So, it’s a Monday morning after a nice relaxing weekend…you’ve had 2 days of no agenda, no deadlines, no scheduling. But now it’s 9 am and you’ve been staring at a computer screen or down at your guitar or piano and feeling the dread of having to create. Has that ever happened to you? It happens all the time to me but here are 7 ways to kick start your imagination and get into the flow once again.
1. Mine magazines for song ideas and titles
It doesn’t matter if it’s In Style or Popular Mechanics; titles and ideas are on every page. Just look at the articles and advertisements and let your imagination flow from the titles, taglines and content. What pops out at you? I picked up a a fashion magazine and found these titles (just spending 5 minutes looking through them):
1. Every Shade of You
3. Dinner with Friends
4. Find Your Perfect
These might not be the actual titles you attach to your song, but do these titles lead you to one that you’re compelled to write about ? Again, the exercise here is allow the words to transport you to your imagination.
2. Throw Up A Loop
This is one of the best ways I know how to get a groove going for a song. Start by browsing the loops in your Garageband application on your Mac or something equivalent on a PC. Find something that moves you and play it over and over. Or better yet, drag it into Garageband or your favorite DAW program and start singing phrases or playing phrases with a guitar or piano against the loop. What kinds of interesting phrases can you create? Record a couple of ideas while you’re fresh and not thinking too hard.
Next, create another track and then start fresh with another melody or rhythmic phrase. Something that starts at a different beat on the bar or with a different note. This could be the start of a verse, a chorus or perhaps a bridge.
Let your imagination go… don’t edit yourself and say to yourself “that’s crap”. Just go at it feverishly and hit record. 80% of the parts I write come from noodling around and/or a mistake I made.
3. Learn a tune you love and then de-construct it
Pick out a song you love (or maybe even one you hate) and learn it. Pick out the chords, find the lyrics and go to town on discovering what makes that song stick with you, resonate with you, move YOU. Then, as an exercise, write a song using the same selection of chords, only in a different order. Or use the same notes of the melody, just in a different order. Or use the same melody, just with a different rhythm.
For instance, if the chorus starts on beat 1, then try placing the beat on 2, 3 or 4. If the chord progression is 1, 4, 2m, 5 then try starting with 2m, 4, 5 and 1. Just “cut and paste” and see what you come up with.
Remember, all works of art are derivative, but that doesn’t mean we can rip off other people. That won’t work in the long run. Just know that there is plenty of creative energy and scads of ideas within all of us. The only thing we have to do is to TAP it. And that involves digging in and doing the work.
4. Write about an object
This one is fun. What this involves is finding an object in your workspace and writing about that object. I once wrote about a swivel chair because I was sitting on one. Or how about “cup of coffee” or “paper clip”.
It sounds silly, sure, but what kinds of experiences are underneath the object that are part of your sensory experiences? The gems sometimes pop out when we’re faced with ordinary things around us. They can serve to bring us into our deep selves to write about our experiences in ways that no one else can. It’s what makes us all unique.
Tackle your object from the senses. Think about the smell, the taste, the sound, the texture, the feeling. This is where the detail comes through and the cliches go “bye-bye”.
Maybe this is how songwriters like Brad Paisley and Toby Keith came up with their tunes “Alchohol”, or “Red Solo Cup!”
5. Be an eavesdropper
Ever at the local Starbucks or local coffee hang by yourself? This one is fun. Just listen to the conversations around you. What are people saying and expressing? Is someone mad? Sad? Happy? What words come out of their mouth to express those emotions? Sometimes it can make for the excellent fodder for songs.
Just don’t be pervy and weird about it though. 🙂
6. Open up a rhyming dictionary
Try the book version or an on-line version like “B-Rhymes” if you’re more tech savvy… whichever way is more comfortable for you. Look up a word… let say it’s “hidden”. And then look up all the B-Rhymes for it. Let’s say you find these:
– written – kidding
– missing – killing
– bitten – willing
Let your imagination go. Let the words lead you into your senses. Where does your mind go to? Perhaps an experience from your past? To a particular memory that is haunting or heartwarming? What words describe that emotion that you’re feeling or experience you’ve had? Let that word be the conduit.
The exercise here is not to get stuck with just trying to jam in a rhyming word. Chances are you won’t find one, or the one you do choose is cliche or doesn’t support the idea. Instead, by letting the words just take you somewhere, you may produce the most interesting rhymes because they come from something real within you.
7. Start a song based on your phone number
For instance, if the last 4 digits of your phone number are 4245, then you would translate that (if you decide to write in the key of C) to F, Dm , F , G. If that progression isn’t moving to you, then try the first 3 digits of your phone number and see what that brings. You could use any numbers you have… social security, driver’s license, passwords… and translate them to notes.
There is no shortage of ideas out there. The only shortage is our will to mine them from within ourselves. We can remain empowered instead of distracted.
I hope this is helpful to those who might be feeling the morning blahs.
Cheers, and happy creating!