Why You Struggle to Think of New Ideas for Writing a Song

Out of ideas for songwriting? You are probably making one or more of these 4 critical songwriting mistakes. Read this article to find out what they are (+ how to fix them) and write better songs than ever!

Ultimate Guitar

Until you learn an effective method of continually coming up with great ideas for writing a song, you will struggle in your songwriting and experience a lot of frustration. Truth is, many musicians have a hard time thinking of good songwriting ideas on a consistent basis so if you struggle with this, you are certainly not the only one. Fortunately, thinking of a lot ideas for your songwriting is not as hard is it may seem. Chances are, you just need to correct some very common mistakes that are limiting your creative musical potential. The following are 4 frequent mistakes made by songwriters that limit their creativity. Eliminate each one from your songwriting approach and it will be easier for you to think of more songwriting ideas on a consistent basis:

Mistake One - Writing Music in an Overcomplicated Manner

In some cases, guitarists struggle to come up with great ideas while writing songs and decide that the solution is to "add more" notes on top of whatever ideas they already have. These musicians have difficulty coming up with creative ideas because they are in the habit of adding on more and more until everything becomes a big mess of lackluster ideas. Guitarists who make this mistake usually take a "spray and pray" approach - hoping that something will "stick" and randomly sound good. Although it is certainly a good thing to experiment by combining different kinds of musical ideas together, this approach will not bring you a lot of results for a long time. With this in mind, don't underestimate the power of writing simple musical parts (you do not have to write things like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" of course - I don't mean "that" kind of simple). Write your music beginning with a very basic idea that sounds pretty cool without worrying about how complicated it sounds. For instance, a short, but cool sounding chord progression or "motif." Later on, you can add onto this idea to make it more complex if you like, but at very least if you start off with an idea that sounds good you can always go back to it if you start to dislike the direction it is going in. Additionally, taking a more simple approach will give you a major boost in momentum that will help you along in your quest to come up with tons of great ideas for songwriting.

Mistake Two - Writing Exclusively Only for Guitar

When you are trying to think of new songwriting ideas, are you accustomed to only using a single instrument? Most musicians are, however this approach is actually quite limiting. Why? When you only use one exclusive instrument to write your songs, you limit your creativity because you gravitate toward the usual licks/scales/phrases/etc. That you play. Additionally, your songwriting is limited based on the fundamental limitations of the instrument itself (the specific sounds a particular instrument can make). Rather than using "only" a single instrument to come up with ideas for writing a song, use a minimum of 3 at any given time (this may require some research on your part). This will help you not only build your skills and write more high quality music, but it will give you an even greater pool to draw from in terms of creative songwriting possibilities.

Mistake Three - Having Nothing to Actually Say in Your Music

If you do not already have "something to say" in your music, it will be increasingly hard to think of ideas for writing a song. There is an endless amount of musicians who have never really thought about what it is that they want to say in their music (they only think about writing cool melodies, guitar licks, etc.). In the long run, you MUST have something to say if you want to be able to consistently come up with awesome songwriting ideas. Inspiration is the foundation for musical creativity and without "something to say" you will quickly find yourself struggling to think of new ideas for songs. Of course, you can think of "some" good ideas for songwriting by thinking only from the "musical" side of things. However, when you take the time to think critically about what it is that you truly want to express in your music, you will come up with countless ideas and directions to take in your songs. Whenever you are about to begin a songwriting session, invest the time into thinking of what you really want to express. Make sure NOT to skip this important step! You will find that you can quickly gain inspiration by simply knowing what you want to write about – this in itself will help you generate many new songwriting ideas.

Mistake Four - Not Practicing Your Songwriting and Measuring Progress

So many guitarists never improve at songwriting or think of good ideas for songwriting because they don't think to actually "practice" or measure their progress. For some reason, the majority of songwriters falsely think that creating music is a skill that one doesn't practice since it has to do with creativity/self-expression. This thinking is totally backwards! Some musicians create a lot of music, but do not have any effective strategies in place for getting better at songwriting and improving their ability to consistently think of new ideas. Similar to how you would construct a practice routine for practicing guitar, you must also "practice" songwriting and consistently measure your progress in order to get better. That said, you don't have to write a whole song in order to improve your songwriting (using this approach may actually take you longer to see in results). Alternatively, target the exact areas you would like to get better at in your songwriting and focus to improve only in those areas with total dedication. When you use this approach, you will quickly become much better at coming up with ideas for writing songs because you will be in the habit of writing in different musical situations with different musical elements (ex: writing great melodies, choruses, vocal lines, etc.) Now that you have read through this article you have learned several solutions to common songwriting mistakes. To get the most benefit from this information, don't simply acknowledge it and put it into the back of your mind... Put these new approaches you have learned into practice right away! About the Author: Ryan Buckner is a professional musician, guitar player and composer. His online songwriting lessons website contains songwriting courses, eBooks and lessons that have helped many musicians around the world improve their songwriting.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Thank You! I need this! As much as my name has death metal in it, I do write a lot of acoustic songs and I was doing Mistake 1. a lot.
    Mistake number two is INCREDIBLY relatable, it would hugely improve my music if I could learn how to play drums! Maybe then my metal music would sound awesome (even though I'm only writing music of tuxguitar)!
    I can relate to a few of these. However I have to disagree with #3 somewhat. Mostly the wording. I know I struggled with the opposite of it for a long time. Not everything you write has to have some deep message or has to 'say something'. There are examples everywhere of it working in the complete opposite manner. It can be a useful tool in making meaningful music (having a message) but sometimes cryptic/catchy lyrics about non-specific things work just as well. Melody can, in many cases, be far more important than the words themselves.
    Sometimes you have to convey feeling before meaning. Word may or may not be a factor, but you at least have to make the listener feel something.
    I agree, I think the best things i've done (and others agree)have come from not a specific meaning or something to say but more a feeling or a strung together series of colours so to speak. Hard to explain but yeah if you have something you want to say sometimes I feel it can restrain you or put you into a box... For me anyway.
    I mean think of Orion by Metallica; it doesn't have any lyrics or meaning behind it, but it is incredibly emotive and captivating.
    Danjo's Guitar
    This is actually a good article. Much better than most of the "What are you doing wrong? You aren't spending 30 hours a day playing scales with a metronome!" type articles we seem to get around here. I definitely struggle with #3, and 2, though I'm learning Bass and Piano so I'm fixing that. Whenever I try to think of something to say in a song I often find I end up just sounding whiny and immature, so I scrap the song. I've been trying to work on just writing happy songs instead.
    Pablo Mortis
    Mistake 2 can be simpler to solve than you may think - if you can't come up with anything on an electric guitar, try acoustic, or even bass - the way you write songs is different on different types of guitar, and so you might get through writers block just by spending half hour on an acoustic. Learning piano helps too, just takes a bit longer
    after spending a little time shaking my head at recent "articles" on this site, I'm actually relieved to see one here that's not only well written, but actually insightful. I have issues with #1 a lot. Most parts I have down, #2 would be easier if I still had an acoustic, but generally when I write I try to Listen to how the piece will sound with a whole band so I'm not limiting or going beyond what SHOULD be done with it.