Some songs are formed in a matter of fleeting moments. Others are tedious labors of love that can take up to years to complete. Your imagination only limits the boundaries of songwriting, and there are certain practices you can utilize to develop your ability to access and broaden your creativity as a songwriter. The exercises below may not guarantee that you’ll write the next chart-topping hit single, but they will increase your consistency and productivity as a songwriter.
Study Your Influences
There’s an adage that states, ‘’Dress for the job you want’’. There’s simply no quicker way to build your songwriting arsenal than to learn from your influences. Create a mixtape or playlist of songs and artists that you enjoy. Try to make this list as indulgent as possible, then create a more defined mix from this list of songs that you can apply to your project. Learn as much of the arrangement and instrumentation as you can, and you’ll begin to see patterns of song structures that appeal to your creativity.
You can take this exercise one step further by trying to recreate these songs as your own. Take a song off your playlist and use it as a reference to write your composition. Consider your new piece as a rework, and don’t worry too much about making a carbon copy of your reference track. With time you’ll be able to pick out specific ideas that you like to apply to your compositions without the help of a reference.
Writing a song can be likened to swimming in a dense ocean of ideas. The ocean is both alluring and intimidating, and it can be overwhelming to navigate all the riptides and crosscurrents of thoughts that enter our heads as we create. More often than not, the first step is to learn how to dive into this space with as little apprehension as possible. You can develop this sense of confidence by clearing out cluttered thoughts to make room for more intentional ones.
Keep a notebook or diary next to your bed or close to your sleeping space. As soon as you wake up in the morning (before you do anything else), pick up this book and try to fill up one to three pages of writing. Let your hand flow, and don’t worry too much about making sense or complete sentences. The idea here is to practice allowing your thought pattern to flow without you filtering it. Our minds are usually quite active when we awake – and fresh from a dream state. This provides us with a creative state of mind that’s only available for a short time, much like songwriting. This exercise is known as Morning Pages and is a common practice for creatives in all fields.
Songwriting is essentially storytelling. Much like an author or filmmaker, your job as a songwriter is to try and create a lucid tale-telling of personal thoughts that is relatable to your listeners. This concept tells us that a good entry point to coming up with a song idea is to try and build a scene using lyrics, rhythm, and melody. Below are a few simple ideas that you can use as starting points when trying to write a song:
- Try to recreate a memory. Describe a particular place or time from your past. Relay as much of the aesthetics and sensory experiences from this memory.
- Write a song based on a book or movie that you enjoyed or left an impression on you. Try to focus on the essence and point of the story of the tale itself.
- Write a letter or ode to someone who inspires you or to someone close to you about a particular conversation you wish to have.
- Write about your loved ones; you’ll be surprised how much you have to say about them once you commit those thoughts to a song.
A lot of songwriters tend to overlook that they generally have a lot in common with the listeners they wish to play music for. Try not to think about who will hear your story and more about getting your point across as clearly as possible.
Write for Someone Else
Many counterproductive thoughts can enter our heads when writing a song, and most of them involve some form of insecurity or lack of self-confidence. Many artists have learned to step around these mental obstacles by pretending that they have been hired to write a song for someone else. You can do the same and don’t even have to stick to your primary genre for this exercise.
Make a list of artists that you enjoy listening to. Set aside time to write a song as if they would be sent to these artists for their release. You’ll find that by removing the idea of self-attachment, you’ll be a lot more open to any of your creative choices. With enough practice, you’ll probably land up with some compositions that you can use for your personal or professional projects.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Collaboration is a time-trusted way to get the most out of your songwriting. For every Paul McCartney, a John Lennon can mirror their creativity in a unique and exceptionally productive manner. Collaborators are great because they’ll often have a creative idea on hand when you may be stuck on how to develop your song. You’ll also be able to share knowledge, tips, and experiences, which only grows all involved parties musically.
When searching for possible collaborators, all parties involved must share similar creative interests and intentions. You can often find other people to jam with by going to the shows of local artists. Alternatively, you can search online for local artists in your area and try and reach out to them in this way to see if they are open to collaboration.
There is no quick trick to writing a good song. Some people can naturally turn out great ideas consistently, while others may choose to take their time and produce more meticulously. In the world of songwriting, whatever method gets the song written and finished takes top priority, and you can use the steps above to find out which methods work best for you.
Thanks for reading through our list of 5 exercises you can use to improve your songwriting.