Five tips for writing music when you don’t feel particularly motivated.
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Do you feel frustrated that lately you’ve been lacking inspiration to write music? We enjoy writing music when we’ve got an initial idea rolling around in our brain. A hook, a bit of melody, a catchy chord progression - something. What we might otherwise call inspiration. And we’re tempted to think that the best songwriters are the ones that get inspired the most often.
But the truth might surprise you. The composers of music – or anything, really – that are most successful are the ones who learn to write whether they feel like writing or not.
If you’ve always been an “I-write-when-I-feel-like-it” kind of writer, you are the type that is most susceptible to writer’s block. That’s because since you wait for inspiration to get going, your songwriting will crawl to a stop simply because you got up one morning and didn’t feel inspired.
Writers of film music know how dangerous a creative life that would give you, if you could only write when inspired. Film score composers are busy people, writing and rewriting on demand, and usually in a rush. If you could only write when motivated, you’d lose your job. And in fact, you’d probably not get the gig in the first place.
But knowing that you should be able to write without necessarily being inspired doesn’t solve the problem: how do you do that?
Here are some tips for writing music even when you don’t feel like writing:
- Establish a regular writing schedule if possible. Try to see a certain time, like 8 – 9 pm each evening for example, as being your time to write.
- Approach songwriting systematically. There are lots of opportunities to let your mind wander and see what you come up with, and that’s completely fine. But systematic songwriting means having a method that works. For example, starting the writing of lyrics by creating word lists – that’s an example of systematic lyric writing, and it works.
- Try starting songs with the chorus. This is not a rule, but if you find getting started difficult, the chorus is usually the easiest part. It is the most repetitious part of a song, with chords that are strong and simple, and melodic shapes that are most easily developed.
- Apply principles to your songwriting. You may not know how your verse will sound, but you know that it’s a basic songwriting principle that it will sit lower in pitch than the chorus. So as you try to conjure up melodic ideas, sing low ideas for a verse and higher ones for a chorus. And of course there are lots of other important principles – it’s what my “Essential Secrets of Songwriting” ebook deals with.
- Think of unfinished songs as material. It’s important to have a positive attitude to musical sketches that are only a few bars long. You may have wanted that idea to become your next song, but just because it was a dead end doesn’t mean that it was wasted time. Dead ends in music composition are usually temporary, as most ideas will eventually work their way into something else.
Discipline is the key to successful songwriting. Discipline means taking songwriting seriously, developing a method of working, and sticking to it. It means making writing a part of at least 5 out of 7 days a week. And it means being mindful of the fact that basic principles are in play when songs are successful.
Don’t wait for inspiration! Get writing, and you’ll find that inspiration will grow from that.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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