Ask ten musicians to describe songwriting and chances are you will get ten different answers. Songwriting can be fulfilling, frustrating, expressive, oppressive, artistic, scientific, or any of a million more juxtapositions. Songs come about in many ways. Some take years. Some take minutes. Some are hard to write and others flow forth with ease.
One thing is certain, all songwriters have ups and downs and need strategies from time to time to start writing, or to finish songs as a recording date approaches. Here are some songwriting strategies you may find useful in either scenario:
Make time to write and set attainable goals. It could be a certain amount of time each day, or certain amounts of songs per week. Make sure you hit the goals, even if you think the quality of the writing isn’t amazing. You may not use everything you write, but you may find some hidden gems in those writing sessions.
Speed-write. Some of the best songs in history were written in a very short period of time. Even if your time is limited, try to get as much down as possible. For example, set a timer for five minutes and challenge yourself to come up with a simple melody and chord progression in those five minutes. Take a five-minute break then repeat the process. Within an hour you’ll have six new melodies and chord progressions to develop.
Limited improvisation. Write melodies using a few specific notes over a simple chord progression and improvise rhythms with just a snare drum or your hands. When limited to the basics, you’ll start to look for new ways to use the few resources at hand and come up with new things.
Change the key or tempo. Sometimes simply changing to a higher/lower key or faster/slower tempo can give your song a completely new feel. You can even try changing a song written in major to minor or vice versa.
Write on a different instrument. Sometimes we get in a rut on our primary instrument and changing it up can give a fresh perspective. For example, if you’re a guitar player, try to hammer out some chord progressions or melodies on a piano. Because the piano is laid out differently, your mind will approach it in a different way.
Got a synth? Use odd sounds. Synthesizers provide more sounds than anyone would ever need. Experiment with some of the less conventional sounds and see what kind of inspiration you find.
Modulate. Get a Circle of 5ths diagram and work your chord progressions through a key change or two. Sometimes this can provide a lift to a song that is stagnating. See if you can work back to the original key. It may even help you discover new chord progressions or even a new song.
Listen to new music. Listening to a wide variety of music, especially outside of the genre that you write in, will widen your perspective. Make notes of what you find interesting about the music you discover. Then find ways to incorporate these elements into your songs. It may not always work, but it will give you more tools to bring to the writing table.
Change your space. If you need some new inspiration, try rearranging your writing/recording space, or better yet, take a portable rig and get outside. Writing on the road can be great for inspiration. Take advantage of vacations or other trips to get out and write.
Let it sit. Don’t beat a song to death. Whether you think it’s good or bad, a work in progress, or a finished hit, let it sit a few days and then come back to it with fresh ears. You may feel the need to start again from scratch, or you may discover it was better than you thought and just needs a finishing touch.