4 Songwriting Exercises To Get You Out Of A Rut

Feeling lost and uninspired as a songwriter is a pretty awful feeling. When the flow of ideas narrows down to a trickle without warning or explanation, songwriters usually have to change up their process to get things moving again. If you’re feeling creatively stuck making music, we’ve got four exercises to promote inspiration and put you in a new musical mindset:

1. Write music in a new, unfamiliar place

Whether it’s overt or not, the locations we make music in influences our work in a big way. This means that making music in the same place day after day could lead to a lack of new ideas and meaning in your music. By taking different elements of your songwriting practice to new, unfamiliar places, you’ll have a better chance at hearing things differently and unlocking the potential of your music. Some parts of your process will be harder to move around than others (drums, for example), but even writing lyrics or producing somewhere different than you’re used to can be a big help.

2. Make music on a different instrument than what you’re used to

Musicians often equate proficiency on their main instrument with songwriting prowess to their great creative peril. When the temptation to make music that feels safe and “correct” crowds everything else out, creativity suffers in a big way. A great way to combat this is to try writing with instruments you’re not used to playing. For example, if you’ve never written with keys, consider getting a small MIDI keyboard and going to town.

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3. Start your process in a way you’ve never tried before

Every songwriter relies on a certain set of processes to create music. If you’re unhappy with the music you’re making, consider identifying the way you write and changing your process from the ground up. This especially applies to the very first thing you do to write music. If you usually start writing by strumming an acoustic guitar in your studio, try composing beats on a drum machine first, or scrawling down lyrics in your notebook. Writing in a new way from the very beginning will put you in altered mindset.

4. Experiment with extremes in tempo, pitch, and form

Extremes make for incredible inspiration for uninspired songwriters. Sometimes new ideas can’t happen in music without experimenting with sounds that are dramatically different from what we’re used to hearing. Something like trying to write a song set at 60 BPM, or writing a melody in the Locrian mode might not result in a finished song you’d actually release, but it will get you hearing and thinking in new ways. If you’re bored with music, you should be looking for ways to create in new and unsafe ways compared to what you’re used to.

One of the best things you can do for your music is to try to understand yourself as a writer by taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re unhappy with your process, not trying anything new won’t improve your circumstances no matter how talented you are. Your listeners expect you to create new and interesting music. To give them what that, you’ll have to keep updating and reinventing your process over and over again.

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.

Mike4 Songwriting Exercises To Get You Out Of A Rut

17 comments

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  • Kenny Gilliam - April 17, 2019 reply

    Thanks

  • Christopher Thornton - April 17, 2019 reply

    Thank you! Another juice starter, which follows changing your process, that has worked for me in the past is writing music to someone else’s lyrics. The change and shift from your M.O. natural rhythm and cadence really helped get my mindset out of the mud set funk it was in. Thank you for the great post and wonderful ideas!

  • Jim Robson - April 17, 2019 reply

    Interesting. Might just try this.

  • Wile Bill Skye - April 17, 2019 reply

    Change your point of view. If you’re a guy, try thinking like a gal. Or a dog or cat. Write a couple of angry lines, happy ones or bored ones. You could even do a positive/negative dialectic.

    Phil Zinger - July 12, 2019 reply

    Thanks Wile. Agree. I know a local artist that uses this to great affect.
    I need to try it!

  • Max - April 17, 2019 reply

    Good advice!

  • jimiG - April 17, 2019 reply

    I. like the idea of creating music in different environments and I already use multiple instruments to flesh out the New songs.Thanks for the tips. My main problem seems to be getting an idea and one verse…then waiting….

  • Lamborghini Dream - April 17, 2019 reply

    Thanks I’m definitely going to try some of these things when preparing to write to a song next time I write

  • Kent Whipp - April 18, 2019 reply

    Who of us haven’t been there before? Very good ideas that I will surely keep in mind for when I voyage in to that dark, desolate, and somewhat scary area.
    Thanks!!!

  • Carlton Larsen - April 18, 2019 reply

    Thanks! Great ideas. I find shaking it up can take as little as using a different guitar or amp, or plugging in a pedal. Going for a walk or canoe to rinse the ears out too. Nature is a great source of inspiring new sounds too.

  • Jo-Anne Carlson - April 18, 2019 reply

    Awesome tips, thanks!

  • Samuel Levi y Los Niños Perdidos - April 18, 2019 reply

    No son malos consejos. Todo lo que suponga un reto, un cambio, una pequeña revolución en tu manera rutinaria de hacer las cosas, te llevará irrevocablemente a lugares nunca antes visitados y quizás… quizás hasta te encante.

  • Sanifu Hall - April 19, 2019 reply

    Cool tips.

  • Remy - April 22, 2019 reply

    Alternate tunings, and sometimes I switch the guitar upside down (right handed to left handed ) for a drastic departure

  • Lola - April 25, 2019 reply

    Quick and great tips as usual – thanks!

  • Kidd Layaan - April 29, 2019 reply

    I found this very helpful

  • Dagloustar Bauer - June 17, 2019 reply

    This is gonna work for me coz I had actually began to luck in my writing. I am Dagloustar Bauer, songwriter from Uganda

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