What do you when you hit a wall in writing music? What do you do to get over obstacles or hard times writing stuff? I mean, you just can’t fill gaps and be good? So how do you do it?
Dear Writer’s Block,
Every time I finish a record I just look at the fret board and think, “that’s it!, there are no more possible combinations of notes, I will never be able to write another riff”. Then sure enough a month or two later I’ll have the guitar on, it will come to me, and a new riff is born. It’s then that I am reminded there are millions of sick riffs out there waiting to be rocked! Keeping that spirit in mind there are 5 rules I follow that always help get me back in the game. Now they may not be the best for you and are definitely not the only ways to fight off writers block but, they have all proven to work for me time and time again:
Rule 1: KEEP TRYING. Riffs, songs, parts, solos, none of them are going to write themselves. So the first rule is crucial. You have to put the guitar on (or whatever you decide to write with) and go to it.
Rule 2: TRY TO KEEP YOUR MIND OPEN. The best way for me to do this is to try different tunings, different time signatures, and tempos. I write in E, Standard, Drop D, Drop C, Open C, B Standard. All those tunings force me to play different patters, note choices, and it changes up the entire sound of the guitar. When I find something I like I see if I can move it to Drop C (which is the standard tuning my band normally uses). If I can’t move it because the shapes are too hard or it just doesn’t sound the same (or better) then I try to write a few more riffs or themes in that tuning. If I can do that, well then a song is born with a different tuning. Its important here not to go crazy. I mean the idea is to trick your hands into playing something you wouldn’t normally stumble on to. You don’t want to have 300 songs in different tunings because live that is going to be just insane to deal with.
Rule 3: FIND INSPIRATION OUTSIDE YOUR GENRE. Its always good to look outside your genre. I hear things all the time in pop, rock, hip hop, hell, even ambient noise music, that sound like cool ideas to incorporate. Its just important to really listen to music you like. Maybe you hear a chord change, maybe you hear a quiet part get loud a certain way. The goal is not to copy it, it’s to find inspiration and use your mind to give it your own interpretation.
Rule 4: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. I am constantly recording demos, riffs and songs all the time. I have a way to do it on the road, at home, even in the bathroom. See, a good idea can come anywhere and sometimes you have an ok idea and with fresh ears it turns into an amazing one. It’s important to be able to write something and then get emotional distance, that way you can really tell if it’s good or not.
Rule 5: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. There is nothing more lame then an artist that doesn’t do this. It doesn’t mean you always have to change songs and riffs around a million times in order to make a riff rip! It also doesn’t mean write a riff and stand by it to no exception. It actually means find a moderation of the two. When something feels right it is; when it doesn’t feel right it isn’t.
Writers block isn’t easy, its actually fairly common and usually strikes all of us at some point. But it can also be the beginning of an amazing song. Its from that point of nothing that something is born and as long as you are willing to try, keep an open mind, listen to the music around you, document everything, and trust your instincts those magic riffs will come a flowin’!