Outside The Box - Songwriting Lessons and Tips
“I’m An Adventurer, I Like Invention, I Like Discovery” – Karlheinz Stockhausen
There may be times when you want to experiment with your song writing and go beyond the standard
means and practices of the time or genre. Here are a few ideas that may help think outside the box and
add some experimental aspect to your song writing process:
Oblique Strategies – created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975, Oblique Strategies are a set of
cards that offer challenging constraints to help the artist. They help break creative blocks and
encourage lateral thinking. Some example includes “Use and old idea”, “Try Faking It” and “Only one
element of each kind”. You can purchase the full set of cards from Amazon or there are websites that
give an interactive version for free. Search “oblique strategies online”.
Xenochrony – A technique used by Frank Zappa, Xenochrony is a studio technique that can be applied
to the song-writing process. Zappa would extract guitar solos or other musical parts from his work and
place it out of context in a new piece of music. You can also try this technique in you song. For example
you are writing a love song (Song A) and a protest song (Song B). Try taking the lyrics of the first verse
in Song A and make that the middle 8 of Song B. Take the chord progressions in the outro of Song B
and make it the introduction to Song A. This process requires a lot of trial and error to get any
noticeable results, but you will find that the possibilities are endless.
Aleatoric Music – This is music by chance. Many experimental composers of the 20th century would
use a set of dice to compose their pieces. If you are stuck for a song structure, assign each section to a
side of the dice (so verse = 1 chorus = 2 intro =3 etc) and start rolling. You can take this even further by
assigning a number to a chord or note duration. Online number generators are also available for this
technique. For example, if you have a set of ten lyrics, you would label them 1-10 and then set the
parameters on the generator 1-10 and let chance decide the order of lyrics.
Generators – The internet offers a host of opportunities for any aspiring song-writer. With the right sites
you can write a full song without using any of your own mental abilities. Searching “generator” after the
terms lyric, chord, melody and structure will give you websites that generate songs for you. Certainly the
resulting piece may be average at best but it is better than nothing “But that’s cheating!” you may say.
“Is it?” No one would know if you wrote your song using this method. For all we know a top ten hit could
have been written using music generators.
These are just some of the techniques that allow you to think outside of the box. Often when writing
music or creating any form of art one of the most creative things to do is forget everything you know and
get out of your comfort zone. These techniques allow you to do that.