How to Use Improvisation to Spark Songwriting Creativity
While it’s really useful to use common chord progressions and song structure templates to edit songs, it can become a bit limiting and rigid when trying to come up with new song ideas.
For this reason, improvisation can breathe new life to your songwriting and help you come up with things you would’ve never expected.
We’re going to go over a few tips that will help direct your improvisation while still leaving room for whatever may come. You’ve likely tried some of these already, and some you may be trying for the first time.
Jam using backing tracks of drums or pads
What is great about backing tracks of drums and pads is that they are usually more foundational layers of songs, setting the rhythm and harmony.
This will allow you the space to jam riffs and melodies on top of them and if you want to keep the drum beat or the progression with your own ideas over them, you can. Because many songs use the same chords and beats and you’ll probably adjust things to fit your song better as you go anyway.
Jam to your favorite artists and bands’ songs
Most bands and artists create their own sound by imitating other artists, then take a few different creative decisions to add their personal flair to them.
So try jamming over a song you like and see what ideas you can come up with while improvising riffs and melodies on top of it. Think of what you would do differently if it was your own song.
The fine line here is knowing when you’re taking inspiration and when you are just becoming a clone of that artist. If you want to be seen as your own artist make sure you don’t borrow ideas too literally.
Use a loop pedal and stack layers of sounds
This is just a really fun thing to do and can help you create some really interesting ambiances.
I recommend starting a loop with bass notes, then build from there. It could be powerchords, regular chords, riffs, melodic harmonies, or sequences of notes layered on top of each other etc.
Feel free to get weird and use effect pedals like delays, reverb, fuzz, and pedals that make your guitar sound like other instruments like synths or stringed instruments etc. Just have fun with it.
Make a chord progression without checking the key and play melodies by ear
Sometimes the best thing you can do to be creative is to be completely lost about what is happening and just winging it by ear.
Don’t think, don’t try to guess the key, just listen for the intervals and go up and down as needed.
You will probably make tons of mistakes but that’s ok because very possibly some of those mistakes are going to sound sick and you wouldn’t have found it otherwise because it’s some obscure high level music theory that only 5 people on the planet understand.
If you want you can tell everyone you totally did it on purpose 💪.
Change tuning and play by ear
The next level to the previous point is to change the tuning of your instrument. It will break you out of patterns you are used to, but more importantly, you’ll be more lost and you’ll need to rely on your ear more.
Also, the new tuning will allow you to do things you wouldn’t usually be able to physically do because of the way the instrument is constructed.
Try just changing the tuning on one of the strings of your guitar for example. You’d be surprised how big a difference it makes.
Wrapping it up
Improvisation isn’t just playing solos over a chord progression. It’s anything where you’re just coming up with ideas on the spot, and it can help you write entire songs.
My goal with this post was to show you a few ways you could be a bit more intentional and have some more direction as you improvise, rather than just saying something like “just start playing and see what comes out”, which although you should also totally do that, it’s a bit vague.
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