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,