The Vocalist Outside the Box III
Stop letting your inner critic interfere with your flow – says Joey Elkins
We really can be our own worst critics when it comes to composing.
How many times have you written the first line of lyric, only to scrub it out a second later? This repeats itself 20 times and you are still left with…zilch.
We’re going to look at several life-giving ideas, but perhaps the first is the most important:
Don’t scrub anything out while you are creating.
The Importance of a Bad Song
Too many songwriters lose their flow by putting too much weight on that first line being “just right”.
Keep going; don’t stop the flow!
Allowing yourself to write a bad song is just as important as the totally inspired work… because a week later you might look back at it and suddenly you know what to do with it to make it great – maybe it sparks a better idea later down the track…
Finding something you like about a “bad” song allows you to inspire yourself to take it further.
Now let’s look at some other ideas that continue to help songwriters the world over:
Set The Mood
Just like you wouldn’t try to fall asleep in the middle of a party with bright lights and loud people – think about setting up your surrounding space to succeed. Often turning the lighting down, putting on some candles and even some oil or incense can help you to tune in artistically. Pick your moment. Perhaps late in the afternoon when the sun’s pouring golden light through the window, or 3 am when there’s barely a sound. Hey, you might even prefer to not be in a room at all, but sitting on the top of a hill or at the beach. Identify where and when you feel most inspired to write songs. Don’t be held hostage by trying find the “perfect” place to create – but if the place you are songwriting isn’t working – then make a change.
Imagine the topic…
Imagine the topic you want to write about unfolding in front of you like a movie and just go with it. Don’t think too much! Just keep writing what you see, even if it’s just the odd word here and there. Jot it down. Think of the odd words like pieces of a puzzle… you might not know where they belong yet, but by writing them down you’ve acknowledged they’re a choice if you need them later down the track.
Mix Up Your Method
Try to do some things in an order you haven’t tried before. If you’ve always written you lyrics first, then try doing your melody first, lyrics second and chords last. In other words, choose the process below that you haven’t yet tried:
- Melody first, lyrics second and chords last.
- Chords first, melody second, lyrics last.
- Lyrics first, melody second and chords last.
- Lyric, melody and chords all at the same time.
Turn the Lights Off
OK, here’s a real gem I use all the time! If you’re using piano or guitar to write with, turn all the lights off so that you are in pitch darkness. You mustn’t be able to see what you’re doing – you’re completely shutting out the logical side of your brain (you know, the part of your brain that says “You should play that chord after that one because that always works”). Forget whether you have any theory knowledge (in fact, you can do this without any knowledge whatsoever). Lay your hands on the keys/strings and just play any random combination of notes together at the same time.
Keep the Lights Off
If it sounds wrong, you mustn’t stop; play EVERY chord confidently like you mean it no matter whether you like the combination or not. Let your ears lead you! Strangely, I bet you’ll come across some of the most exquisite chord voicings and combinations you’ve ever played or heard before. Simply stop on a chord you like, turn the light on and either write the notes in the chord down if you know how – or remember the shape. Just one of these chords might be the very thing you needed to take your song somewhere fresh and exciting! The great thing about this technique is that you’re “feeling” your way to new possibilities and jumping out of being trapped in “what you know”.
Pretend Your Songwriting Is Someone Else’s
If I really think something I’ve made up is awful, I’ll imagine it’s not my work at all; but someone whose work I really respect. I’ll then ask myself, “If so and so had written and was singing these words and melody, would I think this was groovy?” – If the answer is yes, then I’ll leave it. That’s a great trick you can play with yourself to get some perspective on whether you’re being too hard on your work or too picky.
Perhaps you have some other tricks to share? I’d love to hear back on what your experiences of trying some of these out are… did it help?
London based vocalist, Joey Elkins, is gaining attention as a jazz, funk, soul and contemporary singer. As a child in Adelaide, Australia, she delighted her jazz musician parents and friends with her high register, a range close to six octaves and a commanding style. Joey’s first jazz recording attracted the interest of some of Australia’s finest jazz musicians and before leaving for London, Joey was already a respected and regular performer in some of Australia’s top jazz venues. Being a natural improviser and composer enables Joey to own a variety of styles. Joey is currently recording and composing original music which will be released as a CD within the coming year. Joey’s Music and Website
Feature Image – http://www.flickr.com/photos/dolmansaxlil/4487159833/ – dolmansaxlil
Piano Image – http://www.flickr.com/photos/abandonedhero/2538507707/sizes/z/in/photostream/ – Spangborn