Got writer’s block? Use the “Four Strategies of Creativity” to plan your next move.
These four strategies can help you start new songs and lyrics; get songs unstuck; and finish them. They can help you change existing works to create something totally new; they can help you finish challenging first drafts; and they can help you polish a good song until it’s great.
On a small scale, these four strategies of creativity can help you place the perfect note or word. On a larger scale, you can use them to invent entirely new genres of music.
The four strategies are:
Let’s say you’ve got a line of lyric to play around with. You could:
- Add words to the line
- Subtract words that’re already there
- Replace a word in the line with another word or phrase
- Rearrange the line’s words into a new order
The Four Strategies of Creativity work equally well for altering passages of music, too. You can apply any one of the Four Strategies to:
- A line of lyric
- A rhyme scheme
- A particular song section
- A song’s overall structure
- A chord
- A chord progression
- A melody
- A rhythm
So you can use the Four Strategies of Creativity to change any portion of a piece of music or any portion of a lyric.
For example, given a passage of music, you could add notes, add chord changes, add notes to a chord to extend it (like changing a C to a CMaj7, for example), add a counter-melody, add a bridge section, or add most anything else you can dream of.
“Add” can also mean to increase, so you could also add more beats per minute to the song’s tempo to make it faster.
Subtraction is an underrated creative strategy.
You could subtract notes; you could subtract all chords, leaving the melody entirely naked; you could subtract the fourth verse to shorten the song; you could subtract notes from a specific chord to simplify it. Finally you could subtract the weakest sections from the song to shorten it or make room for rewrites.
You could also take “subtract” to mean “decrease”; for example decreasing the song’s beats per minute to create a slower tempo.
You could rearrange the notes of the melody, playing it entirely in reverse. You could rearrange the lines of lyric within a verse. You could rearrange the order of sections in your song. You could rearrange which instruments play which notes.
Finally, you could replace any note with another, any chord with another, any instrument with another, any musical key with another, any single line of lyric with another, any time signature with another, and any word with another.
Small changes add up
It may seem basic, but the roots of these Four Strategies run surprisingly deep – by making enough additions, subtractions, replacements, and rearrangements, you can change a song so fundamentally that it becomes your own original work. These strategies are present in all art forms, and even in all of life itself. Everything changes. New things appear; old things are repaired (or not) and given new purposes; eventually they’re replaced; things get moved to new locations, new contexts. Even our bodies flourish and break down. This is the creative dance of all things, especially this thing we call life.
Use these Four Strategies to make small edits. Use them to drastically renovate one of your songs in progress. Use them to transform a song you admire, little by little, until it becomes unrecognizable.
Whenever inspiration runs out and you’re not sure what to do next, use these Four Strategies of Creativity like a compass to guide you through.
Creative Commons photo of a compass by CalsidyRose