Boosting musical confidence by tweaking the familiar 

So you sit down in your studio with a blank slate. You open your DAW software and consider the task ahead. You want to make something incredible, but you’d be happy just to make something that’s not crap.

What are crap ideas & what are good ones?

I have my one definition for sure & although I’m sure several of you would agree with me, a lot of you define “good” in a totally different way. That’s completely fine. At the end of the day, you are making music for a specific audience in mind which is probably completely off my radar. The real question is, how do I define what is good for my style?

Where do good ideas come from? When you hear a good song, what does it have in common what other songs that you consider good? I have a theory & I’d be happy to share it with you now.

True originality or an idea without “roots” is probably going to fail. When others listen to it, they will most likely not “connect” with it. That connection conjures up emotions, and your emotions tell you whether something is good or is absolute dog crap.

We can go on a tangent arguing all kinds of obscure & original artists who we consider to make “great” music, but I would argue that the ones that truely stand out have a combination of familiar tones, rhythms or melodies. It’s almost impossible to escape. We thrive on music that is rooted in the familiar, even if it takes you on a wild and strange journey. I’d argue that of all the songs you create, the ones you like most remind you a bit of something else you respect & the ones you like less don’t make that connection.

You can use this to your advantage.

I’ll share with you something I do when I am stuck for a musical idea. The concept is simple, but some people are better at executing it than others. Before I play a single note into my software,  I think of a song I think is great and play around with it in my head. I usually focus on a simple riff or rhythm that I feel captures something amazing. Then I try changing the rhythm just 10% & maybe changing a note or 2.

What I am attempting to do is get something with the same kind of magic without giving away the influence so easily. If I change something in my head I am pretty easily able to tell if the change will work or if it loses the vibe I’m going for completely. Only when I’ve created something in my head that feels good do I start the process of laying down the idea. It’s ok to tweak a midi part if that is easier for you. Simply recreate a midi part with a simple sound and start rearranging notes a bit until things start to “click”.

It’s best to start with a basic instrument like a guitar, organ or piano, even if you plan to use completely different instruments. Getting something to sound good on one of those instruments insures you are creating something musical. It’s not that songs created other ways aren’t musical, it’s just that it can sometimes be a crapshoot. You don’t really need to play anything complex, in fact, even better if your idea can be broken down to a few simple chords or notes. Tweaking simple ideas is the easiest way to make something that others will connect with. Even if it will eventually be layered into something complex. It’s not about copying, it’s about seeding your music with an inspiring idea. When the foundation of your song moves you, you will be more likely to layer this idea with more inspired ideas & authentic emotions.

Writing this way can also be a confidence boost. If you are playing something that reminds you of something else, it’s easiest to think of your own music as good. If something similar was good enough, surely yours has a better chance of being well received, right?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what others think. What matters is you gained a new skill that helps you write more music that you are proud of.

How do you distinguish good music from bad?  Leave a comment & let me know!

Here’s some other thoughts on building musical confidence & if you been thinking about giving up, read this.


Happy music making,



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