Videos by American Songwriter
Every songwriter has their share of rainy days. And by that I mean days when the ideas just won’t come. One wasted day can lead to another, so how to escape early, before it becomes a habit?
“Take a five-mile walk,” some people say. “Just sit down and write,” say others. “Get a chord progression going and start singing.” There’s a lot of different advice out there, and if any of it works for you, that’s great, but it seldom works for me, because writer’s block is a wily beast (for me, anyway):
I stare at the blank page, the blank page stares back, and pretty soon I realize I’d rather be doing crossword puzzles.
I play a chord progression and sing, and it sounds like a gaggle of crows sitting on a fence arguing, so I wind up practicing scales or somebody else’s song. At the end of the day, nothing gets done.
I take a five-mile walk and somehow find half a dozen chores waiting for me when I get back, and then a movie, and then I’m cooking dinner and doing the dishes pretty soon it’s Monday and my endorphins are all gone, along with my plan to write a song. And what about the folks who can’t even walk to the mailbox, let alone five miles?
Writer’s block is hard to beat. What I’m going to suggest here is a way to beat it — not by fighting it, but by going with it. If your mind would rather be doing crossword puzzles, well then, give it what it wants: word puzzles. Sneak in some harmony and melody, and pretty soon you’ve tricked yourself into doing some songwriting.
That’s the idea behind the creative challenge at the end of the Mar/Apr 2016 column on Lucinda Williams, which went like this:
Set up a two-measure phrase — something like | C7 | F | or | F | C7 |, for example — and target 1, 3, or 5 in the second measure. Use one syllable at first, then more, dividing them over the bar line as you please. Word count is irrelevant.
As usual, I ran out of room before I could describe the game in detail, which is why I promised to write an e-book about it, and here we are. Let’s walk through it, step-by-step, from words to harmony & rhythm to melody, and see if it doesn’t provide a painless cure for the rainy-day songwriting blues. At worst, you’ll feel like you did something creative on a day that might otherwise have gone to waste. More important, this exercise will sensitize your ears to the emotional nuances of harmony and melody, improving your ability to match music and words as if they were all one language.
To read the rest of David’s latest e-book, write us at info@americanso