Are there times when you want to write songs but inspiration doesn’t seem to come from anywhere?
Do you have days when you’re spending more time dwelling on whether you’re going to start writing the words or with the music, the melody or the harmony, or what topic to write about rather than actually writing songs?
I used to have a lot of these days, but one day, after writing a song, I kind of discovered something that has made the “dull days” few and far between.
Nowadays, if I don’t feel inspired to write a song, I know where the inspiration is, I go there and I fetch it.
I discovered this simple trick after writing a song called Stars of Alexandria which I’ve only performed a couple of times, and never got recorded. It’s not even one of my favorite songs but what I have learnt from writing it has given me immense value.
It just took me 10 minutes to write that song. The words, as well as the melody and the harmony (guitar chords in this case) kind of wrote themselves. I didn’t even have to decide which part should be the verse, the chorus or the bridge. It just happened.
This flash of inspiration was so beautiful that after I wrote the whole song, I stopped to ponder about what had caused this to happen, so that I could replicate those conditions.
When I analyzed what happened, I found out that prior to writing the song, I was in a state where the intensity of my emotions was high, but under complete control.
I wrote Stars of Alexandria while I was following the revolution in Egypt on the Internet. This was during the Arab spring and since people rising against governments in the pursuit of freedom is a subject that interests me a lot, the Arab spring, where this was happening in real time, definitely caught my attention.
Though I didn’t like the aftermath of the Arab spring, at the time I was writing Stars of Alexandria, I was being enchanted by the power of people working in complete harmony, risking everything, even their lives with the single goal of achieving freedom.
Something that really moved me was a particular Youtube video where, apart from the scenes of bravery, there was this highly emotional, highly melodic, very angry and energetic background music.
All this led to a state of flow where I just grabbed my guitar and a notepad, and wrote the whole song in one go.
This made me realize that rather than wonder whether I should start with the verse or with the chorus, with the words or with the music, the most important thing I should focus on when it comes to getting inspired was getting myself in the desired emotional state.
Mind you, the songs that come out while you’re in such an emotional state will not always be good. I’ve written quite a few songs while I was “in state” which I found to ridiculous when I was out of the state.
But by training myself to get in state and writing songs, I started writing many more songs, many of which I liked, some of which I’ve performed or recorded.
Even more important, I was spending time honing my songwriting skills rather than waiting for the inspiration to come.
Not only that, but by practice I could get in state more easily until it came to a point where I could get in whatever state I wanted nearly all the time. The only exception was at times when I was already in another highly intense emotional state.
How do you get in state? It’s quite simple if you follow these steps.
Step 1: Decide what feelings and emotions you want to express with your song. Is it anger, hurt, tranquility, love, happiness, guilt, desperation, freedom?
Step 2: Recall a time when you were an intense state of an emotion similar to the one you want to express in your song.
This should be very easy to do, even if what you’re trying to recall happened a long time ago, because where there is emotion, there is memory.
When I was around nine years old the school bus I was in got involved in an accident, a woman got killed. I can remember clearly the bus driver’s face, who were the other children on the bus, and, more than anything else, the face of the person who raised the alarm that a woman was underneath our bus.
The reason I remember so vividly something that happened three decades ago, but not who this morning’s bus driver was, is that at the time the accident happened my emotions of fear and shock were extremely high – thus, it remained in my memory.
If you spend a few minutes thinking about something that triggered the emotion you want to express, you will start feeling that emotion again, except that this time there will be less intensity.
Which is what you want since you don’t want your brain to go full blown emotional – part of it needs to concentrate on actually writing the song!
Step 3: While you’re in state, create a short motif (the smallest segment of a melody, somewhere between two to eight notes) or a tune.
If a whole song just materializes in front of you like what happened to me before writing Stars of Alexandria, go ahead and write it, but in reality it’s rarely that easy.
But creating a short motif expressing your emotion is not hard at all.
All you need is a few syllables, to make a word or a short phrase.
Once you find a short phrase and tune, just go with your creative flow and write the song. Play around that phrase, add to it, modify it, repeat it, or delete it and start again if you don’t like the direction it’s taking you.
What matters is that you’re actually going somewhere, that you’re inspired and ready to compose!
Inspiration is what makes you write songs. Learning the craft of songwriting, music theory, and actually writing a lot of songs, is what will make your write great songs. Work on these three things together and very soon you will start seeing a multiplier effect in both the quality and the quantity of your songs.
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