It can be a pain to get over writer’s block sometimes, so I’ve outlined three tips that I used which help me continue to write music and make songs in Garageband.
These tips are nothing special or ground-breaking, they’re merely the things that I use which keep me on track and in the groove every day.
Without further ado,
Starting with number 1…
1) Make at least one riff in Garageband (or on your instrument) every day
This point right here is arguably the most crucial, for a simple reason: it’s super important that, as a beginner, you make sure to at least open the software or pick up your instrument to play something every day.
Even if it’s a cover, messing around with a sample, adjusting the EQ on one of your tracks, or setting up a compressor. As long as you open up the software/instrument and mess around for even 3 minutes if that’s all the time you have.
Using the gym as an example, the best way to keep oneself in the habit of going is to go no matter what, even if you don’t feel like it, even if it’s just to do HALF of your work-out only or even a 1/3.
Hitting the gym for just 4 sets of bicep curls is still a hell of a lot better than not going at all. And the magic of this tactic is that you may actually end up enjoying yourself, and then completing the remainder of your scheduled workout anyway.
In the book, The Power Of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes that human beings’ behavior is actually made up primarily of habits, unconscious behavioral patterns, and routines.
In what he describes as our natural reward circuits, there is a cue, a routine, and a reward.
The cue is the event that triggers the pattern of behavior, the pattern of behavior is the thing that the person does, and then the reward is the feeling of gratification for that routine.
For many people, using the example of a cigarette, when they wake up in the morning, they make a coffee which is the cue, then smoking the cigarette and enjoying the coffee together is the routine, and then the reward is the dopamine released by both the caffeine and nicotine as well as the taste of the coffee coupled with the cigarette.
As another example, in the book, Mr. Duhigg explains a situation in his life where he would get up from his seat every day around 3:00 pm to eat a cookie and chat with his co-worker.
The cue was looking at the clock and seeing that it was 3:00 pm. The routine was getting up and talking to his friend while eating a cookie, and the reward was the cookie and feeling good after his chat.
This was something that he did every single day. One day, he decided that he wanted to lose weight, so he stopped eating that cookie every day, and replaced the primary routine, with eating something healthy and talking with his colleague.
Interestingly, this is the best way of reshaping a habit. Rather than trying to eliminate it entirely, it’s best to try and replace the routine with something else, but keep the cue and reward system the same.
Relating this all back to music and Garageband, it’s important that we, as users, either play around on an instrument or use the DAW at least for a moment a day.
The idea is to build the unconscious habit where we’re always noodling around with some type of musical instrument or software.
And this works so well, because, at times, you may not even want to turn on the software or pick up your guitar, but after messing around for just a few seconds, all of the sudden you get super into it, and then an hour passes and you’ve just created 2-3 new riffs or one beat.
What makes this so easy to implement, is to tell yourself, “I’m only going to play the guitar/use Garageband for five minutes today.”
On days where you really, really, really don’t feel like playing or making music, you’ll pick it up, or have Garageband opened for just those 5 minutes, but on other days, that 5 minutes could easily turn into 1 or 2 or even 3 or 4 hours.
Take last night, for instance, I was watching The Cable Guy with Jim Carrey – the greatest dark comedy of all time – and I suddenly got the urge to pick up my guitar and start playing, so I did.
I got my hands on a 7-minute backing track in all of the Major Keys, and then I started playing all of the different applicable modes over each Major Scale just for fun. It ended up being until around 2:00 am when I finally put the guitar down, and I must’ve started around 12:30 pm.
It’s almost like a habit for me at this point to pick up the guitar and start messing around, and often times, these noodling sessions end up making up the bulk of my riffs and songs. It’s the same principle for Garageband and other DAWS.
One last thing to touch on, on my to-do list, I have everything I have to finish written down, and one of the tasks says, “Make Music/GB/Theory.” Essentially, what that means is that I have to either make music using my guitar, open up and play around with Garageband, or study music theory.
As long as I do one of those things for even 5 minutes, I can cross the task off of my list. It’s crucial that you give yourself credit for these things, and not hold yourself to too high of expectations.
As I mentioned before, we just want to build up the habit of constantly playing around with music, that way we can create situations where 5 minutes of practicing turns into 3 hours of playing and thus new song ideas. In some cases, we may actually be able to write more than one song at that time.
While studying theory is not necessarily playing with an instrument or using Garageband, I still consider it as part of that process, because Music Theory is quite useful as a tool, and in many cases, when I’ve just learned or grasped a new concept, I’ll get inspired to try and implement it.
One of the ways that I use theory when creating music is simple, and it’s also the next tip.
