you interested in history or mythology? If you haven’t really thought about it before, this is a good time to start. There are millions of wonderful stories that make wonderful subject matter for songwriting. Singing of the deeds of heroes, the power of gods, and the fate of nations has kept songwriters busy for millennia.