Songwriting exercises are an excellent way to boost your creativity and improve your songwriting skills.
Whether you’re a seasoned songwriter or just starting out, the right songwriting exercises can help you break through writer’s block, hone your lyric and melody writing abilities, and develop your musical ideas.
One of the most effective songwriting exercises used by renowned songwriters is to write a song about a specific emotion. They choose an emotion that resonates with their realities and then try to capture its essence in both their lyrics and melody.
Following exercises like this will help you develop your ability to convey emotions through music and lyrics; it can also lead to some powerful and meaningful songs. Another great exercise is to write a song in a different genre than you normally write in.
Exploring a different genre helps you open new creative dimensions and explore new horizons in the aspects of lyricism, melody, rhythm, and even harmony.
The key here is: if you usually write folk music, try writing a rock song. If you’re a pop musician, try writing a country tune. This exercise will not only help you broaden your musical horizons but also challenge you to think outside of your comfort zone and push your creative boundaries.
Also, collaborating with other songwriters is another excellent exercise. Working with someone else can bring fresh musical and lyrical perspectives and ideas to your songwriting process. It can also be a great way to network with other musicians and potentially lead to new commercial and artistic opportunities.
Lastly, storytelling is another exercise and technique employed by songwriters. This exercise will help you develop your narrative and engagement skills, and it can also lead to some incredibly powerful and moving songs. Choose a topic that inspires you and try to create a compelling story through your lyrics and melody.
In this article, we have compiled a list of 15 best songwriting exercises that everyone can try out. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned pro, a beginner or a total novice trying to awaken the sleeping songwriting demon in you, you will definitely find this useful.
Table of Contents
First…What is Songwriting?
Songwriting is a creative and personal process that involves crafting original songs by combining music and lyrics. It is a cherished endeavour for many singer-songwriters, but it can also be a challenging and intricate journey that requires dedication and skill.
Songwriters often follow specific techniques and methods to produce compelling and memorable songs.
While some artists, like John Mayer, may seem to drop new ideas over a great melody line effortlessly, the reality is that every successful songwriter has their own complex and meticulous songwriting process.
Songwriting begins with a spark of inspiration, which can come from various sources such as personal experiences, emotions, or storytelling.
One crucial aspect of songwriting is lyric writing, as impactful lyrics can elevate the overall quality of a song. Music producers often prefer hiring songwriters who possess a solid songwriting process rather than those who randomly throw lyrics over musical ideas.
However, songwriting is not just restricted to lyric writing, it also includes melody writing, chord writing, designing harmonies, structure, story, and other aspects of a song. Some of these aspects may overlap with composition and music production as well.
Hence, everything from deciding the BPM, time signature, chord progressions, designing melodies, writing lyrics, etc., is included in songwriting.
What is Not Songwriting?
There is much confusion regarding what songwriting is and what it’s not. To clear all misconceptions, let’s discuss what’s not songwriting.
- Music theory and analysis
Studying music theory and analyzing existing songs helps musicians understand how music works but does not inherently involve writing new songs
- Performing/remixing cover songs
Performing cover songs cannot be considered songwriting, especially those that involve singing or playing existing songs written by other artists rather than creating new songs from scratch. However, one can reharmonize or rewrite an existing song, which can be considered additional songwriting.
- Instrumental improvisation
While it involves musical creativity, instrumental improvisation does not necessarily result in the creation of complete songs with lyrics and structured compositions.
- Music Production
Music producers work on recording, arranging, and mixing music but may not be directly involved in the songwriting process, especially if they are working with pre-written songs.
- Music arrangement & Instrumentation
Arranging music involves modifying or adapting existing musical compositions to suit different interpretations or settings, but it may not involve original songwriting…
What is the Difference Between a Lyricist And a Songwriter?
The terms “lyricist” and “songwriter” are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two roles in creating songs.
A lyricist is a person who specializes in writing the lyrics or words of a song. They are primarily responsible for crafting the poetic and emotional content that conveys the song’s message, story, or theme. The lyricist focuses on the words and how they fit rhythmically and thematically with the music.
