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Idea density

How many things are going on in the music you’re listening to? How much is going on in the music you’re writing? In other words, how many ideas are you using at the same time?


A common mistake is to use too many ideas in the same song. For instance, the guitar plays three different riffs, plays the bass line for one of the verses, and the whole song changes from a rock to a funk feel in the chorus while changing keys a couple of times.


None of these are a bad idea on their own (although three different riffs is a bit much). Put them all into one song and you get a mess.


Isolating ideas

Try isolating each idea, and using it as the basis for an entire song.


  • Having the guitar play the bass line is a nice idea. It varies the texture by eliminating chords for one verse. That simple move is memorable if it’s not surrounded by a bunch of other things competing for attention.


  • A key change shifts the listener into a different world. This can be really effective, but not easy to do convincingly.


  • A change in feel is a good idea if done well. Changing the genre is difficult to do convincingly, and can sound contrived.


Instead of a straight up genre change, try changing the amount of activity in some way.

For instance, the verse might have a driving guitar rhythm while the chorus uses longer, held chords. The art is in finding the right balance between rhythmically busy and relaxed. Finding it requires work and experimentation.



A good tool for generating ideas is to come up with musical opposites. Then come up with ideas based on those.


For example:

  • Loud/quiet
  • Solo performer/entire band
  • Busy/sparse
  • Legato/staccato
  • Clean/distorted
  • Arpeggiated chords/strummed chords
  • Muted/resonant


Come up with some of your own. They don’t have to be specifically music-related.


For instance:

  • Gritty/smooth
  • Hard/soft
  • Airy/dense


These kind of practice can inspire good musical ideas.


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