Finding Fresh Inspiration

Finding Fresh Inspiration

Five ways to get out of your comfort zone and bring fresh ideas to your songs

We all have our old faithfuls we fall back on in our songwriting. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, we want to have a sound all of our own, something unique we bring to the table when we’re creating new songs. 

But sometimes those things which we rely on to help us in our music can make us stuck. We start to rely on them a little too much and we can find it difficult to come up with a new approach. 

Here’s five ways you can break free of those habits holding you back to give you new ideas and take your songs to another level. 

  1. Take an existing chord progression from a song you don’t know

While it’s important not to plagiarise other songwriters, you can’t copyright a chord sequence. Many massive hits share the same chord sequences. Here’s just a handful of songs which all use the same chord progressions:

We could go on, but you get the point. 

Look up the chords for a song you don’t know. (You’ll see why it’s important you’re not familiar with the song in a moment.)

Play the chords and start experimenting with when you switch to the next chord. Mix up the amount of time you play each chord. The main thing is that you don’t want to recreate the original song. 

Once you’re happy with your chord sequence, start looping it and record the first melody that comes to mind with placeholder words. Hey presto! You have a first draft of a song. 

  1. Write three different songs over the same backing track

You’ll need to have three different subjects you want to write about. 

Start by putting together a backing track for you to work with. Focus on making a piece of music which captures how you’re feeling. At this stage, don’t think about lyrics or melody. All you want is to record chords, textures and drum sounds. 

Now approach the melody methodically. You’ll want three different tunes, each with a different meter and starting point. Try starting a tune on the root note, then another on the third, and another on the fifth note.

Once you have three different melodies, write the lyrics the tune suggests. 

  1. Hum a melody and change the chords beneath it

Earlier we gave you an exercise on working from the chords. You can turn this on its head and start with the melody. 

Hum or play a tune you like and experiment with the chords accompanying it. 

  1. Cut and paste

Get a newspaper. Tabloids are good for this exercise because they often use melodramatic, exaggerated language. 

Go through the newspaper and cut out any phrases which jump out at you as being interesting or creative. 

Then join them together randomly. Don’t worry at this stage about coming up with coherent lyrics. You’re just looking for interesting ideas at this stage. 

Once you’ve finished pasting your clippings together, look at the result and see if any phrases suggest new ideas to you or could be used as the basis of a new song. 

  1. Finding lines from random sources

Take three different styled sources, e.g., headlines from magazines or papers, nonfiction pictures and contemporary novels. Skim through the text and look for lines that stand out or speak to you and could sing well. This exercise is useful for generating unusual titles or giving you lines you can use in your chorus to open or close it or repeat as a hook. 

You can also highlight lines in books. Go through and read out the highlighted parts. You’ll be surprised at how much this can sound like a song already without needing to do any work to it. All you’ll need to do is go through and edit. 

Another way you can use these lines is to pick one which stands out to you and then write an answering line to it. So, maybe you find a line which reads the willowy woman stood up and left. You could write a next line which goes something like As she walked away, I wondered what might have been. Then all you need to do is continue the story for the rest of the song. 

It doesn’t take much to bring fresh inspiration to old ideas. Once you start incorporating these exercises into your regular songwriting practice, you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes to your songs.

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