5 Songwriting Tips You May Never Have Considered

Keep your songs fresh and varied. Combat writer's block and expand your songwriting ability.

Ultimate Guitar

Songwriting is a huge topic. There are no right or wrong ways to approach the subject, and there are an infinite number of ways to do so. However, many songwriters choose to approach songwriting in the same manner that they approached all of their previous songs with. At first glance, this makes perfect sense. After all, if it has worked for them before then it'll work for them again, right?

Consequently, songwriters can easily end up writing songs that sound so similar to each other that it's hard to tell them apart. This can cause frustration, and ultimately leads to writers block. A talented songwriter will vary their approach to songwriting to create a very different song each time, yet still leave enough of their "signature sound" in the song to make it identifiable.

With that said, here are 5 Songwriting Tips that are so easily overlooked:

Change the order in which you write songs

How do you write songs? Do you sit with your guitar until you find a chord progression you like? Perhaps you write your lyrics first and then try to fit the music around them? Whatever your approach is, the chances are you use a similar one each time.

By stripping a simple song down to its bare bones, we are left with 5 key components:

  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Lyrics
  • Rhythm
  • Structure

    Next time you sit down to write a song, choose one of these components you have not started with before to begin with. I'd bet most people have not tried writing a song with the structure first, as this is something that is often left to dictate itself. Yet give it some thought, and your songs can improve dramatically. Which leads to my next point:

    Alter the structure

    Too many times has the structure "Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus" been used. Granted, it has been proven to work, but that does not mean songwriters must assign this structure to all of their songs. Give it thought. Experiment with different structures and find what works for your song. By first answering why you want a specific structure (perhaps to repeat the hook or to create contrast) you can create a much more interesting song.

    Write about a different topic

    Almost everyone has written a love song. And you can too if you want, but again, don't choose to do this just because it has worked in the past. Too many songs on the same subject leads to songs that sound the same. Sometimes the best songs are so cleverly written lyrically, that it's hard to tell exactly what the song is about. This allows people to form their own interpretations of the lyrics' meaning, allowing many people to relate to the song.

    Change the instrumentation/timbre

    A C note on a guitar and a C note on the piano sound very different. This is due to the timbre of the sound. When writing a song, carefully choose instruments with a timbre that will reflect the song's topic. Written a punk song that sticks its fingers up to the government? Perhaps a symphony orchestra isn't the right choice of instrumentation. I'm not saying to stick within your genre's typical instrumentation, but make sure you choose a sound that will compliment the overall song. Most importantly, do not feel as though you must only use the instrument(s) you play. Songwriting and performing are different skills. Do not let your songwriting ability be limited by your performance ability.

    Use different chord voicings

    A C barre chord and a C open chord sound different. This is because some notes have shifted register (i.e. up or down an octave). There will come a point in your songwriting where you're using the same chord progression in multiple songs. To make them sound different, try changing the chord voicings. By learning some basic music theory you can take this into your own hands and come up with your own way of playing chords, perhaps in altered tunings.

    These are just 5 ways to make your songs more varied. Combine them, along with countless other ways to vary your songs, and you are left with infinite possibilities.

    About the Author: Sam Dawson is a singer/songwriter who specializes in fingerstyle and percussive guitar. For more songwriting tips, sign up to his free songwriting email course.

  • 24 comments sorted by best / new / date

      I'm sure these are good tips. But I think that the title is a bit misleading, I expected new and more unorthodox ways of writing music, but these are in my opinion more like basics. Using different structures and topics, instruments sound different... only the last one is a bit uncommon for me. Not a bad lesson still, good tips and will sure help some beginning songwriters and maybe advanced ones too. Just a bit misinforming in my opinion, but still good job.
      haha I would have said something very different. I use different voicings of chords in the same song a lot of the time, if not all the time But I've not written a song structure first. What one person may find obvious and normal another may think is interesting and different
      True I usually just stick to whatever chords come to mind. And I write a lot of stuff with arpeggios so there is more freedom when thinking of progressions anyway. Good comment though
      My favorites...write with someone else. One up that with write with someone who is unfamiliar or seasoned in a genre different you tend to play. Another, When working off riffs and hooks, see if you can play progression of the notes in reverse. Often I have found that it breathes new life into the writing process when I've hit a wall. Sometimes it develops more song ideas. Lastly, the random songwriting game. Feeling completely uninspired or have writers block? Have a DAW? Record yourself playing for an extended period of time. Just play randomly. Go back to the recording and grab a random bar here or there and see if you can make something of it. That reverse thing mentioned before can work too.
      I've actually used some of these before and came up with 3 riffs and a solo using that last suggestion
      0ld H1pp1e
      There are also chord substitutions you could try to make your song sound more interesting. I'm not going to try and give a primer on jazz chord re harmonization but a lot of it does work in rock, pop, and soul. When you are stuck on a chord progression and you are tired of the basic 145 progression, check out some of those substitution rules. You may just like what you come up with!
      Substitutions.... oh yeah.. Watch Joe Pas 80's Hotlicks video.. He takes C Am F G and turns it into a GROOVE!!
      I've always struggled with writing music and I think a big part of it is that I never learned chorus vs verse and the proper structure of songs. However, the pieces I write are usually pretty unique and I think if I were to write in any kind of a structured manner I wouldn't like the results. I never know how to continue on with a sound or feel without playing the same thing though. I either end up in an endless loop or write something that sounds like an ending. I'll often try to take the notes of what I've already written and figure out what chord or scale they fit into and try to use those but it usually yields poor results. Has anyone had similar issues to mine and found a solution?
      Good Article.... Anything that gets the creative juices flowing.. Also consider using different instruments to begin writing a song. A ukulele, reed flute or a kalimba will inspire different rhythms, scales, or chord structures.. Cheers Bagmanoz
      Barre chords and open chords also sound very different because open chords leave certain strings (and therefore notes) to resonate louder and longer than ones which are fretted. Quite often I'll find certain chords clashing with either a melody or a vocal line, and can't figure out what is wrong until I play the same chord in a different position with no open strings, which stops it overpowering any other instruments.
      I think we all knew that we mustn't use the same structure all the time.. and of course barre chords and open chords sound different, barre chords have a more closed feeling than open chords, so mostly I use open chords when it's an acoustic song, and power chords when it's an electric guitar song.
      I often use barred chords in place of open whens, even playing someone else's song. A and F are the two big ones I use.
      When I'm struggling with melodic ideas I often just take a random set of notes, 1 or 2 bars long, and play around with it in various ways. I find sequencing and inverting to work wonders on a few occasions.
      I like to create themes of playing a similar key-center and off key changes throwing melody in to reinforce the theme, I don't know I just go about how I feel and use music to journal it then pepper it with lyrics.
      Rad article! It provides the basics to songwriting and points out details that shouldn't be missed such as the timbre and the lyrical content.
      A very interesting article. I have a blog of translated lyrics from english to spanish, and I'm adding new content to it. So if, you don't care, of course mentioning this article, I'm going to translate this and post it in my blog. Great Work.