5 Ways To Stop Writer’s Block For Songwriters & Write Better Songs
by Tom Hess
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Or, perhaps, you feel musicians’ writers block when trying to finish a song you already started?
In the past, I had a severe case of writer’s block for songwriters and struggled a lot with writing songs.
Today, after 30 years of experimenting with hundreds of songwriting techniques and trying to find ways to stop songwriter’s block…
I want to show you a simple way to stop songwriters block for good and improve the quality (and quantity) of your songwriting ideas fast.
Plus – I’ll show you how to have a lot more fun writing songs than you do right now.
The first thing to understand about writer’s block for songwriters?
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…You need to know what *causes* writer’s block for songwriters to begin with.
(Hint: it’s not what you probably think.)
Next, you need a set of proven songwriting techniques that make writing songs easy and fun.
This songwriting video shows you both things:
Now that you know more about writer’s block for songwriters…
…here are 5 more songwriting ideas that will make you better at writing songs and prevent writer’s block for songwriters from affecting you.
Musicians’ Writers Block Cure #1: Separate Practicing Songwriting From “Writing Songs”.
This is perhaps the most powerful of all songwriting techniques I can teach you about curing writer’s block for songwriters.
Because the #1 reason you may struggle to come up with songwriting ideas and feel confident writing songs is:
You don’t actually *practice* songwriting or have a specific process for coming up with songwriting ideas.
For example: if you are a guitar player, you probably spend a good amount of time practicing your guitar-specific techniques.
You know your scales. You know your chords.
And you practice a lot with your metronome to make your guitar playing faster and cleaner.
But have you ever isolated individual elements (skills) that go into songwriting?
For example, have you ever sat down for 30 minutes to practice:
Creating songwriting ideas that modulate between distant keys.
Creating songwriting ideas for instruments that have a lot of timbral contrast.
Creating songwriting ideas based only on rhythm.
Creating songwriting ideas based only on melody.
Creating songwriting ideas based only around musical texture.
Creating songwriting ideas based only around musical form.
If your answer is: “never” – then you know a big reason why you struggle with writer’s block for songwriters. (And until you start doing it, it’ll be hard to get unstuck when you have songwriter’s block.)
Note: The key term is “songwriting ideas”.
Because your goal here isn’t to be writing songs you’d feel proud to put on an album.
Your goal is to practice sharpening your songwriting chops. As you do this - you give yourself more tools to stop songwriters block.
And guess what: the more practice you get coming up with songwriting ideas…
… the easier it is to snap out of writer’s block for songwriters and get better at writing songs better and faster than you ever have before.
Question: “Tom Hess, If practicing creating songwriting ideas is the answer – why don’t more people (who struggle with songwriting writer’s block) do this?”
Answer: 2 main reasons:
First: Musicians rarely take songwriting lessons from anyone who specializes in songwriting. (So, they never learn the best songwriting techniques for overcoming writer’s block for songwriters.)
Second: many musicians don’t see “getting better at writing songs” the same way as getting better at the rest of their musical skills.
Most assume that creating songwriting ideas is something you’re either good at (which means – there is no need to practice it)…
… or you’re not. (Which means – there is no use to even try doing anything that might stop songwriters block)
But songwriters who spend time practicing songwriting like I described above?
They have such a large arsenal of songwriting ideas - writer’s block for songwriters almost never happens to them.
Musicians’ Writers Block Cure #2: Write For The Trash Can.
One of the challenges you may face when trying to get unstuck when you have songwriting block is getting over the impulse to judge your songwriting ideas too harshly.
The more pressure you put on yourself to make all your songwriting ideas album worthy – the harder it will be to shake writer’s block for songwriters.
Schedule specific time to practice writing songs “for the trash can”.
Focus on quantity (of your songwriting ideas) over quality.
Meaning: expect to throw everything you write into the garbage. If it turns out that you write a great set of songwriting ideas – that’s just a bonus.
