The Art of the Muse – A songwriter’s Guide to Inspiration

There are many mysteries in life. One of them is songwriting. We could ponder for days where the inspiration and ideas for songs come from. With only 12 notes and only so many chords to string together, it’s a wonder any of us can write something new! Leonardo Da Vinci referred to music as “shaping the invisible.” That’s what music and especially songwriting is to me. It makes the world tolerable through an invisible shift. It changes how we feel about people, places and ourselves. When we write a song it is like giving the world an imprint of your soul at that moment. If we record it, we leave behind a permanent piece of ourselves that will hopefully enrich other people’s lives in ways we cannot even imagine!

At some point in your life, you woke up in the middle of the night with a song or melody spinning around in your head. This article intends to help you capture those free-wheeling melodies and harness them so you can call upon them whenever and wherever you want. It is not a technical how-to on the art of songwriting but rather an essay on the ways to open your own muse flow channel.

A Songwriting Quick Reference

Songwriting can be broken down into these four components:

  • Melody
  • Lyrics
  • Rhythm
  • Chords

You can start writing a song from any one of these or any combination. A lot of beginners will find it easiest to start with a melody and then work the chords around it. Hum, play it on a guitar, sing it out loud, plunk it on a piano and experiment with your melody until it sounds right. If you can’t play any instruments at all, find someone who can and is willing to help you. Or get yourself a cheap mini-cassette recorder and sing your melodies into it. Listening back to your ideas is a great way to gain a critical ear and figure out what works best.

When you let yourself relax, the muse finds its way into your melodies and lyrics. Don’t try to write what you think people want to hear. Write what feels natural to you! A good song is a good song no matter what style it’s in or what musical trend is currently on the charts.

Muse Guideline #1

  • Write from your heart not your head.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s surprising the number of musicians who attempt to fit into whatever musical climate is happening and sacrifice their true talents by missing the soul and passion of writing from your heart. The songs that mean the most to us are usually the ones where the writer is conveying a simple message. If you find yourself second-guessing yourself, stop! Take a breath. Remember, this song is coming from you. Let your heart be open without an editor’s voice in your head. Let it flow.

A cool cyber way to use the old “cut up words and throw them around” game is with this fun magnet board. You can move the words around to form sentences and even change them into whatever you want. This can be an effective method for getting lyrics started.

Let your feelings come out in your songwriting. Worry about going through it all later. You can always change lyrics and melodies at another time. Writing from your heart is the first and most important guideline to remember. This will open you to everything else, including learning to play instruments and writing more complicated melodies. If these other activities suit your heartfelt needs, that’s great. Always ask yourself if the song is truly the essence of you or if it is representing something you wish you were. Sometimes, that’s OK, but be wary of straying too far from your true self. Ideas will flow if you stay close to your soul’s voice.

Muse Guideline #2

  • Listen to your inner voice.

We all have a million distractions to keep us from the paths we want to take. Your inner voice will tell you to write those lyrics down or pick up that guitar to work on that idea in your head. But we find reasons to ignore this inner voice. This guideline applies to more than just writing songs. Listening to your inner voice in all areas of your life will improve your songwriting a thousand percent.

Maybe that special someone in your life isn’t very supportive of your songwriting. I’m not telling you to leave them, but you might want to consider why you’ve chosen this person to be in your life. You know what is good for you and what isn’t. Pay attention to your own life and make whatever changes are necessary for you to have a creative support system in place. It may be as simple as finding a friend to confide in or just share music ideas with. Stop saying “should” and start taking action.

Another approach to opening your inner voice is to keep a journal. You can use the old-fashioned variety of pen and paper, or try a weblog. This can be a source for future lyrics or just a way to get the demons out of the way.

Muse Guideline #3

  • Keep the tools of the trade at hand: A notebook for lyrics, a guitar, and a little recorder.

You’ve heard it before: the writer who sleeps with a notebook under his pillow. Songwriting is no different. Keep a pad and pencil in places where your muse comes to you – in your car, next to your bathtub, beside the coffee maker, in your backyard by the roses. The handy pad and paper are some of the best tools for getting great lyrics. You can think of amazing song titles while you’re watching a film or doing other activities that somehow free your mind from itself.

For those of you who can accommodate it, have a guitar handy. We have five acoustic and electric guitars in various tunings scattered throughout our home, along with basses and keyboards and drums! It makes trying out those ideas all that much easier if you don’t have to spend a half-hour setting up the equipment. Basically, you want to get your idea into the air as soon as it finds its way into your head.

Muse Guideline #4

  • Turn off your critic and open your soul.

As you sit down to work on an idea, turn off that critic. It could be criticisms from your old music teacher or a parent or even a friend that told you something negative. But we all replay those voices over and over in our heads. As to why we play the bad ones more than the good ones is a chapter I will leave to the psychiatrists. The next time your critic’s voice starts editing your song idea, just ignore it.

My husband and I played one of our songs, Sparkle Star, to a successful friend/producer. He then told us that, while he thought it was a great song, the phrase “sparkle star” was going to ruin the song because it was a made-up phrase that wouldn’t mean anything to anybody. Yet, that song that went on to win Maxell’s Song of the Year in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. We’ve received tons of letters and emails from fans who have the album it’s on, telling us how they have cried over that song or played it at someone’s wedding. This song is also in the film, Dancing At the Blue Iguana. Needless to say, we didn’t listen to our friend’s advice.

Muse Guideline #5

  • Don’t write a song. Just write anything!

Sit down with a guitar, bass, drumkit or piano. Or get the pen flowing across the paper. Are you ready for the best part? You don’t have to write a song today. Just make the effort. There. Ya see? That relieves the pressure.

By giving ourselves ridiculous demands we make it impossible to live up to our own expectations. Remove them. Just get yourself to write a bit when and where you can. A song will emerge when it’s good and ready. The joy of songwriting comes from the act of doing. There will, of course, be those moments of frustration when you create something close to a song but it doesn’t quite come out how you thought it would. The experience of writing music is where the creative satisfaction comes from. Not every song will be a masterpiece but they will be your songs.

The biggest push to get your muse going is to start! It’s very easy to say we could have done something if only we’d had some assistance or been around someone who really believed in us. Believe in yourself. Get off the computer and pick up an instrument, start singing or begin your lyric writing session! Now!

About the Author

After experiencing the record deals, world tours and MTV videos with bands like Vixen, Share Ross has now teamed up with English drummer, Bam (The Dogs D’Amour) and bassist Brian Wong, to form Bubble. This award-winning punk/pop trio have proven that DIY cd’s can make a difference. 3 songs in films, 3 Japan tours, 2 UK tours and more to come. See Share on tour in Europe as the bassist with the Dogs D’Amour opening for Alice Cooper.