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By Matthew Collins
1999 Matthew Collins. All rights reserved.

Every songwriter craves the muse. This erratic creature is our life force. Whenever a songwriter gets up in the morning, he prays that today he or she will be blessed with a visitation from the muse so they can make sweet music together. Any time they are and come up with a real gem as a result, there is no better feeling. But sometimes, it won't come. No matter how many chord sequences you run through or scales you play around with, nothing that catches your ear. You just can't make the connection.

The truth is, there isn't a tunesmith on the planet who would claim to understand the how the process of inspiration really works. We all love it. Some of us need it. A lucky few even earn a living from it. One thing's for sure; it's not under our control. But if we understand how it works, perhaps our relationship with the muse will be that little bit happier.

Inspiration is not a tap that you can turn on and off at will. Ever been lying in bed trying to sleep when a tune just hits you, buzzes around your head and won't let you rest? Don't you always wish it would go away and let you sleep? Still it persists until you get up, turn on the light, pick up the guitar (or sit at the piano) and write it down. You can barely play the notes you're so sleepy. But if you don't, you'll lose the tune. Perhaps one of the best you've ever come up with. It won't be in your head the next day and it'll be gone forever. Similarly, when you've have a bit of time on your hands and want to work on that song you started yesterday, or begin a new one, how often have you found that, try as you might, nothing will come out? The right melody is in there somewhere but it just won't be found. All you can find is a string of unrelated notes that don't say magic to you. When you want to turn the tap of inspiration on, more often than not it stays stuck in the off position. When you're quite happy to leave it off as you busy yourself with something else, it suddenly begins to gush forth sweet music. If you don't cup your hands and catch it all, it'll run down the sink and be lost forever.

Many songwriters say they never invent songs, they just write down what the muse sings to them. So when it does decide to visit, you'd better be ready as a songwriter to listen to what it has to say. Always keep a little notepad and pen handy for the snatches of lyric that come to you as you wait in the supermarket queue. Learn to play by ear so that when a melody line starts buzzing round your head and there's no musical instrument handy, you can write down the basic notes that make up the line and work it out properly later. If you're really committed to the craft, you have to be prepared to write down anything that comes to you, whatever you're doing at the time. If you're watching a movie and a tune hits you, miss that cliffhanger so you can get it on paper. If you hear a potential lyric in conversation with a friend, put up with looking a little rude by writing it down while they're still talking. If for whatever reason you can't physically write it down, repeat to yourself again and again until you can. Don't let it get away.

Inspiration is a strange bird. She flies when she wants to, not when it's convenient for you. She doesn't fly all that often so when she does take to the skies, make sure you listen to the song she's singing to you.

Matthew Collins is a young songwriter, originally from Belfast but now living in Manchester, England. He has been writing songs for over 6 years and wants to form a band soon in England with himself as the main creative force. He also hopes to interest English publishers in some of his work. He can be contacted at

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