5 Ways to Write Songs Without Needing Inspiration

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” E-book Bundle

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Writing Music Without InspirationIf you don’t write music, the creating of music must seem like magic, where inspiration is the main ingredient. Even those of us who compose often hear a song and think, “Wow, where did that come from?!” My theory is that it’s nice if/when inspiration happens, but it’s not a necessity. If you’re waiting for inspiration to compose, you are not tapping into your full potential.

Sometimes inspiration is there at the beginning of the songwriting process, and it’s wonderful when that happens. Most songwriters have had the experience of having a melodic idea suddenly popping into their brain, or a bit of lyric, or a chord progression. As I say, it’s wonderful when that happens.

But if you’re normal, those instances are going to be few and far between. And having less than frequent moments of inspiration is not an indication of a lack of imagination or songwriting skill. It’s normal.

Igor Stravinsky, arguably the 20th century’s greatest composer, said, “Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning.”

To interpret Stravinsky’s statement, we should be writing even if we don’t feel the inspiration to write.

But can you compose music even if you have no exceptionally inspiring musical idea, no inspirational musical fragment in your mind? Yes! And in fact, if you’re really serious about songwriting as a profession, you’d have to write no matter how you feel. If you’ve been hired to create music for a film scene, no producer wants to hear, “Gee, man, I’m just not feeling it today.”

But how do you write music if you “aren’t feeling it?” And for that matter, what quality of music would you be writing if you feel no inspiration to do so?

The quality of your music has nothing to do with the inspiration you were feeling at the beginning of the process. It’s your grasp of songwriting technique that determines how good the final product will be.

If your songwriting technique is solid, you should be able to compose, no matter how little inspired you feel.

So it’s not your level of inspiration that should be mattering to you, it’s your level of songwriting technique.

If inspiration were so important, I wouldn’t have devoted “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” e-book to teaching you the technique of songwriting; I would have written a book about how to get inspired!

So what can you do to ensure that your songwriting technique is solid enough to compose at the drop of a hat?

  1. Set a regular daily (or almost daily) time that is your time to compose without distraction. The discipline that comes from a timetable is a crucial part of enhancing songwriting technique.
  2. Don’t feel that every time you write you must compose a full song, or even have a full song in mind. Composing short fragments is a great way to hone songwriting technique.
  3. Listen to other people’s songs every day, and in particular, consider listening to musical genres that don’t usually interest you. It’s amazing how much your own technique will positively influenced by writers in other genres.
  4. Record your own music and listen to it. This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but I find it amazing how songwriters often don’t just sit back and listen to what they’ve written. As you listen, keep asking yourself, “Would I buy this recording? Why/why not?”
  5. Give yourself songwriting challenges. Speed writing is a great way to hone songwriting strategies, because it forces you to keep technique first and foremost in your creative brain. Set the timer, and give yourself two minutes to come up with something. If that’s overwhelming, start with 5, or 10 minutes.

Keeping all of these suggestions going as part of a daily routine will have the pleasant effect of reducing how much you rely on inspiration. And it means that when inspiration hits you, you’ll be amazed at how easily you can create a song from that inspirational fragment.

Good luck!
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8 Comments

  1. Joe Deets

     /  August 31, 2010

    I’m new to songwriting, i’d like to know if I can get more tips on how to write country music. I know it’s mostly all about life stories and what not, but are there any other things to sing about? Please write me back. Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Joe:

      Subject matter is only one aspect of country music. You’ll want to be listening to lots of country music and be as familiar as possible with the identifying qualities of the genre. Specifically, you’ll want to make note of the type of vocal harmony, which tends to be close (each harmonizing note as close to each other as possible), with lots of upper harmonic line with melody in the middle and a lower harmonizing line. Of course you’ll need to also make note of the general use of wider vowels, and try to emulate the characteristic instrumental (particularly guitar) sounds.

      -Gary

      Reply
  2. MajaNilsson1996

     /  July 16, 2012

    Reblogged this on Maja Nilsson's Official Website.

    Reply
  3. I’m new to songwriting and this article sure will help me when composing my music! Thanks a lot! :)

    Reply
  4. john mccoy

     /  August 11, 2012

    Wow, this advice is absolutely great! As a musician we all know how important inspiration is but this article put things in a New light for me. Very useful and helpful. Thank you to the writer.

    Reply
  5. Great advice. I’ve been composing instrumental music for a long time and never have trouble coming up with new melodic and harmonic ideas. I’ve since got into songwriting though and while musically everything works out as I’m used to, I find writing lyrics and finding a subject material for them a sever limit on how frequently I can write songs. Do you have any equivalent tips for the lyric element of songwriting?

    Reply

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