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Songwriting Series: 5 Ways to Tackle Writer's Block

Before starting Noise Gate, I spent years in music college as a songwriting major. And if there's anything you learn after writing a song every week, it's how to break through writer's block.

We've all been there. Stuck in the studio or your music room with all the intentions in the world to crank out a new song or finish the song you've been working on for weeks, but no inspiration hits. No fresh ideas. It's like all of a sudden, you've lost your musical abilities and there's a gate put on your brain...

Sound familiar?

Well, there are a few ways you can break through that barrier without scrapping all your ideas:

1. Try a different instrument

Sometimes, you just need to change the sonic space and hear your ideas with new textures and timbres.

If you're having trouble coming up with a groove on piano, try playing it on the guitar; It's a much more rhythmic instrument by nature and could be just the thing to release that spark of inspiration. If your song feels thin, try adding a few synth layers to fill out the space. If your melody feels weak, try composing a'capella and taking the instruments out all together!

Perhaps that guitar line you're trying to make work would serve better as a drum fill. Maybe the vocals need to sing along with the bass run. Shake up your composition and you'll likely find a few new ideas to work with.

If you're not a multi-instrumentalist, there are still ways to write with multiple instruments. Download a plugin or two and add a string section or a new drum kit with your midi keyboard. And if all else fails, reach out to your musician friends and see if anyone is willing to come over and jam.

2. Shake up your form

We've all heard this song: Intro. Verse. Pre-chorus. Chorus. Verse. Pre-chorus. Chorus. Bridge. Double chorus. Outro. And while it's a tried and true form in popular music, it's not the only way you can write a song.

Your mind approaches a chorus differently than it does a verse. Verses tell the story and choruses share the big picture response. If you're struggling to tell the story but know exactly what you're feeling, start your song with the chorus! Your mind also approaches the bridge differently than the verse or the pre-chorus. Think about the purpose of each section and play to your strengths when you're feeling stuck.

Take out the pre-chorus all together if it doesn't move the song forward in a meaningful way. Exchange your chorus for a single-line refrain if it's getting too monotonous. Try a coda instead of a bridge if it feels more like an afterthought.

There are a ton of form combinations you can try when you're feeling blocked for inspiration. When you try to force a round piece into a square hole, you aren't serving the music. Listen to songs you love and take notes on how the artist approaches the form. Ask yourself, what did they do, and WHY did they do it?

3. Invert something

This one is my go-to. If your melody is feeling tired or your rhythm feels like Chinese water torture, invert it!

Inversion is a composition trick that's been used for many many years. If your music is written out on a staff, it's like placing a mirror up to it. You can alter notes on a staff horizontally (inversion), vertically (retrograde), or both (retrograde inversion):

The image below is an example of inversion. Pretend there's an imaginary line that runs horizontally between each staff. The red notes are the same distance apart (intervals), but they're moving in mirrored directions. This gives your music a new feel without leaving that sense of melodic familiarity.

You can also invert rhythms, chord progressions, chord structures, and intervals. The best part? You don't have to come up with anything new! This is the musical definition of innovation – using what you already have to create something fresh.

4. Change perspectives

Sometimes, all you need is a fresh perspective.

For instance, if you're writing in third person and your song feels vague, maybe you just need to get inside your characters' heads a bit more. Try switching to first person and see what insights and imagery you can come up with.

If you're writing about a car crash from the perspective of the driver, try stepping outside the car and writing about the crash from the perspective of a passerby.

If you're looking for new prompts and ways to alter your perspective, look into Songwriting Without Boundaries by Pat Pattison. This book was both the bane of my existence in college, and also one of the best things to happen to my songwriting. You'll have timed exercises that help you think outside of your normal neurological patterns and keep the music flowing, even when you don't feel inspired.

5. Tap into different senses

Finally, try tapping into different senses when writing. If you're trying to describe a feeling, try to come up with a concrete image instead of an abstract idea. What does love smell like? What does fear taste like? What does joy look like? Find ways to help you and your listener grab hold of your ideas in a solid, relatable way.

You can do this musically, too. Use specific instruments or sonic elements to make your ideas come to life, even beyond the lyrics. A gong or bellowing drum can convey uncertainty or darkness. Chimes or a soft horn can relay feelings of peace or lightheartedness.

More often than not, your senses will be your biggest allies when you're trying to work through a block in your ideas. They are essentially the antithesis to your abstract feelings, so leverage them in your songs to keep things moving.

Writer's block is a very real thing for songwriters and musicians. The good news is, with a few tools in your back pocket, you'll be equipped to handle it and move your music into new and innovative places.

If you're ready to take the next step in your music career, contact Noise Gate PR.


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