Let’s discuss writing/composing strategies.

  • Hey all,


    Do you suffer from “Can’t Finish The Song” syndrome like me?


    I am not a songwriter really....my lyrics are terrible so I gave that up decades ago lol. Probably should have just stuck with it for the practice but I didn’t and now....Im old lol.


    So instead I just compose music....or I try to!


    The problem for me is developing ideas after the initial idea. I can usually come up with an intro and 4 or 8 bars that I’m satisfied with, and believe have potential. But then....writers block.


    I have a folder filled with unfinished compositions and I’m guessing a lot of you do as well. The thing is there are cool ideas in there! (That is all a matter of opinion of course....someone who loves black metal probably wouldn’t think there are ANY good ideas in there lol)


    So I’m curious to hear how you guys get past this.


    I need good strategies for coming up with the ‘B section’


    Hit me!


    (figured this was the best place to put this thread but maybe it should go elsewhere ?‍♂️)

  • I find that much of the time the vocals are what takes me from one section to the next - ie. having written an intro and a verse, it's much easier for me to come up with a chorus AFTER I've started on the vocals. Or vice versa.


    If you're not a great lyricist (yet), you can always write the melody (heck, I usually just sing nonsense words to come up with a melody, and then write the lyrics to that melody afterwards anyway :-))

  • I would go to the folder and try parts from other compositions and combine them. You have ideas so see what works together.

    Changing keys to combine stuff gives you some wiggle room.

    That’s a good idea. Hadn’t thought of that. My own ‘Day in the Life’!


    But I’d also like some tips on how to write that B section in the moment. I seem to get stuck often.

  • I find that much of the time the vocals are what takes me from one section to the next - ie. having written an intro and a verse, it's much easier for me to come up with a chorus AFTER I've started on the vocals. Or vice versa.


    If you're not a great lyricist (yet), you can always write the melody (heck, I usually just sing nonsense words to come up with a melody, and then write the lyrics to that melody afterwards anyway :-))


    Thanks for the tip. Though I’ve pretty much abandoned the thought of writing lyrics. I’m more interested in writing instrumental music that nobody wants to listen to ???


    But seriously, your idea is good. Just having a melody.


    I suppose my biggest issue is that I second guess everything. I judge it. I think I need to stop judging my music and just write what comes out. If I like it at the end....that’s a bonus!


    I am probably too self critical and once I get an A section composed, I’m worried I’m going to ruin it in the B section, which very likely causes creative paralysis.


    I should probably stop caring and focus on just writing, writing, writing. Maybe out of 10 compositions I’ll get a good one.


    Can anyone relate? Any ideas?

  • If the piece is in a major key, try the relative minor for the B section.


    Half-time is dramatic way to approach a B-section, or doubletime, if the tempo permits.


    Or, if your instrumental keeps adding textures as it progresses, you can use a breakdown as the B section, and then build back up again.


    What kind of instrumentals are you composing?

  • Well I use NI Komplete so there are tons. But I stick to a rock framework of drums, bass, keys and guitar. I also like to add strings, flutes, mellotron, percussion etc. Some synth stuff, but vintage sounding.


    I would say the style I’m into now is mostly vintage sounding prog/psych/jazzy kinds of stuff. I’m way into late 60’s early 70’s sounds....the actual bands and also the modern throwback bands like Tame Impala, Dungen, Jacco Gardner etc. Not sure if you’re familiar with any of those guys.


    I’m not so concerned about harmony. I’m quite well versed in chord changes and chord extensions and not much sounds weird to me these days lol.


    I suppose what I’m looking for is a boost to creativity. How to develop a theme and how to orchestrate and arrange. Again, I seem to be too critical and abandon songs, only to start another project and stall on that one as well.


    I have only finished one full composition, and I like it a lot but it needs remixing. The way I did it was to copy the form of another song....time sig, tempo, number of measures in the different sections etc. Everything but the melody, chords, and instruments. Then I simply filled in the blanks with my own materials.


    Maybe I’ll try that again. It just felt kind of...cheap or something. But whatever works I guess!

