As songwriters, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut. Sometimes you’ll finish a brand new song only to realize that it’s almost exactly like one of the tracks you released a year ago. Stylistic consistency can be a good thing for your brand, but your fans want to hear improvement and growth, not the same sort of thing over and over again, year after year. If you’ve become too attached to your songwriting method, it might be time to get out of your songwriting comfort zone. Here are 4 ways to break out of your shell and try something new as a songwriter.
Take a Lesson
If you’re an experienced songwriter, taking a songwriting lesson might feel like going back to kindergarten. However, getting back to basics and re-learning songwriting from the ground up and from a different perspective is a great way to stretch your songwriting muscles. Your songwriting teacher will be able to give you a whole new perspective you might not have thought of before.
Try a New Chord, Scale, or Time Signature
Most songs are written using major or natural minor scales, basic major and minor chords. Also many songs use and 4/4 or ¾ time signatures. Don’t be afraid to mix it up! Try writing a song in a different mode, like Phrygian or Lydian. Pick a new chord or inversion out of your chord book and try using it in a song. Use a weird time signature like 5/4 and see what happens. The resulting song might not necessarily be material for your next album, but the challenge and shift in perspective will still be a great jumping-off point.
Most songwriters have a particular way that they usually write. Some people start with an instrumental riff and then add lyrics and vocal melody, and some start with the topline and add the chord progression later. Whatever process you usually follow, flip it on its head! If lyrics are usually the last thing you put in a song, try writing lyrics first.
Sometimes the hardest part of songwriting is the fact that there are so many possibilities. When you have unlimited paths you can walk down, it can be really tempting to just pick the familiar ones. Narrow down those paths by applying a constraint to your songwriting. Challenge yourself to write a whole chorus with just 3 words. Try writing lyrics without using any pronouns. See if you can write a song using a piano phone app instead of a full keyboard. Pick up a brand new instrument. You might find something great!
Anne McGinnis is a musician, music teacher, and blogger at blog.taylorrobinsonmusic.com. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.