As I often tell my songwriting students: “practice writing songs for the trash can. Write your first 100 bad songs as soon as possible. The next 100 will go much better.”
This advice works surprisingly well for beating writer’s block when writing songs and helps you get unstuck when you have songwriting block.
And the irony is:
When you lower the bar for the quality of your songwriting ideas (during your songwriting practice) – you often come up with more and better ideas you can use when actually writing songs.
And you may often stumble on new songwriting techniques you’d never think to try otherwise.
Question: “Tom Hess, are you saying to have low standards for my songwriting?”
Answer: No, of course not. This advice is about “practicing” songwriting and jump starting your creativity when trying to beat writer’s block when writing songs.
Put less pressure on yourself while you *practice* songwriting.
Each of your songwriting ideas is simply training your songwriting muscle. As you’re writing songs and songwriting ideas, you make it impossible for yourself to get writer’s block for songwriters.
Just like any other muscle – your songwriting ability will get stronger over time.
And when you’re actually writing songs (vs. practicing your songwriting) – the time you spent writing for the trash can will pay big dividends.
(Because you won’t suffer from writer’s block when writing songs anymore, like most aspiring songwriters.)
Note: as you practice writing songs for the trash can – do NOT compare your songwriting ability (and songwriting ideas) with the songwriting techniques you hear on albums of your favorite songwriters.
Here is why:
It’s easy to forget that the songwriting ideas you hear on albums were often crafted over periods of weeks or months (or sometimes even years).
Even the best songwriters in the world take time to refine their songwriting ideas as they’re writing their songs.
But they’re NOT dealing with writer’s block for songwriters – they are simply taking their time while they are writing songs to ensure they are truly happy with each idea.
Prioritize quality over quantity when making an album.
But prioritize quantity over quality when you are writing songs for the trash can.
(And the more time you spend writing songs for the trash can – the easier it is to come up with new, fresh and cool-sounding songwriting ideas on demand.)
Musicians’ Writers Block Cure #3: Have An Arsenal Of Songwriting Techniques.
Any single songwriting process will be limiting. So will any single songwriting technique.
Unfortunately, many aspiring songwriters only have one songwriting technique to fall back on. (And that’s often the reason they struggle with writer’s block for songwriters.)
What is that songwriting technique?
Answer: Whichever songwriting technique comes most naturally to their instrument.
For example: guitar players almost always start with harmony.
Singers almost always start with melody.
Drummers almost always start with rhythm.
Each of these methods has its unique strengths and weaknesses.
But here are the biggest limitations you face as a songwriter when you try to come up with songwriting ideas using the methods that come most naturally to your instrument:
- You become limited by your instrument’s natural limitations of tone, playability, pitch range, the number of pitches that can be played simultaneously, dynamic range, articulation, etc.
- (This is a big one) - you are likely to repeat similar songwriting ideas that you already used when you were writing songs in the past.
- You may discover your hands are doing most of the creating, not your true creative mind.
- The range of possible musical results is limited when using any single process exclusively.
Any all of these problems can lead to writer’s block when writing songs.
Go to your instrument and begin improvising, notice what types of things you do naturally.
What is the process that you usually start with?
Do you begin by trying to write a melody? Or do you begin with chords?
Fact is: you can start writing songs in no less than 8 ways.
These include: starting with chords, melody, chords & melody together, rhythm, dynamics, timbre, texture and form.
To learn more about new songwriting methods (that can help you stop songwriters block), check out this video about songwriting techniques:
Imagine how easy it is to shake songwriting writer’s block once you have 8 ways to start writing songs instead of 1!
You may enjoy writing songs starting with one element more than others. That would be normal.
You may enjoy creating songwriting ideas starting with one element more than others. That would also be normal.
But remember what you saw earlier about writing songs for the trash can and building your songwriting techniques muscle.
When you practice writing songs – quantity matters more than quality. So, focus on going through the process and practice using each element to write music.
You will get better at this over time.
And that will make you even more immune to songwriting writer’s block.