  • Using the arrangement structure of existing pieces of music is a great way to develop your own arrangement chops - there is nothing cheap about it. The Master Painters of the Renaissance studied all that came before them, so they could use it as a framework to be true to themselves. The Beatles did it with Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers (and so many more) , Led Zeppelin did it with a whole lotta blues bands, and recently Greta Van Fleet is doing it again.

  • I've found that the more time you spend developing your first section, the trickier it becomes to come up with a complimentary one.


    Apart from that, all the arrangement and production work you put into it tends to limit your options, and much of it will have to change anyway once the context of the B section comes to bear. How can you refine things when you don't know where you're heading?


    All you end up doing is making that one idea sound as good as possible, which, to be honest, is how I feel much of today's pop music is made, resulting in production tricks and breakdowns' being the saviours of what would otherwise be intolerably-boring "tunes". The formula seems to be to get a turd of an idea and polish the absolute shit(!) out of it, to put it bluntly.


    Maybe I'm just old-fashioned. Nevertheless, I stand by the concept that overdevelopment of a section in isolation doesn't cut the mustard. It could work, sure, but much of the effort involved will have to be undone.

  • Great point. I do this all the time. I’ll have an idea, and I want to make it sound as close to what I’m hearing in my head, as soon as possible. I end up burning out on the first section!


    I think that’s why copying the form helped me so much that time. I knew when the next section was coming and how long it was going to be, so before I got bogged down in the first section I threw some chords and a melody into section two, and then the rest of the song almost wrote itself.


    It’s becoming clearer to me that the way to progress is to....progress! In other words, write the darn piece first then worry about the sounds and the ornamentation.



  • Exactly, man.

    Great point. I do this all the time. I’ll have an idea, and I want to make it sound as close to what I’m hearing in my head, as soon as possible. I end up burning out on the first section!

    This is exactly why I said it; I've been guilty of this many times. The temptation to quickly try to get closer to what's in our heads is great, and the more creative one is, the greater the pressure we find ourselves under to do so.


    Learning to trust that we have the talent to take it to where it needs to go later on, when appropriate, is half the battle.

  • Thanks for the tip. Though I’ve pretty much abandoned the thought of writing lyrics. I’m more interested in writing instrumental music that nobody wants to listen to ???

    Yeah, you can toss the melody when you come up with something, or change it to suit better, or even use it for inspiration for a lead track or whatever :-)


    I suppose my biggest issue is that I second guess everything. I judge it. I think I need to stop judging my music and just write what comes out. If I like it at the end....that’s a bonus!

    Yeah, you probably need to think of it more as an iterative process - or something like carving stone. First you get the broad strokes done (well, now I'm into painting I guess, haha :-), and then you give everything another pass to get closer. Then another. The first bit of the process is just to get the rough ideas together. Then you gradually refine.


    I think of it as:

    Idea -> Songwriting -> Arranging -> Pre-production -> Production.

    Each step may be several iterations. Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes it needs more work. Sometimes you go back a stage or two in the process because you find you need to fine tune something to make it work with other stuff you've come up with. The key is to allow yourself to say "okay, this section is 50% done - now I need to work on the next section".


    Music is about tension and release, about contrast. If you don't know what you contrast a section with (ie. what the next section sounds like), it really can't be complete yet.


    I am probably too self critical and once I get an A section composed, I’m worried I’m going to ruin it in the B section, which very likely causes creative paralysis.

    That's why I (and others) suggest you don't spend TOO much time on just one section. You risk painting yourself into a corner - or at least, as you say, get into creative paralysis. And when you spend too much time trying to perfect a single section, you risk ending up "married" to it with no flexibility regarding that part ("I can't change it now, I've worked too hard to get it to where it is now").


    In reality, you can't ruin a section with another, because you can always toss the new idea. But you can SORT OF ruin the potential of a song by focusing too much on just one section.


    I should probably stop caring and focus on just writing, writing, writing. Maybe out of 10 compositions I’ll get a good one.

    That is also true - experience comes from doing it a lot. And that means training yourself to be OK with writing songs that are mediocre by your own standards. But it is critical that you get through the WHOLE process for WHOLE songs - not just sections. You learn by completing stuff (even if it is not perfect) - you DON'T learn nearly enough by NOT completing something that you are completely satisfied with otherwise.


