Too much freedom

Writing a new song from scratch can be intimidating. The blank piece of paper seems to taunt us. Where do we start?

We have complete freedom to write any type of song we want and maybe that’s the problem. Lyrically, there are too many different possible directions; harmonically, there are too many chord options; and there are way too many notes to make writing a melody easy.

One method that helps me is to arbitrarily reduce the number of choices. If I limit myself to using only one guitar and one voice, that relieves me of the burden of choosing instrumentation. If I limit the range of the melody to my own meager vocal range, that also gives me some boundaries to work within. And if I arbitrarily decide on a style, say a children’s song or a blues, that further narrows my
palette.

This artificial narrowing of choices helps me to focus in and gives me a more comfortable place to start from. I can always loosen these self-imposed limits later, when the song is clearly well on its way.

Try it next time you’re staring at a blank page. Limit yourself in one or more aspects of your song. Here are some aspects and examples of how you can reduce your choices.

Mix and match and make up your own.

lyrics – limit yourself to words that children understand
lyrics – follow a common rhyming scheme, i.e. limerick
lyrics – tell a story from your own life experience
lyrics – adhere to a strict genre, say traditional bluegrass

chords – limit yourself to using 4 note chords (or less)
chords – try using a pedal tone
chords – think only of the bass note and the melody, you’ll
be surprised how much that delineates the harmony/chords.
chords – write a melody without your instrument, add the chords later

melody – emulate an artist’s style, i.e. a ‘Sting-like’ melody
melody – restrict your melody to diatonic notes
melody – decide to make it a driving, rhythmic melody
melody – make melody is paramount, thereby relegating all
other aspects to the back burner. You’re strictly limiting
everything, but the melody.

instrumentation – simpler is better during early stages
instrumentation – make it sound good on one instrument first
instrumentation – try two that you don’t often hear together
instrumentation – write for the ensemble that you are most
familiar with

Remember these are not rules. They are only suggestions to
get you going, to overcome the intimidation of the blank page.

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