If you are like most songwriters and performing artists today, you probably have a go-to instrument that you are comfortable with. For most, it is either a guitar or piano. If you are writing in a pop or worship style, you can get away with knowing a just a handful of chords and still craft a strong song. You know what I am talking about—the G C D EM stuff and just moving your capo around. I’ve been playing guitar and piano for over 16 years now and I am guilty of this as well.
Here’s the thing: The majority of us may play an accompanying instrument, but we are not masters of it by any means. We typically have a comfort zone of a few chords, strum patterns and tempos. Naturally what tends to happen when you sit down to write is that your songs all start to sound the same. Yeah there might be some variations, but the same elements and structures are always in there. They stay in the same range and our melodies are stifled by our limited ability on our instrument.
The way to break that cycle is to ditch your instrument in your writing sessions. I find that my best melodies and rhythms come when I am driving in the car or singing in the shower. The inspiration comes and I need to let it out without the ability to strum my guitar. I can sing in any range, and add some weird minor or diminished notes and off beat phrasing that my guitar playing could never make room for. The beauty of working this way is that the sky is the limit when it comes to melodies, rhythms and lyrics. You have no box to keep you encased in those same four chords. Heck, there might not even be a chord needed for your song! But we automatically think our melodies have to have a strum or something behind them.
Tip: A good way to see your limitations is to listen to some of your favorite songs from other artists … ones that you know you have a difficult time playing and singing at the same time. If you can’t sing and play a song together, then how can you create one that is outside of your box by singing and playing together?
So don’t let your ability on your instrument limit your songwriting potential. Break out your iPhone or whatever you use to record on the fly and always be ready to hit the red button, no matter how silly the melody or lyrics are. Then, if you feel the song needs more than what you can play, that’s when collaboration is your best friend. Find someone who is well-versed on a particular instrument, in the style you’re going after, and sing the melody to them and see what they come up with. Another great way is to get with a drummer and have them play a groove. All you have is the beat to work with, and that allows for a lot of room to create. Play to your strengths and allow the song to be the best it possibly could be.