William Lewis
William Lewis
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Improving your writing sessons

It’s really nice to finally get back to writing again. I was without a computer for quite some time. All I needed was a $30 power cord, but as many of you know when you work a minimum wage job and barely make any money, that’s a lot to come up with. Either that or I am very, very poor. Anyway, I do have an arpeggio lesson in the works. It’s more tuned to rhythm guitar this time around. It should be up next week, but this week I’ve just done up a simple article.

It’s not a standard “This is how ideas come together.” thing. I realized that sometimes when I sat down, I could write and riffs just came together seemingly effortlessly. Yet other times, I just couldn’t seem to really find anything that worked. I’m looking away from theory and musical knowledge here. There are many outside factors that can impact your state of mind and therefore have an impact on your musical writing abilities.

First, if you want to get some writing done, set aside a time to do so. That can be hard at times, but to really get something done that is what needs to be done. I work, I have a kid, so it’s often hard for me to find that time. When he’s running around, I have no problem pulling of exercises, but I can’t really get into coming up with riffs. It just doesn’t feel right. When he goes to bed, that’s when I really dig into my guitar. I’ve found I’m more productive later on at night and into very early morning. Your brain is a very complex organ. Some people are more creative late at night than others. Some are better in the morning. It’s really individual, so you have to decide what works best for you.

There are times when I can just get stuff down no matter what’s going on though. It’s pretty rare though. Another interesting thing about your brain is that a little background noise, like a tv or radio, can actually boost your creativity. I’m not sure of where the study was done, but it was a definite improvement over just being in a quiet room. I usually put on South Park. Simply because I’ve seen every episode a million times. There is not too much temptation to watch instead of play and it provides that little background noise too. I usually like to be by myself as well, at least during the initial writing process. Once I have the riff sounding alright, I don’t mind other people hearing it.

Another thing I’ve noticed myself doing over the years is sometimes picking up various guitars during a writing session. I had a bunch at the time and I figured I needed to play most of them for no real reason other than that I had them. However, I’d find some that I really didn’t connect with. I always went to either a Jackson or a Gibson. Even now, I see that on a smaller scale. I’ve got an Ibanez RG560 that is great for warming up and doing technical exercises on, but I really don’t use it for writing. I always fall back my my Jackson hybrid or my Epiphone Les Paul Custom. Whenever I pick up one of those everything flows along very smoothly. Most of my lessons done on here are composed with that Les Paul.

I’ve even tried switching around pickups, but that didn’t even have an effect. I still preferred those same two. That’s why I’m a firm believer in that the feel is more important. Sound is a changeable variable. If you’re comfortable with the guitar, but don’t like the sound, you can easily change that. However, if a neck is too thin or thick, the body shape isn’t right for you, or you don’t like the scale length, you can’t really go about changing that as easily or cheaply. If you’re comfortable with the guitar, that is one less thing to worry about. You’ll be able to concentrate more on the music.

State of mind is another aspect when it comes to writing music. I read an interview with Johnny Winter and he basically said that while you’re going through a rough spot in your life, it’s really hard to write anything. Think about a time when you were really stressed or going through something rough. I remember many times like that and during the time, I didn’t feel like writing at all. It was only when it was over that I could look back on it and put something together. So when you sit down to write, try to remove yourself from any problems. You’re there to write, not worry. Any problems you’re having sure aren’t going to be solved in the hour or so you’re writing, so just try to temporarily let the problems go.

That really has helped me through some rough times. I could usually come back to whatever the issue was with a bit of a clearer mind. Dwelling on things is usually not a good idea. You tend to let your mind run away with you. Concentrating on something else is a good release for that kind of thing. Another aspect to this is if you’re in a band situation and you’ll be spending a lot of time writing. Sometimes it’s good to get away and do something else. I usually play a video game for a bit. Since it tells me what to do, it’s a good way to just not think for a while. Then I can come back with a different angle on what I was working on. Even still, sometimes what you have just won’t work. It’s just part of the curve. You don’t get anything good without having some bad ideas first.

Your thought process is also a consideration. I’ve had a lot of college level music theory courses and private classical lessons. I notice at times that I tend to want to go with the “rules” as it were. If you know theory, it’s very organized. After so long, you get conditioned to that. That was a hard thing to break out of, at least for me. Music might have rules and theory, but to a musician it is a means of expression. There is no right or wrong way to do that.

There is a way to sort of break up your thought process. Your brain normally works on logical thought, this works this way because of this and for this reason. Creatively, that can put you at a standstill. I’ve tried writing when I was really tired and found that I tended to come up with more of the unusual riffs that way. When you get really tired, you start getting into abstract thought. That means your brain no longer cares about theory. You just play something and go, “That’s awesome.”. That’s the way I’ve used in the past to shake things up.

One other way to boost your writing is to try to either learn songs of a different style or jam with musicians outside of your usual music of choice. This way, if you find yourself in a creative rut, you can pull from other influences. The more influences you have, the more you’ll be able to pull from and that will give you a better chance to get something out of yourself. Plus, it gives a different edge you can put on your music. Going in that different direction can spawn a ton of new ideas.

Hopefully those ideas up there can help you all out. I know some seem like common sense, but the key to a good writing session is to know all of the elements that might affect it. Some of these I hadn’t really thought about until I sat down to think, what do I do and why do I do that? Writing is always hard. You’re always apt to change stuff around. If you get a solid idea down, you’ll know it. I can’t describe that feeling, but I’m sure you guys know what I’m talking about.