2) Make a Chorus Using The Song’s Relative Major/Minor
For this tip, you need to know a bit of music theory, so if you don’t at least know the major and minor scales, I’ll recommend you check out Music Theory.net. They have all kinds of tutorials for people who are just beginning.
Also, Mark Sarnecki’s The Complete Elementary Rudiments is an excellent book to start out in theory. It’s what I used, and it’s what I used to pass the Royal Conservatory Of Music exam as well.
By using the relative major/minor of a song, we can quickly write a new chord progression in the same track that sounds like its “synchronized” or “correct” in relation to the rest of the music.
If this next part seems like a different language to you, just hold on, I’ll briefly touch on exactly what everything means and hopefully in a way you can understand.
For instance, if I’ve created a riff in Garageband using a Cm9 and an E Major/add9, a dark, moody sounding progression, figuring out how to make a chorus after that may be a bit challenging.
However, what I like to do, is I just think of C Minor’s relative major, and then I make a chord progression in the relative major to make a chorus. The Relative Major of C Minor is Eb Major.
Whenever you want to figure out what the relative major is, of a minor key, just add 2 letters.
For instance, if you’re in the key of C Minor (which has three flats, Bb, Eb, and Ab) count two letters up in the alphabet, and that’s the root note of the relative major, so, C, D, Eb, therefore Eb Major, is the relative major of C minor.
Thinking of Eb Major, I look at the degrees of the Major Scale:
I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, viiø = which is major and minor in this order, Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished.
So If I wanted to create a quick two-chord progression in the scale of Eb Major, I’d use a Bb major 6th, and then Ab Major 7th. This is a way of quickly building a chorus if you’ve run out of creative steam.
The Bbmaj chord is the ‘V’ chord in the key of Eb Major and the AbMajor7th is the ‘IV’ chord.
For further clarification, these are the chords of the Major and Minor scale:
Major = I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii-ø – Or, explained in a simpler fashion, Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished
Minor = i, iiº, III+, iv, v, VI, VII – Or, explained in a simpler fashion, Minor, Diminished, Major Augmented, Minor, Minor, Major, Major.
After I’ve figured out those two chords, I’ll experiment with them, adding a note or two just to make the melody go with the rest of the song a little better. It’s a great jumping off point.
However, this will change the vibe of the song from minor-sounding to major-sounding, although, in this case not by a lot.
If you didn’t want to do that, you could actually just change the key up one degree, going from C Minor to D Minor. It won’t sound too bad.
Taking D minor as the first scale degree, the fourth scale degree is a G Minor as well. So using those two chords, D Minor, and G Minor will create a similar sound but will ultimately be different.
You can change the scale degree to another if you wish, like a D minor (i), to an F Minor (v).
In addition to trying out Mark Sarnecki’s book, If you don’t want to spend any money at all, try MusicTheory.net. There are all kinds of tutorials on that site, walking you through each lesson one-by-one until you’ve figured it all out.
Once you’ve navigated to MusicTheory.net, click on Lessons in the top-left corner, and then it’ll bring up all of the available lessons in the “Basics” section.
Go through each one and learn almost all of it, lesson-by-lesson.
I would learn the following, every category in the “The Basics,” “Scales and Key Signatures,” “Intervals,” as well as “Chords.”
If you’re ambitious, also check out the section, “Diatonic Chords.”
It honestly shouldn’t take you that long to run through each part. Just do one lesson a day.
3) Download A New Plug-in
This may become a problem if you abuse it too much, but if I’m really in a creative slump, downloading a new, cool plug-in will help me bust through a creative slump.
For example, the last time I was starting to feel that Garageband was a bit stagnant, I downloaded a new Guitar plug-in from VSTFree.com which you can read more about in this tutorial here.
The idea behind this, related to the first tip, is to get yourself inspired to create music again. Sometimes, all it takes is to find a new instrument or effect that makes us want to play and practice all of the time.
Trying out a new synthesizer plug-in, for instance, may put you in a position where you’re noodling around with a riff that just sounds awesome but normally wouldn’t sound great when using the regular Steinway Grand Piano or whatever else you like to use normally.
Anything that keeps you inspired to continue using the DAW, is good, whether it be a sample you want to use, a plug-in to download, a music theory concept you want to impose, etc. The key is to always find reasons to make music.
If you want to learn more about plug-ins, I recommend that you check out my article on plug-ins here. I give a list of all of the most recommended ones you can access.
4) Bonus Tip:
Now, for me, watching Music Theory YouTube videos has actually been helpful and inspiring in many ways, but truthfully, I don’t recommend that as an official tip, because I’m aware of the way in which most people get sucked into watching totally unrelated videos using the suggested video function.
I hope this was helpful to you. Make sure to share this on your social media.