It’s not easy to be musically creative, especially if you’re feeling crushed by the weight of expectations. From trying to follow up a successful song to not knowing how to get started making music, hitting a wall creatively is an easy thing to do in music. Here are five tricks to help you fight songwriter’s block:
1. Experiment with extremes
This might sound like odd advice, but consciously making an effort to write music in sonic territories you’re not used to can help put you back in a creatively fertile headspace. Something as simple as incorporating dramatically fast or slow tempos into your writing process has the power to unlock ideas you couldn’t have developed by sticking to the usual safe habits.
2. Change up your main instrument
Many readers won’t be comfortable with this advice, but that’s the point. Sometimes creative uncertainty and discomfort are essential for moving forward. Hitting a creative roadblock in music often represents a lack of curiosity, and this can be a big problem for songwriters. Because songwriting often starts with chord progressions, switching up the main instrument you write them with can pump fresh blood into your process, even if you’re unfamiliar with the substitute instrument. The larger idea here is taking a creative risk to put you in a new mindset.
3. Give yourself limitations
Ever feel overwhelmed in a grocery store with all the choices? Sure, you might’ve gone there to buy stuff to make pasta, but theoretically you could pick up ingredients to make an Indian curry or a fancy French 3-course meal. Often, when everything is possible in songwriting, there’s no clear creative path forward. Limitations are often seen as a bad thing, but they can help shape your process in a meaningful way if they’re leveraged correctly. Rather than removing options, limitations can highlight your tools and resources. Embracing musical limitations could mean anything from writing alone on an acoustic guitar without the band to experimenting with writing songs that feature only two or three chords.
4. Reverse your process
Doing everything you normally do last in your writing process first is another one of those uncomfortable tricks that can get you over a songwriting hump. The human brain is designed to form habits, and this why learning something new is so difficult. Reversing your process changes up things enough to the point where you’ll begin to look at things differently.
5. Collaborate with new writers
If you’re really stuck in a creative rut, working with new writers can help you hear things differently when it comes to writing music. Newness and risk are themes embedded in each of these tricks, and working with unfamiliar writers is a great way to embrace these ideas. You might find that you prefer working more with some songwriters than others, but even unfruitful writing sessions can help change things up and get you thinking about music differently. Keep trying new things out until something works.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.