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:
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.