Here are a few reasons why people find songwriting difficult and ways you can overcome the challenge!
- Don’t know how to finish a song
- Running out of ideas
- Don’t know the parts of a song
- Get stuck and don’t know how to move forward
- Don’t know what music to play
- Don’t know what lyrics to write
- Don’t have a vocal melody you like
- Don’t know what to do about drums / guitar / other instruments
Don’t know how to finish a song
If you don’t know how to finish a song, chances are you’ve run out of ideas.
(Here’s the complete article all about how to finish a song.)
It’s common that a songwriter will have one or two song ideas (maybe a great chorus, or melody) but not know how to complete the song.
To finish a song, simply generate more ideas and then use those ideas to write the other parts of the song you need.
It’s helpful to know all the parts of a song fit together. For example, verses expand on the ideas of the chorus, while the chorus is the main “theme” or idea of the entire song.
You can use chord progressions to inspire more musical ideas. Check out the other sections of this post for specific suggestions.
Running out of ideas
To come up with more musical ideas it helps to know why and where you are stuck.
Specifically, do you need more musical ideas or lyrical ideas? Are you looking for new rhythms or different instrumentation?
Songwriters often get into a rut where every song sounds the same. It might have been great for the first few songs… But after a while it stops being unique and interesting to listen to.
Experimenting with new rhythms
A simple way to rapidly generate new ideas is to change the rhythms and instruments you are using.
For example, if you always using rock beats as your rhythmic feel, why not experiment with something more “out there.”
You can use swing, samba, salsa, cha cha, foxtrot, four on the floor, trance, rockabilly and so many more!
Play the chord progression that you’ve written over the new rhythm and adapt it so that it fits. You may find new ideas worth exploring simply by changing the rhythm.
Hip hop is famous for incorporating rhythms from many diverse types of music. You could listen to great hip hop records for experimentation… Or if you’re a hip hop artist, look to the original sources of inspiration.
Using different instruments and arrangements
Different tools produce different results and the same is true with music.
In this case, your tools are the instruments you have available.
I remember once I was messing around on my friend’s drum set. I’m naturally left-handed but have taught myself how to play most instruments right-handed.
So, just for fun I took the hi-hat and snare and placed them on the right side, how a left-handed drummer would play.
Surprisingly I was able to play without much problem but the beats that were coming out were very different than what I’d normally play!
If you usually play acoustic guitar, why not pick up an electric guitar? If you usually play a Stratocaster, why not play Les Paul or Danelectro?
Simply changing the effects (adding a lot of delay, distortion, or reverb) could be an inspiring change.
You might also want to pick up instruments you’ve never played before and see what that inspires. Why not learn banjo or mandolin, for example?
How to be more creative with singing
If you’re a singer you can still use this idea of “changing instruments” in your favor.
In this case, you can sing songs in a completely different style that what you’re used to.
For example, for some reason, country singers tend to do well singing R&B. Sounds strange, but true.
And of course there is the example of Scatman John, a jazz-trained singer, who used his scat singing skills to create a fusion of rap, jazz, and house.
An easy way to do this would be to sing karaoke songs in styles that you normally would not sing in.
Every style brings out certain vocal style aspects that you can use to your benefit.
Muse vocalist Matt Bellamy reportedly was “playing around” in the studio and started singing in an operatic way.
The producer they were working with loved it and they decided to incorporate this into the band’s sound.
Don’t know the parts of a song
Sometimes you just need a few extra sections of the song to make it complete.
It helps to know what sections you have and what else is missing.
Songwriters write the structure of a song, it’s like a skeleton that everything else gets added on top of.
Seeing it from the perspective of verses, choruses, and bridges can help inspire more ideas. Maybe your song just needs an extra drum solo? You never know..
Check out the parts of a song article here.
Get stuck and don’t know how to move forward
If you’re simply “stuck” no matter what you do… Maybe you just need a short break?
Many songs have been inspired by moments out and about in the city, while on the subway, walking in the park, or while stuck in traffic.
Creative people, in particular, thrive on variety. How can you incorporate some more variety into your day? It could be as simple as watching a movie you typically would not watch.
You may also simply need a short nap, a quick snack, or to get some exercise. Taking care of your body and making sure your energy levels are high works wonders for creativity.
Don’t know what music to play
There are three main parts that form the music of a song.
There’s the melody, which are the notes you think of when you hum the chorus of a song.
For example, hum the notes to these songs:
“Somewhere over the rainbow…”
You were humming the melody. It’s very important and the lyrics (words in a song) usually carry the melody for most songs.
The second type of music are the chords or accompaniment that support the melody.
These would be all the notes of the piano, guitar, and other instruments.
Finally, the third type of music is the rhythm or percussion which we talked about earlier.
Do you know what part of “the music” is lacking in your song?
When you can identify what is missing it becomes easier to know what the next step should be.
If you have lyrics (words) but no melody, then that can be a good place to start.
You can write a melody by playing the chord progression and improvising a melody that sounds good that goes with the lyrics you have.
Sometimes you might start with a great melody but no lyrics. In that case, it would be a matter of creating lyrics that match up with the melody.
You might like this article: “Songwriting: Music or Lyrics First”
Don’t know what lyrics to write
Lyrics are how feelings are put into words. Do you know what feeling you are trying to express?
Whenever I’m at a loss for lyrics, I ask the question, “What am I trying to say or express with this song?” Just by asking the question you can start to have some clarity and write more lyrics around those ideas.
If you still don’t know, you might ask yourself, “What might I like to say with this song?” Or, “What would be a fun way to start this song?”
I hope these questions inspire some new lyrical ideas for you. If you’re still stumped, you can check out songwriting prompts.
A songwriting prompt is just an open-ended idea that is designed to inspire new song ideas.
An example of a songwriting prompt might be, “What was the worst day of your life?”
Don’t have a melody
You can improvise a melody based on the key simply by humming along or with an instrument.
For example, if you’re playing a chord progression in the Key of C, you can play any of the notes that are in C Major (all of the white keys on the piano).
As long as you’re playing chords that are within the same key, the melody will fit the chords you’re playing.
You can also create a new melody by finding the melody to a song that you already know. What parts of that melody make it stand out to you? You can cut out just the small part that is interesting to you and use that as a starting point for a completely different melody!
If you’re a singer, you can listen to how they sang a part of another song. If you were to stylize that melody in a different way with different notes… what would that sound like?
This technique may get you some surprising results that sound very different from what you started out with!
Don’t know what to do about drums / guitar / other instruments
Sometimes creative people can get overwhelmed thinking of all the other instruments and all the technical parts we need to make our idea a reality.
My best tip – Ignore it, just write the song!
When you’re writing a song, it’s not necessary to know how you’re going to pull off every effect or the exact notes for every single instrument.
Just focus on writing the “skeleton” of the song – That is, the main lyrics and melody with just an idea of how it should sound when it’s completely finished.
Execution and performing all the parts live or in the studio are something you can figure out later.
It’s easier than you think but first, you must actually finish the song.
The worst would be to have an unfinished song that never sees the light of day.
I hope these tips helped you get “unstuck” and you’re not asking yourself “Why is songwriting so hard?” anymore! Being creative can be challenging but the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
Happy songwriting! Anything you wish I mentioned here? Let me know in the comments, thanks!