Improve your songwriting with these 3 easy tips you can use right away. The tips are: Use different keys, chord progressions, and to become a music producer while writing the song. Once you make these simple adjustments you can write new, interesting songs that inspire even more creativity.
Once about 10 years ago I was working at my new “day job” when I realized a local music hero of mine worked at the same company!
He had finally retired from the music business and wanted to focus on raising his family without being on the road all the time.
He’d been signed to a major record label and was the founding member of an internationally-popular band and you occasionally you’d hear them on the radio.
Their music was even featured in the Rock Band video game which was popular at the time.
Eventually we arranged a jam session and I play him some of my songs on acoustic guitar. To my surprise, he was impressed!
“You know, a lot of musicians suffer from what I call ‘same song-itis.’ All of their songs sound the same!”
With that in mind, I’ve created this list of 3 easy ways you can improve your songwriting!
Variation is one of the primary ways you can improve your songs… When everything sounds the same it’s hard to hear what makes a particular song great.
With these tips you’ll be able to create music that fans and listeners will “lean-in” to hear…
1. Use Different Keys
A simple way to inspire new song ideas is to write in a different key than you’re used to.
Most songwriters use the same keys because it fits with their voice or because it’s easier to play on their instrument.
For example, it’s very common for guitarists to write songs in E Major, G Major, C Major, D Major, and A Major.
Why? Because on guitar it’s easy to play these open chords! Therefore, we’ve been pushed into a certain musical direction without realizing it.
Here’s what I suggest: Find out what key your songs are in. Write out a big list and see which are the most common keys you use.
If you’re a guitarist and typically write your songs in E Major and G Major.. Why not playing some chords in A Major and see if that strikes up some inspiration.
You may also try to change the key of a song you’ve already written. It might spark some new ideas for arrangement.
If you’re a singer, you might make some different stylistic choices because certain notes may be out of your comfortable “money notes” singing range.
A musical “key” is the group of notes that sound like they fit together. You don’t need to know all of the notes in a key to “change keys.”
The most important thing is to simply know which chords go in which key. You can look up which chords go in any key and simply play those notes.
2. Try Different Chord Progressions
The majority of pop songs today use the same basic chord progressions.
For some inspiration you can try different progressions and see where your ear and inspiration take you…
Some common chord progression are:
Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ and the Beatles “Let It Be” use this progression
Very popular “happy” sounding chord progression used by many songs like Richie Valens’ “La Bamba”
The Roman numerals are called “degrees” because they represent the chord in whichever key you’re playing in.
For example, in the key of C Major the I (the “one” chord) would be C Major. The IV (the “four” chord) is F Major. Finally, the V (the “five” chord) would be G Major.
The whole chord I-IV-V chord progression would look like this in C Major: C – F – G
If this is too complicated, don’t let it get you overwhelmed. You can see which chords exist in whichever key you would like to write in.
Then select the right chord for each progression you’d like to play in. Or, you can find some pre-written chord progressions and use them as a template you can customize for your own purposes.
3. Arrange your song while writing
Write arrangement ideas into your song while writing it.
A simple example that will have a large impact is this common technique:
Many singers will sing the first chorus an octave lower than the final chorus, which is an octave higher.
When the chorus is sung higher it makes it sound bigger and exudes more energy.
This allows different instruments to fill in the lower notes that were previously occupied by the singer singing the first chorus.
For example, now you can add a keyboard to play something that reinforces the larger sound of the final chorus to make it feel more hefty and full.
Even if you are not an expert at arrangement or music theory, you can still use this technique in your writing.
A simple way to think of it as all of the notes from low to high occupying “space.”
Actually, they do occupy a range of frequencies and every instrument playing in this range of frequencies interacts with everything else being played at the same time.
If there are too many instruments trying to occupy the same frequencies or nearby notes the mix will sound muddy and disorganized.
As a songwriter, you can write with certain production ideas envisioned for the final version. As you’re writing the song you can create the right phrases, rhythms, and song structure to make it a reality.
How to Start: Pick one and experiment
Getting so many ideas all at once can be overwhelming.
Here’s what I suggest: Pick just one technique and experiment with it. You can apply it to a song you’ve already written, or see if it inspires something new.
Take a quick look at all the songs you’ve written recently and find out where they are strong and what you’d like to improve.
Go through each of the techniques until you’re comfortable using them.
Now you have three powerful techniques for writing even more diverse, interesting, and creative songs. Go get ‘em!
What did you think of these songwriting tips? What has helped you improve your songwriting the most? Let me know in the comments!