    I've found that the more time you spend developing your first section, the trickier it becomes to come up with a complimentary one.


    Apart from that, all the arrangement and production work you put into it tends to limit your options, and much of it will have to change anyway once the context of the B section comes to bear. How can you refine things when you don't know where you're heading?

    Totally agree :-)

  • Back in my band days I always said "If you don't know what to play, stick with the musical theme(s) of the song". If you listen to classical music it's very often about themes which are varied in rhythm, melody and/or harmonically. This can be a solution to a writer's block. Take a theme and vary it. This has also the advantage of always sounding homogeneously. What's often difficult is finding a good sounding "bridge" between the parts of a song.

    I could have farted and it would have sounded good! (Brian Johnson)

  • I suffered from this exact syndrome for many years. I could come up with hooks that I was really happy with. Then I could never come up with the other sections (verse or chorus depending on where the hook was, bridge, etc.) that I felt was "good enough" to go with the hook. The end result was dozens of songs scattered in pieces on the floor. I never finished anything.


    The way I solved this sounds pretty stupid when I say it out loud, but here it is. I decided to give myself permission to write bad songs.


    In a perfect world, I have a good hook and then everything else comes together with sections of equal quality. But if I bang on it a bit and it's just not coming together, then the mantra becomes, "just finish the damned song." So I do. And sometimes the end result really is a bad song.


    However, once I started actually finishing them, out of that pile of bad songs came a few that I was actually happy with. Those songs never would have existed otherwise, because I would have been stuck in a forever loop of, "but what if the chorus isn't as strong as the verse?"


    So how do you live with yourself on all those bad songs that result? Easy. Just don't play them for anyone. :)

  • I agree with lots of good ideas above :


    • mixing two unfinished songs in a new one
    • I often use Nashville number system over chord changes, gives me fresh start most of the time, really dig that stuff
    • go on on a new song when struck on one, I often get a cool stoner track while getting bored on a complex one, just by playing some riffs to relax.
    • get an outsider help you in other parts ( drums, singer ...)
    • use another instrument to start a new part , like focusing on a cool bass part instead of a new guitar part, then expanse it
    • it's best for me to build the different guitar parts of a track from the beginning of my takes and next improve each part one by one. If I don't, I'm bound to make the fills, pads, lead and all sorts of layers on a single simple double tracked riff. All I got is a super verse , but nothing else :(
    • get some rest from your DAW and all that collection of fancy plugins , force yourself to play on an unplugged electric guitar to find new ideas
    • For the boost of creativity , all I can say is that agree a lot with Ash on brain 'helps' ( replace lp with whatever you want ;)
    • you're free to throw lots of material ( I keep only 1 in 3 song ATM )
  • Hey man


    My process varies depending on where the idea comes from. I find if I am struggling with a chorus when I have nailed the verse I move away from the computer, get an acoustic and start to just play the riff until it developed. I find removing the effects and the amp sometimes lets me be creative from what's inside rather than how the sound makes you play.


    For example I write Grunge (AIC and STP) and Hard Rock style music with a bit of Tool/APC mixed in. If I load up the Zakk Wylde patch I tend to write really heavy music, if I load up a Friedman or the AFD100 the sound makes me play different almost more blues.


    I know from experience of how I write that the initial idea is very rarely part the song in the end. It may spark a chorus that no longer fits the verse so I change the verse. Let the song develop naturally without being precious.


    I also do what some have suggested, record and try other parts over the top.


    One thing I never do is bang my head against a song. Sometimes I will walk in, nail a cool verse then walk off, grab a cup of tea, watch a movie and then a quarter of the way through go back in with a chorus idea.


    Loads of ways to write, it's about finding what works for you.


    Mike

  • Guys, you don't know how much I like this thread, reach of good quality discussion and plenty of good advices...


    I just want to remark this only apparently "stupid" senteces from Chris ...

    The way I solved this sounds pretty stupid when I say it out loud, but here it is. I decided to give myself permission to write bad songs.

    This makes it clear how much important is the psychological aspect of the all thing. If we leave more "free" space to creativity without too severe judging, the more we can go on and finish songs.