Ah yes! Good ol' writer's block. The unfortunate dilemma that every musician faces now and again.
So how do we overcome this infamous struggle? Well, before you give up and bash your instrument over your roommate's head, check out these 40 simple solutions for musicians to overcome songwriter's block!
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Maintain Your Gear
Have all of your gear well maintained, so that when you are writing, you can actually get the most out of it.
This also means having backup strings on hand in case you break one just as inspiration hits. I like to buy in bulk.
Or maybe you still haven’t gotten around to get a power supply for your pedals (one of these days, I know). And you forgot to unplug the pedals after your last jam. And now all your batteries are dead.
It sounds lame, but having your equipment and music files organized allows you to focus on writing rather than spending all your time hunting stuff down.
Disorganization prevents you from performing at your best, so declutter and find a place for everything. For less than $15 I was able to get my gear under control and I haven’t looked back.
No joke, you’ve gotta buy the following:
Be Ready to Capture
Having a good system in place for capturing your song through notebooks and smart recorders is important for capturing your inspiration when it strikes.
Know Your Instrument
When you're not writing, make sure you are brushing up on your scales, chord inversions, and upping your knowledge of your instruments and equipment. This will make a huge difference when you want to take what's in your head and make it into music.
Block out Time Consistently
Whether you're feeling inspired or not, block out time every day to get some writing in. You may struggle at times, but sticking to this discipline will hugely improve your music writing abilities.
Change Your Location
Writing in the same place every day does work for some people, but if you're feeling stuck, a change of scenery may do the trick.
Change Your Writing Time
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Are you too drained after work to give any real effort to your music writing? Switching up the time of day when you write can make a big difference.
Use the Rhythm of Rap Lyrics to Inspire Your Melodies
When you’re stuck on what to write, think of some of your favorite hip hop verses. You can apply the rhythm of the rapper’s flow to your own melody.
Annie Clarke, AKA St. Vincent, shares one of the most powerful tricks for overcoming songwriter’s block on an episode of the incredible Youtube channel Guitar Moves.
Try a Different Instrument
A lot of artists have found that switching between instruments can inspire them to think in new and creative ways.
So if your main instrument is piano, for example, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up an instrument that you don’t know so well, like a ukulele.
If you don’t have another instrument and can’t afford one, there’s still little things you can do. You could buy a slide for your guitar. Or you could try a free keyboard synthesizer app for your phone (or go to the reference page and check out the recommended phone apps). A harmonica costs like $12.
Try a Different Tuning
Similarly, stringed instrument players can benefit massively from experimenting with alternate tunings.
It’s a license to explore the guitar with all the benefit of the technique you’ve already mastered.
You can also try using a capo to put your guitar into a different octave. Sometimes open chords and drones will sound really cool.
Force Yourself to Play in a Different Key
Most musicians tend to have a favorite key or scale. But by mixing it up with something more exotic, you can force yourself to explore new opportunities.
Play on Only One String or in Only a Couple Octaves
In the opposite direction, it can help to purposely LIMIT your options. You may discover a world with in a world.
Flip It and Reverse It
Playing upside down is incredibly helpful at coming up with creative chord voicings and melodies. So much of the guitar is different, but enough is the same that you can easily muddle through and come up with really interesting parts that you can then improve upon on with an instrument that faces the right direction.
When you find yourself in times of trouble, don’t be afraid to try singing a melody instead of playing an instrument. Sometimes singing can be more spontaneous and direct than an instrument, and it can help you work your way around writers' block.
Tell a Story
If you’re stuck on a musical melody or solo, put yourself in the frame of mind of telling a story.
Music loops can be an incredibly powerful way of breaking through songwriter’s block. The rhythm from firing up a drum loop can inspire you to play chords in a certain way or create a fun riff.
You can find all sorts of loops for free on the internet. For example, I put together this list of the best sites for free loops. Just make sure you pick the version of the loop pack that is compatible with your recording software.
Come up with a Theme and Write Songs Around It
Sometimes when I get stuck on a song, I’ll come up with a very average melodic theme, and try to write five or six variations of it, without thinking too hard. Just by exploring different angles of the same theme, you can end up coming up with different approaches, in a jazz-like manner.
