A simple but rarely used songwriting & arrangement technique
This is a songwriting technique that I almost didn’t want to write about. It’s so silly and obvious that I thought I might be the only person to find use with it. As I pondered it for a few days, this technique became more and more intriguing as a way to get ideas down and arranged quickly.
A common problem people have with songwriting is sound design, programming & arrangement. This is because you constantly have to get out of your flow to try to dial in an idea. Often times this leads to you forgetting what you were trying to do in the first place. Once you’ve forgotten your original inspiration, everything you do from there is a bit of a shot in the dark.
If only you could lay down all your ideas in realtime without having to stop & lose your flow.
I’d like to help you do that.
Hum it out
Instead of going directly to your favorite drum kit & synth presets & trying to get things dialed in, how about laying down a blueprint first. What I suggest is you put some headphones on & get a mic (or use your computer’s internal mic). It doesn’t have to be great, so don’t sweat looking for the perfect one. Next tap out the tempo of the idea in your head.
Turn on the metronome, hit record on a track and beatbox/hum your song idea into the mic to the click track in your headphones. Try to record your song idea as one take even if you don’t have it all worked out. You’ll find that when you get into this flow, ideas just come to you. It’ll be like you’re making it up as you go along. You’ll naturally create little variations, breaks, drum fills & interesting edits. It’s ok to overdub over certain parts later, but just get a rough idea.
Now, you’re probably thinking this is ridiculous, but stick with me. What makes this incredibly useful is that after the end of this exercise you’ll actually have a structured song idea with breaks that aren’t forced because you put them there when they felt “right”. You may have even come up with more clever rhythms & tweaks because you weren’t limited by technology.
Another advantage is that there are only so many parts you can hum at once. You are mainly going to get “impressions” of the idea in your head instead of a perfectly accurate depiction. This will also tell you the most important parts in each section so you can keep things interesting without overloading your song with too much stuff.
Feel free to add another voice layer to fill in some details if you like. I’d imagine myself starting with drums and bass & then let it go wherever it takes me. You’ll naturally be humming the most “stand out” element of your song idea as you go.
Once you’ve gone through this process, you’ll have a clear path to follow as you dive in to the more technical parts of creating your song without getting lost. You’ll be able to now take the time to perfect your sounds in confidence. I think you’ll find that different (and typically better) ideas come to you in real time instead of with you poking in midi notes, trying to come up with that perfect drum fill.
Of course you don’t have to stick with your original idea, but it still always helps to have a rough blueprint. Happy accidents will still naturally come, so don’t worry too much about that. The songwriting process now will just be matching the sounds in the computer to the sounds you had in your head using your “hum” track as a reference.
Until the computer is able to take ideas straight out of your head, this is the best I can offer.
I’d love to hear how this approach works for some of you who might be struggling.
Next I’ll show you how to create musical ideas using something I like to call musical meditation.
Happy Music Making,
This is actually a great technique that even some HUGE names use. I had the pleasure of working at the studios where Michael Jackson did his biggest albums, and got to meet those engineers (Yes, Bruce Swedien and his partner at the time). They told me that when Michael would have an idea this is basically exactly what they would do. Setup a mic in the booth, and let Michael beatbox every instrument, then Quincy would take those recordings and work with the studio musicians to make them come to life.
It’s a great way to get things out quickly without too much technical interference, and a great tip!
This is something I’ve been thinking about doing with basslines, but I never have. I always think of some groovy ass bass to go with it, and hum out awesome rhythms and stuff, then actually get there to track it and end up with someing too simple.
I gotta try this
Tnx for this article. Getting into the flow (into the zone) is the key in creative process. Im definitely going to use this technique in my workflow. What Im doing now is this: I lay down the basic beat and bass (or just the sub bass) and I tweak the sound of it to my likeness. Then I just play it in a loop while doing something totally different like browsing the web, looking out of the window watching the trees in the wind, watching ppl walking, smoking a cigarette or a bit of weed, cooking … anything but clicking in Ableton. As I move around the speakers I also hear it from different angles or distances. With solid certainty, after a few minutes of passive listening with getting busy elsewhere, ideas start to emerge out of the blue. Beat pieces, stubs, little melodies. As soon as some idea keep coming back again and again I simply add it to the mix. And with that piece integrated I repeat the process and more ideas that fit nicely with the previous continue to emerge. The flow is the key and I think this humming advice is a precious one 😉 Tnx.
Awesome stuff once again mate.
I had this idea last night after writing a song, for a vocal or lead melody, however i could not get back to the studio to record it. In future I think I will perhaps record me humming the part into my phone so I can add it later!
I find that once you get out of your comfort zone ie. studio space or where you normally write your music, the ideas will come.
Thanks again for this.
good technique . It enhances originality and creativity. People should not just make music we need to feel it