3 Strategies To Try When Faced With A Musical Dead-End

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You’re working on a song idea that you love and then, wham. A brick wall comes from out of nowhere and you have no idea how to move forward. It’s an amazing thing when a great song reveals itself to you all at once, fully formed, but this isn’t how it usually works. Most of the time, songwriters create songs piece-by-piece over multiple writing sessions. In other words, dead-ends are inevitable, so it’s best to get comfortable with them. The next time you don’t know how to develop a musical idea, try one of these strategies:

Take a break and come back to it

It can be easy to forget that creativity is a muscle that gets tired. If you keep pushing yourself, especially when you feel tired or unmotivated, you’ll lose creative focus and resourcefulness. Stepping away for a day, week, or month will renew your energy and allow you to hear what you’re working on with refreshed ears. You might find that you know exactly how to move the idea forward after some time off, or that the idea isn’t worth putting any more effort into completing. There’s only so much time and resources to go around as a songwriter, and if something’s telling you after a break that the idea isn’t ever going to mature into a song you’re excited about, don’t tune out that feeling. 

Change up something big to hear the music in a new context

This is a method that will show you whether an idea is truly valuable or not. When you’re at a dead-end, try changing something integral in the idea and seeing whether you like the result better. This could be the tempo, key, beat, melody, chord progression, or instrumentation. A major change will result in an idea that’s transformed in a big and potentially make-or-break way that unlocks new possibilities and directions––or reveals that it’s not worth it to go any further. The changed idea will probably sound totally different than the first thing you came up with, so it’s important to remember you always have the option of starting over with the original idea, or moving forward with the new one.

Preserve what you like about the idea and use it in a future song

A dead-end might stop your idea in its tracks, but that doesn’t mean what you’ve created needs to be thrown out completely if you can’t move it forward intact. You may find something specific you want to keep and apply to a different song or as the starting point for a new idea: a chord progression, melody, beat, guitar effect, lyric, etc. This is a great problem-solving approach to adopt, and the flexibility it takes to pick and choose what you like and want to develop out of an idea is a massively helpful skill to have as a songwriter. 

Don’t be afraid when you don’t know what to do with your music. It’s something bound to come up again and again the longer you create, and often, the songs that writers struggle with the most end up being their best. 





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