9 tips to help you write better songs

by Dan Davies, March 22, 2016

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Writing songs is why many of us become musicians, but the feeling of being stuck, not knowing what to write, or feeling like everything you write sounds the same can be all too familiar. Don't worry! Every musician goes through it; but here are some tips to help you write your next masterpiece.

1. Add to your vocabulary

Whether you're playing guitar or singing, increasing your vocabulary of licks, melodies, chord progressions, grooves, strumming patterns, and other techniques is going to give you more options when it comes to figuring out what to do next in the piece of music you're writing. If you only know three chords - you're only going to be able to write songs with those three chords. If you know fifty chords, the combination possibilities are nearly endless! Make an effort to learn something new every day and you'll soon be inspired to write something different.

2. Record yourself

Nothing is worse than knowing you wrote something you really liked, but forgetting how it went! Get into the habit of pressing record on your phone when you play. Not only will your compositions be safe; you'll get to see how your writing evolves over time. Sometimes it's surprising to see how far you've come!

3. Write often

It may seem like poor advice if everything you write sounds the same - but getting into the habit of writing as often as you feel inspired helps to build the habit of writing music. If you haven't written anything in ages, you might be putting too much pressure on yourself to write something you consider to be good. If you write a hundred pieces of music and you only like one of them, that's much more of a success than writing nothing.

4. Change your environment

Being in the same place all the time can be creatively limiting, even if you feel that the space you're in is creatively inspiring. Try going for a walk, or writing music in a different room. You'll find that different spaces give you different kinds of inspiration, and how your guitar sounds in the bathroom compared to your bedroom might trigger completely different and fresh ideas. Don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zones and write in a new space.

5. Try a new tuning

If you're writing on the guitar, try a new tuning. This could be as simple as using drop D, or changing the tuning completely to something like DADGAD or open C. Your conceptions of chord shapes and scales will no longer be applicable, which will force you to figure things out and play differently.

6. Use a different instrument

Try writing on a different instrument. This doesn't mean you have to learn how to play a whole new instrument; even playing a different guitar that sounds and feels different could result in you composing something new. Borrow a friend's guitar or spend an hour in a music shop. Inspiration can come from anywhere!

7. Use a capo

Playing the chord shapes you're familiar with in the same key might become a bit stale. An easy way to change this is to put a capo on your guitar. You're playing the same shapes you know and love, but they're in a completely different key.

8. Limit yourself

Sometimes having too many options can paralyse you. When you're looking at a blank piece of paper and your song is a world of possibilities, it can be quite daunting. Try writing down some limitations, such as the number of chords you're going to use, a particular mood, theme, or style, or what you'd like the listener to think of when they hear it.

9. Listen to and learn other music

Learning other people's music is a great way to get inspiration for your own songs. Other musicians will write differently. They might use techniques that you don't know yet. Getting inspired by the music you love will absolutely help you write. Don't worry if initially you feel that the songs you are writing sound too similar to songs by your favourite artists - just keep going! A little bit of plagiarism is fine when you're starting out. Even Ed Sheeran says the first song he wrote was a completely ripped off Green Day chord progression!

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