In the first part of this series, I provided a few ideas to help aspiring music producers kick writer’s block by doing some unconventional processing in their digital audio workstations. This time around, I’d like to discuss some less tech-oriented methods to help you songwriters out there defeat writer’s block.

Change Up Those Chords

Sometimes all we need to get inspired is a change of scenery. The same is true of songwriting and often the real issue with writer’s block is that we’re working within chord structures that we’ve grown tired of. It’s easy to get comfortable with the same chord shapes on your instrument. Once this happens, it’s difficult to go outside of that comfort zone because it can feel like starting over.

Chords_Scales_chord_identification shows you how chords look on both piano keyboards and guitar fretboards.

However, once you’ve armed yourself with a deeper knowledge of chord theory, the whole process of songwriting becomes more fluid. Chords are to colors as musicians are to painters. Arming yourself with a broader palette will make picking the right chord for the mood you’re trying to convey an easier and more enjoyable process.

Here are a couple of resources for pianists and guitarists that you can use to help you learn new chord shapes:

New chord shapes for piano
New chord shapes for guitar

The next time you hear a song you like, take a moment to look up the chords. A quick Google search of the song title + “chords” will give you what you’re looking for. If you come across any chords in the song that you can’t play off hand, look them up using the resources above.

It’s good to keep in mind that there’s no such thing as copywriting a chord progression. If you hear a progression you like, take it! Write a new melody and lyrics over it and you’ve got yourself a new song! This happens in the music industry more often than you might think. If you don’t like that idea, try reversing the chords in your favorite song and writing a song over that.

One last idea for guitarists: Try out some alternate tunings! E-A-D-G-B-E is the standard tuning for a guitar, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play around with some variations! Try D-A-D-G-A-D and F-A-C-G-C-E for some open-tuning fun! Just be careful with tunings that bring strings up in pitch (TIP: Go slow or you’ll snap a string).

Change Up the Interface

If those chords don’t get your creative juices flowing, maybe it’s less about the colors you’re working with and more about the tools. If you’ve been playing your instrument a long time, the experience of playing it can grow a little stale. When this happens, it’s good to step away and try something new.

If you need to switch up some chords, Chordbook can help you transpose songs into different keys.

Remember that clarinet your older brother used to wail on? Maybe it’s stuffed away in the closet somewhere! What about grandpa’s old banjo? Or mom’s violin? Even if you don’t feel experienced with the instrument you have access to, it can be a lot of fun to spend a day figuring out how to interface with a new tool. Presenting yourself with a different framework to write within will help you create ideas you would never have thought of when you’re playing an instrument that you do feel proficient with.

Thanks to electronic music production, there are dozens of ways to get a cool result out of an instrument that you have no experience playing. Even if all you can get out of your brother’s clarinet is a single blaring note, you can do all kinds of cool things with the sound. Chop it up, stutter it, pitch it or use the waveform it creates as the basis for a new synth patch.

If you don’t have access to any neat instruments in the house, you can scan Craigslist looking for cheap solutions. People are getting rid of old woodwinds and horns all the time for cheap prices. Try scanning the shelves at Goodwill for old keyboards. Sometimes old Casio keyboards with cool retro sounds will turn up in the electronics section. That’s 100 new patches right there!

If you don’t feel like leaving the house, start sampling pots and pans! Click some spoons together. Fill up some wine glasses, wet your finger and drag it around the rim to make it sing. You can build an awesome sample library out of just about any household item if you get a little creative.

I hope these ideas help you think of others! The next time writer’s block hits, don’t despair! Just look at the songwriting process with an open mind and you’ll be recording hits again in no time.

And make sure to check out Part 1!

DMA instructor Damien Verrett is a singer/songwriter/producer/filmmaker from Sacramento, Calif. He performs under the stage name So Much Light. Check out Damien Verrett’s recent album!