Your brain will get stuck once in a while when doing something creative. It’s frustrating, but it’s normal.
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When you first learn to play a musical instrument, you go from being completely unable to play to actually hammering out a tune (even if badly) on your very first day. And it’s exciting! And the rate at which you improve is enormous — at first. Then progress slows down. You go from noticeable improvements on a daily basis, to a weekly basis, then monthly, and then… well, if you play an instrument, you know what I’m talking about. Your rate of improvement slows down as you get better, and everyone knows this. It’s normal.
So those first few months doing anything is easy, because the novelty of the activity, coupled with the enormous rate of improvement, inspires you, and you keep going.
You may have noticed the same thing with your songwriting. Back when you first started creating your own songs, you may have felt inspired all the time. That sense of inspiration came from a combination of the novelty of musical ideas springing forth, coupled with your rate of improvement.
So if you’ve lost that loving feeling when it comes to songwriting — if it feels more like a frustrating chore than a fun, fulfilling activity, it’s time to sit back and remind yourself how unique and important your songwriting is. And if it seems to be taking forever to get one song finished, that is not an indication that there’s a problem. Slow progress is more likely to be an indication that your brain is working something out, an indication that your standards are rising. You may still be able to churn a song out quickly once in a while, but don’t assume that once the going gets tough, you’re doing something wrong.
When you’re halfway through writing a song, and can’t seem to figure out what to do next, try these ideas:
- Ignore the task for an hour, a day, or a week. The brain is a mysterious thing, and sometimes ideas get developed even when we’re not thinking about them.
- Switch instruments. If you’re writing primarily on your guitar, try working your song out on a piano. Oddly, switching instruments can sometimes stimulate your creative brain.
- Change the tempo of your song, even just temporarily. Let’s say you’re working on a ballad. Try singing it loudly, lively, quickly and energetically. Trying your song faster allows you to hear longer bits of melody in shorter spaces of time, and that has the possibility of conjuring up other melodic ideas. It’s definitely worth a try. Also, sing an up-tempo song as a slow ballad.
- Sit back and listen to good music. When I was a student, my two major areas of study were composition and performance (trumpet). I found that listening to great musical performances did as much to stimulate my excitement for writing music as it did for performing it.
- Critique good music. Take a great song from your favourite genre, and analyze it. Why does it work so well? Try to put those thoughts into words. The more you do that, the more you’re able to use the successes of others to improve your own songwriting.
And above all, don’t assume that slow progress is necessarily an indication that something is wrong. To keep from being fixated on a song that’s taking forever, it can be a good idea to work on several songs at the same time, and keep going back to the one or two that are taking forever. When you finally get them done, the feeling of accomplishment will be immensely gratifying.
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