Practice makes perfect.
You hear this so often it probably annoys you. We all know that if we keep on trying soon we’ll succeed blah, blah… but is there any real truth to it?
You can practice something over and over again, but what if you’re constantly doing it wrong and you don’t even know it? Aren’t you just training yourself to get better at doing it wrong? Or are you taking the super long route to getting it right?
Yes, if I blow into this didgeridoo long enough eventually I might get it to make some noise, or maybe not.
Luckily songwriting is not as black and white when it comes to getting it right and wrong. There are preferred song structures and techniques, but overall a song can come in any shape or form.
If you can find an audience that loves what you do, no matter how big or small it’s a win win!
So setting that aside, how can we ensure that our songwriting skills are being kept in check? That we don’t lose our touch, or lose our mojo.
Here’s 6 songwriting exercises to make sure our creative aura stays active and healthy!
6 songwriting exercises to do daily so your songwriting mojo doesn’t fizzle out
6. Word association
You can play this as a game with another or as a challenge for yourself.
Start off with an item, or a place, an emotion; whatever tickles your fancy then go off on a tangent to create a stream of 100 related words.
Sounds kinda daft.
But not really if you think about it.
Lyrics are so diverse, yet the topics they’re based on are so few. In a society where the majority of songs are about heartbreak, feeling sad, angry or depressed and being in love, it can be daunting writing something new about these situations.
This is where word association comes in. You would practice the skill of finding words associated to your starting point, giving you a different perspective of what to write about.
Let’s do a pretty simple example, and have our starting point as ‘garden’:
Flowers, colours, peaceful, beautiful, sanctuary, home, carefree, green, growth, diversity, fencing, borders, branches, park, seeds, nurturing, water, secret, adventure, patio, lawn, yard, roses, ornaments, wildlife, daisies, art etc.
Once you’ve got 100 words you’ll essentially have a word bank for this specific topic. The next step would be to generate a story for it and mash it all together.
Just because the example is ‘garden’ doesn’t mean I’ll write a song about doing a day of weeding at home, well I could, but I wouldn’t. Instead I could write about a blossoming relationship:
Your branches keep me warm at night
Or a situation that ends up hurting someone:
You are a Rose, yet I’m your thorn
These words will act as inspiration for the bigger picture you paint.
5. Observe and imagine
I should perhaps put in a caption saying ‘legally observe.’ Please don’t be creepy and stalk people, or sit in front of peoples windows.
Humans are such funny and amusing creatures. The way we stand, the way we wait, the way we dress, the way we slurp or sip glasses of wine or slurp our morning coffee.; everyone does it so uniquely.
Creation central for any songwriter.
Go to your nearest coffee shop, or the park, or the library, or just a random bench; sit and observe the world go by.
Here’s your challenge; everyone you see has a purpose, they have a mission and it is your job to write down what it is:
- You see a smartly dressed woman walk by – she’s got a job interview to be a manager of a 5* hotel.
- You see a man looking stressed holding bags of shopping – he’s got the kids this weekend, so many hungry mouths to feed.
- You see a man driving a rusty old banger – it’s his first love and he would never sell her, ever! It’s still got it original paint and he drives her around the town everyday.
And so on…
The next step would be to generate lyrical phrases derived from these characters:
- She had nothing on her mind but perfection (woman going to the interview)
- He knew that for tonight he wasn’t the Boss (man looking after the kids)
- No broken chains is going to keep us apart (the man driving)
How does this help?
Well now you’ve got a character bank which you can team up with your word bank, and hey presto you’ve got yourself a concept for a song.
4. Restrict yourself and set your goal
Some people perform well under pressure, and others don’t.
This exercise is the best of both.
You get to choose the restriction then you get to choose the goal. It can be difficult or easy; such as:
- Write a poem about love in under 100 words
- 100 words is the restriction, the poem about love is the goal
- Write 8 rhyming couplets using 7 syllables per line
- 7 syllables per line is the restriction, 8 rhyming couplets is the goal
You can vary your restrictions as much as you want, but here are a variety you can use:
- Complete in a certain time frame such as write lyrics for an entire song in 5 minutes
- Write at a particular time of the day such as before you go to bed
- Restrict the topic you talk about
- Use of only metaphors to explain the situations
- Use of only major or minor chords in a chord progression
- Create a song in a particular key
- Focus your melody on only 4-5 notes
And many, many more…
3. Rewrite someone else’s work
I’m not promoting ripping off someone else’s work.
What I mean by this is take key elements from a song such as topic, song structure and even its numerical chord progression, and translate it into a new key.
Then rewrite the lyrics perhaps from a different perspective, or perhaps with a different outcome.
Essentially the original song will act as inspiration for this song you’re creating. So you can go ‘off-book.’ If the original doesn’t have a pre-chorus but you want one, add it in!
Add your own flavour!
This is great exercise, especially if you’ve recently been struggling with songwriter’s block.
2. Find an inspirational phrase/quote and expand
Some of the greatest songs can be created by one single inspirational thought, you just have to find it!
Quotes that are filled with positive, motivational and inspirational thoughts also make us feel great, and can really put things into perspective.
Here’s an example:
“The Pessimist Sees Difficulty In Every Opportunity. The Optimist Sees Opportunity In Every Difficulty.” – Winston Churchill
We can expand on this and create a story about someone who despite hitting every obstacle along the way still managed to triumph over everything. We can then make this more specific by referring it to: social classes, health problems, financial difficulties, qualifications etc.
As you can see we’ve now got a possibility or 4 topics to talk about that could involve an obstacle to overcome.
Here’s another example:
“Don’t Let Yesterday Take Up Too Much Of Today.” – Will Rogers
We can expand on this and create a story about someone who is living in regret over the past, so they never end up moving on with their life. We can then make this more specific by referring it to: someone breaking your heart, an action you never did like telling someone you love them, not carrying out your dreams but living in fear, not looking after yourself and becoming overweight etc.
It’s a simple exercise to do and will help you map out future songs you may wish to pursue.
1. Practice your rhyming
Rhyming is so important to songwriting.
Do you want listeners to remember your lyrics? Make them rhyme!
There are a variety of songwriting exercises you can do to improve your rhymes, but first you need to understand that there are different ways you can add rhymes to your lyrics.
Here are a few:
- Vowel rhymes – This is the rhyming of the vowels in the words such as hole and home, thank and bat etc.
- Consonant rhymes – Rhyming of consonants in the words such as fell and tall, pile and pole.
- Multiple rhymes – Where two more syllables rhyme such as tracking and packing, motivation and juvenation.
- Internal rhymes – A rhyme occurs halfway through a lyric line such as ‘this isn’t true, the life that I knew…’
So your challenge is to pick a type of rhyme, and try writing rhyming couplets or alternative rhymes using this specific rhyme.
If you get tired, switch your rhyme type.
Near and internal rhymes are always my favourites to play with because you get to test out different combinations of phrases and words that you wouldn’t have thought to put together, and see what the result is.
Try this for yourself!
It’s your turn
So there we have 6 songwriting exercises you can try out for yourself. Let’s summarize:
- Use word association to generate a word bank
- Observe your surroundings for ideas of scenarios and situations you could write about
- Restrict the elements to write a song and set a goal
- Check out a song you like and recreate it
- Use inspirational, motivational and positive quotes to expand on
- Understand and practice different types of rhymes
Good luck, and get creating! Bye!
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