Are you stuck in a songwriting rut? Maybe you feel like you’ve been playing the same chord progressions or that your ideas just aren’t making you tingle with inspiration.
I get it; as a guitar player of over 25+ years, I’ve endured many droughts with my guitar playing and songwriting. It’s not fun and can make you want to throw in the towel and invest in a different hobby. Something like soap carving where your friends and family will be more concerned about your mental state than your progress.
But before you buy your X-Acto knife and Costco-size soap bar bundle, I urge you to pay attention and keep pursuing your guitar goals!
This article will share five tips on how to break out of your songwriting rut and stay creative and motivated with your guitar playing to avoid family intervention.
Let’s jump in quickly before we make rash decisions…
5 Creative Tips for Songwriting on Guitar
1- Change your chord voicings
Since the guitar is based on patterns, it can be easy to repeatedly get stuck riffing the same chords and scales. There’s nothing wrong with your favorite chords and scales (I’m a sucker for Am Pentatonic myself), but If you’re stuck in a musical rut, you need to switch things up!
One of the easiest ways is to transpose your go-to chords with inversions. An inversion rearranges the chord’s notes to give it a different tonal character. While it won’t be an apples-to-apples change because changing the bass note of a chord will provide a much different flavor, it’s a great way to find songwriting inspiration.
Now, if music theory isn’t your thing and you don’t know what notes make up the chord you play, then it’s as simple as Googling, “What are the inversions of ‘insert chord name.'” If you don’t know the chord name you’re playing, check out this article: The Mystery Of The Fretboard.
2- Play a different guitar
Sometimes a trip to your local music store to take a different axe for a test drive is all you need to re-ignite that spark of creativity.
A new body style, different pickups, amplifiers, or even an entirely different type of guitar can do wonders for jumpstarting your creative juices. However, this tip only works if you check your self-awareness at the door and dive headfirst into being that guy who noodles too hard and loud in the store.
And no, you don’t have to buy the guitar to reap the creative benefits. Playing it in-store and seeing what gives you those creative goosebumps is enough to open up some creative possibilities you can take home.
3- Record your ideas
We are our own worst critics. It’s easy to let great ideas go too quickly when you’re wrestling with your creativity. So, recording all your ideas will help you always have a pool of material to pull from when the well runs dry and help you avoid self-sabotaging yourself!
Grab your phone, open up that voice memo app and get to work!
Flexibility and accessibility are key – you’ll thank yourself later for keeping all those precious snippets of inspiration. Even if what you’re experimenting with doesn’t feel great, don’t stress – go back to it later and see how you feel about it with fresh ears.
I’ve often been surprised by some of my ideas after listening back at a later date. There always seems to be a hidden gem of an idea hiding away that I can use as a launch pad for something I feel great about.
Even when you’re in the zone creatively, recording your ideas is one of the best habits you can implement into your songwriting.
4- Try out some pedals
Experimenting with effects pedals can get the creative juices flowing and help you develop new and exciting tones. However, this tip comes with a massive word of caution!
Effects pedals have a seductive nature to them, and if you aren’t careful, you will soon find yourself experiencing a severe case of Gear Acquisition Syndrom (GAS). Watching a guitar player get more obsessed about the pedal over the playing is never a pretty sight.
With that said, a great pedal can bring something unique and unexpected to your music. First, tap into your network of guitar friends and see if you can borrow some of their pedals or do a pedal swap for a week. This keeps the pedal experimentation sustainable, and you can save your busking pennies for those pedals that become integral to your new tone.
Who knows where this power of pedal-wielding will take you? It’s the perfect way to shake up your routine and add something fresh and new to your songs. So buckle up and enjoy a journey into uncharted sonic territory with abundant creativity!
5- Learn a cover and study its composition
Sometimes, it can be helpful to take a step back and take in the music of others. Learning a cover is one of the easiest ways to get inspired and improve your songwriting skills.
Learn some new tunes by your favorite artists, or even better yet, explore the work of another genre entirely. Once you’ve mastered the basics of a song, dig into its composition and see what makes it unique.
How did they use their chords to create a certain feeling? Which playing techniques and rhythms did they employ to make the track come alive? What kind of effects were used to shape the overall sound?
Taking your time to understand how a piece of music is put together can be incredibly enlightening- it can unearth tricks you can use in your songwriting. Remember, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
So, don’t be afraid to “steal” the occasional idea or two. Just make sure your finished product adds your unique sounds and is something you can call your own (and avoid a lawsuit).
To wrap up
While all these tips can help you get out of a songwriting rut, the most important thing is to keep practicing and never give up.
The more you play and write, the better you’ll get at both. And who knows – maybe your next great song will come when you’re least expecting it.
Have you tried any of these tips, or have any others you’d like to share?
Thanks for reading.
Brad Johnson is a musician and producer from Southern California. When he isn’t spending time with his wife and kids at the beach, he is helping songwriters and musicians at Song Production Pros.