How to Get the Most Juice from a Single Musical Idea

By D I Hughes, Spire Contributor | August 27, 2018

how to squeeze juice from musical idea

Songwriting is a creative pursuit that relies on ideas—an entire phrase of music, a piano trill, a bass groove, a guitar riff,  a chord progression, or pretty much anything else you can think of.

The ideation process is individual to each musician or songwriter, but when something inspiring creeps into your consciousnesses or you hit that musical sweet spot, the results are almost magical.

When it comes to refining, developing, or evolving an idea, the ability to approach it from a multitude of angles will increase your musical scope. You can:

  • Create the framework of an entirely new song

  • Add more diversity and flavor to your existing song or arrangement

  • Use elements of your morphed idea and break them up to add flair and originality to other songs or arrangements

  • Give yourself more options (the new version of your idea may be 100 times better than the original)

If you can squeeze plenty of juice from one musical idea, the possibilities are endless—doing this also serves as a good songwriting exercise, too.

Squeezing maximum juice from a musical concept

The art of squeezing maximum juice from one musical idea isn’t as complicated as you might think. Even small tweaks and changes to dynamics, speed, groove, and slight shifts in notation can make a big difference.

To demonstrate a few ways you can squeeze a great deal of juice from a single musical idea, I've recorded some sound clips using my Spire Studio. For each of these clips I used Spire’s Verb 65 amp effect with reverb rolled off slightly to give each sample a certain clarity and edge.

And although I’ve used my bass guitar for these clips, you can apply these techniques to any instrument or part, from vocals and harmonica to guitar, keyboards, and beyond.

The anchor

The anchor, or original idea, is essentially the section of a potential verse and possesses an indie rock feel. A solid idea in its own right, this will now serve as the foundation for all of my musical juice squeezing activities. By listening to it a few times over, the framework of the part will become ingrained in your mind and from there, you’ll be able to begin making small tweaks trying out different approaches.

Change the rhythm and use octaves

To change the feel, flow, and genre of my original idea or anchor, I’ve picked up the pace slightly, giving the progression a classic rhythm and blues shuffle. To take the idea further, I’ve added a chromatic note into the mix near the start of each run and played some notes an octave higher to move away from the original idea while staying true to the progression.

Shift speed and rearrange notation

In this version, I’ve decided to transform my original idea or anchor into something with speed, pace and fury, sending it into the realms of heavy rock. I’ve doubled the tempo, played the notes with a straight 4/4 time signature, and added more of the same notes to each bar. Also, while I have played according to the original note sequence or progression, I have used the notes in a different context, taking the change near the end of the original idea and condensing the notes to create a repetitive fill that ultimately makes the part more memorable.

Conclusion

By adding a small selection of additional notes, using higher or lower octaves and playing with dynamics, tempo and rhythm, you’ll be amazed at just how much you can get out of one musical idea. Using these techniques outlined here, play with a new or existing musical idea and see where your creativity takes you—whatever the results, it’s sure to be one exciting ride.

For more top songwriting tips, check out our guide on adding new chords into your songs.