Musicians’ Writers Block Cure #4: Write For At Least One Instrument Other Than Your Own
Getting a working knowledge of at least one instrument (other than your primary instrument) will help you greatly with writing songs and curing writer’s block for songwriters.
This is especially useful if your secondary instrument doesn’t have the same limitations as your primary instrument.
For example: I'm a guitar player. But I love creating songwriting ideas on the piano. And this has helped me to stop songwriters block.
2 reasons: on guitar, there are many options for how to play the notes (using lead guitar phrasing)…
… but guitar players are limited by how many pitches we can play at one time.
This shapes the way guitar players think about writing songs (and creating songwriting ideas) in a specific way.
On piano – the situation is quite different.
There are way more options to how many notes you can play at the same time. And pianists are generally much more aware of harmony-based songwriting techniques, such as voice leading.
However, there are way fewer options on piano for adding phrasing to notes (compared to, say – electric guitar).
I'm not a virtuoso piano player (nor am I even a “good” piano player). However, learning the basics of piano has helped me get over my writer’s block for songwriters in big ways.
One of the things I’ve adapted into my songwriting techniques arsenal is heavy emphasis on voice leading.
Here is how I applied this to writing songs on guitar (and how you can do the same if/when you get writer’s block for songwriters):
Question: “Tom Hess, how many instruments do I need to practice and how good do I need to be at each one to cure my writer’s block for songwriters?”
Answer: Curing writer’s block when writing songs is not about the number of instruments you play. Nor is it about the skill level you achieve on any one instrument. This songwriting idea is about exposing your mind to new ways of thinking about songwriting that are outside the scope of your main instrument.
Musicians’ Writers Block Cure #5: Analyze Songs (Without Learning Them)
One of the best ways to overcome writer’s block for songwriters is to analyze the songs by songwriters you love.
But note: I said “analyze” – not “learn to play”. Learning to play a song takes a lot of practice time and effort. (That time could have been used on writing your own songs).
What does it mean to analyze a song? And how does it help you deal with writer’s block for songwriters?
It means listening to the part you like and asking yourself why you like it.
And then – making a list of the songwriting ideas that make up the sound you like.
After you reverse engineer these ideas, you can use them to write songs of your own.
If your ear isn’t advanced enough to pick up ideas by ear, use tab (or sheet music).
The more you do this analysis, the easier it becomes to “ethically steal” while still being original.
Question: “Tom Hess, but how is it possible to be original while stealing songwriting ideas from other songwriters?”
Answer: Simple. You aren’t *actually* stealing. You are analyzing the principles other musicians use so you can stop songwriters block.
Once you understand the principles of something – you can come up with endless ways to apply it when writing songs of your own
And those ways will never sound like the music you “copied” from.
The way you apply general songwriting principles will always be unique to you and you alone.
That means: you can use this approach to create your own songwriting style and come up with songwriting techniques (and songwriting ideas) nobody has ever tried before you.
And writer’s block for songwriters that used to bother you so much will become a thing of the past.
Now you know the best ways to banish writer’s block for songwriters. The next step is to transform the rest of your guitar playing (everything from your guitar technique, fretboard knowledge, creativity and music knowledge), so you can…
…Finally put it all together and feel like a real musician!
I can help you with this inside my Breakthrough Guitar Lessons.
Here is how it works:
You tell me about your guitar playing challenges, current skill level, musical knowledge and your goals.
I create a lesson strategy and your lesson materials tailored specifically for you.
As you practice your lessons, I am here for you every step of the way.
I give you feedback on your guitar playing, answer your questions live on video every week, give you unlimited email support and train you in student-only live video classes.
And if you do your best to practice what I teach you at least 30 minutes per day, you almost can’t fail to turn your guitar playing into something you feel really proud of.
To learn more, go here right now: https://tomhess.net/Guitar
About Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.Ready for big breakthroughs in your guitar playing? Get started today with proven rock guitar lessons on the internet.
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