Getting Unstuck When Writing Music

I sometimes find myself unable to change or add to a half-finished song I've written. This is especially true when I’m writing the song in a piece of software (I write using Reason 7). 

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I have a particular electro-pop song that's around 70% complete (working title: "Semvyres"). I haven’t written the ending yet, and some of the verses still need filling out with more melodies and harmonies.

Here's where I get stuck - I just end up listening to the song over and over again, but don't change anything. I'm unable to make an impact on the music; I'm stuck.

How do I get out of it? The answer lies by answering a single question:

“Am I creating? Or am I editing?”

Once you can answer that question out loud - commit to your answer for at least 5 minutes.

Being Creative

If you decide that you want to be creative, commit to it and only allow yourself to create (no editing allowed!). 

Here are some examples of “editing” that you’ll want to AVOID if you’ve committed to being creative:

  • arranging your music or changing the order of things
  • erasing anything that you’ve written
  • thinking about whether the music you’re writing is “good” or “worthwhile” - leave that to your editor side!
  • fiddling with the tones and sounds of already existing instruments (creating new sounds is totally fine)
  • just practicing a song and not coming up with anything new

I typically find a “creating” mindset to be more difficult to get into than an editing mindset - but it can be more fun!

When I’m creating, I don’t think about the song structure or the way things go together. What I do is, I look a small section of my music (maybe just 10 or 20 seconds of music) and I start writing new melodies, harmonies, riffs, or new instruments.

I don’t worry too much about what it sounds like, or if I’m “doing it right”. All I worry about is: nothing! Just having fun and coming up with new things to add is all I do.

The best musical pieces I’ve ever written were when I was “just fooling around” and not taking the music too seriously; taking yourself “seriously” is a sure-fire way to kill all of your creative juices. Just have fun.

If you don’t know what I mean by “having fun”, try this exercise:

Start by closing your eyes…

...oh wait. Was I supposed to say something? I figured that with your eyes closed, you wouldn’t really be able to read anyways, so you’d just be forced into inventing the answer yourself.

That isn’t going to cut it? Okay, okay. Let’s try again. Here's what I mean by "having fun":

Start by closing your eyes, and now think of the most fun you’ve ever had playing music while you were alone. Don’t think about playing shows or public performances, but just think about a time that you were writing music, and just enjoying yourself.

Go back to that place in your mind.

Now do it. Grab your guitar or keyboard or trumpet, and just have a good time. Feel free to rid yourself of the pressure of doing something “good”, but just have fun messing around with your instrument.

Learn more about being creative in the article “being creative - unlocking your intimate inner artist.” 

Being Destructive

If you’ve decided you want to commit to editing, your main focus is going to be on:

  • arranging your song
  • erasing sections that don’t work
  • repurposing melodies in interesting ways
  • and other editing tasks (mentioned above).

In your mind, you are going to want to avoid creating new melodies for your music until you feel that your writer’s block is gone. 

Just focus on weeding out all the bad in your song, so that there’s only good left.

Learn more about editing in "being destructive - the editor".

Why Commit?

The whole point of the “commit to creating/editing” exercise is to fix "not knowing what to do". Once you feel fixed, feel free to do whatever you want and shed those limitations.

You might only need to be “committed” for 5 minutes for your problem to be solved. The point is that you make up your mind about whether you’re editing or creating, and once you’re committed you’ll have a direction.

Writer’s block shrinks and shrivels in the light of direction.

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.