Come up with a Title and Write a Song Around That
If you’re having trouble getting started on a song, you could always try coming up with a song title first, and then write your song around that. Whether your song is called, "Killer Clown" or "One True Love," you'll have a better idea about how to compose it.
Most of us play music in 4/4 four fourths of the time, but some amazing songs are written in 3/4, 5/4, 7/4, 11/4, and so on. Step out of your comfort zone and see what happens.
Create Music for an Unimagined Film
When struggling with writer's block on a new song, it helps to figure out what kind of scene your music could be the soundtrack to. What kind of song would you write if you were commissioned to write a song for the 27th installment of The Fast and The Furious?
Deconstruct a Favorite Song
If you’re still stuck in a rut, why don’t you try deconstructing your favorite song. Breaking down the components of a beloved song doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll use them, but it can serve as a good point of reference.
Play the Blues
I can’t tell you how many song ideas I’ve gotten just by playing some blues riffs over and over, almost meditatively. Eventually you tend to fall into a cool rhythm, pattern, riff, or variation that breaks the mold while staying in it.
Sometimes we need a rhythm to play against, a force of tension to draw the music out. Beat boxing (you know, making drum noises with your mouth) can often be the solution.
Use Random Words from the Internet or Newspaper Cutouts
If you’re really struggling, you can also use the internet to generate random phrases. You could go to https://randomwordgenerator.com/phrase.php and just keep hitting the button until you find a phrase that inspires you.
Play with Friends
Reacting in real time to other musicians will get you out of your comfort zone and introduce ideas that you wouldn’t normally consider.
Find a Weekly Jam Session
If you can’t find a writing partner, there’s plenty of other ways to be involved. You could go to an open mic night, sitting in at a jam session, find a drum circle, or just have a few friends over.
Playing live is one of the best ways to feel inspired. Even if you’re just playing a cover show, feeling the energy of the crowd is incredibly euphoric.
Public accountability can be a huge inspiration for some. I know a lot of musicians who were unable to finish their album until they had the additional pressure that came from putting a deadline “out there.”
Write a Song for Somebody
Writing a song for someone can be a great way of finding inspiration. How many hits have been written for lovers? But even if you’re not in love, there’s plenty of ways you can write a song for someone!
Did you know that there are tons of statistics that say that exercise is good for you? It’s true! But it’s also really good for inspiration.
Take a Walk
Walking can also be incredibly good for you. Just go out there and take a fifteen minute stroll in the middle of your session. You’ll feel relaxed, more in tune with yourself, and you’ll come back energized.
Turn Your Phone off and Close Your Browser
If you’re going to sit down and try to do some writing, turn off your phone, close all your browser windows and disconnect. You’ll be free of distractions and able to focus on the main task ahead of you: writing.
Listen to a Different, Challenging Style of Music
Explore genres that you aren't familiar with or listen to more challenging music, like classical or jazz. Either way, you'll find some genius which may just inspire you.
Meditation and mindfulness exercises are a great way of staying balanced and gaining clarity. You’ll also be much more calm and energized when you resume writing.
Take a Break
While consistency is ultimately king, don’t feel bad about taking a break. Taking time off may just be what you need to come back and refocus.
Read a Book
Certain books just contain such powerful ideas, such striking characters, such poetry, that there is no way that you come away without being inspired.
Read a Book About Music
Reading about the struggles that other musicians have undergone, their creative processes, and just about the general history of music can be incredibly inspiring.
Watch a Music Documentary
Between YouTube and Netflix, there are a plethora of great music documentaries. Seeing the methods and challenges of other musicians can be very inspiring.
See a Concert
There is nothing like live music. The energy that develops when people get together and perform is truly special. Basking in it nourishes the musical soul, like a church for musicians.
I'm not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. However, I have heard that crack is whack. I have also heard that Jim Morrison performed best drunk, but then he also died from a heroin addiction. We've lost enough great musicians to drug and alcohol abuse, so be smart and responsible.