A songwriter is a broader term that encompasses both lyricists and composers. A songwriter can refer to someone who writes both a song’s lyrics and music, thereby creating the complete musical composition.
In this sense, a songwriter is responsible for both the song’s words and melody. For example, if a lyricist writes a piece of poetry for a song, a songwriter will be responsible for how that poetry fits the meter, what melody will suit it best, and other musical aspects.
However, the term “songwriter” can also be used more broadly to describe anyone involved in creating songs, including lyricists, composers, and even producers who contribute to the overall structure and arrangement of the song.
What is the Difference Between a Music Producer and a Songwriter?
While songwriters are primarily responsible for the musical and lyrical aspects of a song or musical piece, a music producer takes care of the sonic aspect, like instrumentation, arrangement, vocal textures, what sounds or samples to use, etc.
A songwriter is primarily responsible for creating a song’s lyrics and/or music. They focus on the artistic and creative elements of the composition, crafting the melodies, chord progressions, and lyrics that form the song’s foundation.
Songwriters can be individuals who write both the lyrics and music (singer-songwriters) or those who specialize in one of these aspects (lyricists or composers).
A music producer, on the other hand, is involved in the technical and creative aspects of recording, arranging, and guiding the overall production of a song or album. Producers work with artists and songwriters to bring their musical vision to life.
Their responsibilities may include selecting the right studio and musicians, guiding the performance, suggesting arrangement changes, overseeing the recording process, and making creative decisions about the final product’s sound.
In essence, a songwriter primarily focuses on the song’s creative composition, crafting the lyrics and music. In contrast, a music producer is more concerned with the technical and artistic aspects of recording and shaping the song’s final presentation.
It’s worth noting that there can be some overlap between the roles, as some songwriters may also take on the role of a producer for their own music, or a producer may collaborate closely with the songwriter during the recording process to ensure the song’s artistic vision is realized.
When Does Music Production Become Songwriting?
A music producer becomes a songwriter when they do not just make decisions about the sonic aspects of the song but also take care of compositional aspects like writing chords, melodies, bass lines, etc.
In addition, if they also write the lyrics of a song, then that’s also songwriting. In the early stages of music production, a producer may work closely with a songwriter to refine the song’s structure, chords, arrangement, and composition.
Many modern musicians, singers, and rappers not just write and record their music but also produce them. Vice versa, many producers write and compose their songs and may also sing them.
Is Beatmaking Part of Songwriting?
Beatmaking is considered songwriting when the beatmaker makes decisions about the drum patterns, time signature, tempo, chords, melodies, harmonies, and other songwriting aspects. If they just choose the right samples, synths, plugins, etc., that would not be considered songwriting.
Hence, one core job of a beatmaker which is to choose the right sounds (sampling and sound designing), is not considered songwriting, but the other core job, which is to design and program drum patterns, beat structure, basslines, etc., is considered songwriting.
In many modern music genres, such as hip-hop, electronic dance music (EDM), and pop, the beat or instrumental track plays a crucial role in the song. In these genres, beatmakers (producers or music producers) often create the song’s musical foundation by crafting the rhythm, groove, and instrumental elements.
In this sense, beatmakers can be songwriters because they are responsible for composing the song’s instrumental part. Their creative input in shaping the beat or instrumental track significantly influences the overall feel and impact of the song.
15 Best Songwriting Exercises
Songwriting exercises are valuable tools for aspiring and experienced songwriters alike. They can help stimulate creativity, overcome writer’s block, and refine songwriting skills. We have compiled the 15 best songwriting exercises to test what works best for you.
1. Freestyle Writing
Freestyle writing, also known as spontaneous or stream-of-consciousness writing, is a songwriting technique where the songwriter writes without stopping or censoring themselves.
Freestyle writing aims to tap into the subconscious mind and allow ideas and emotions to flow freely onto the page. This technique often generates raw and authentic material, helping you overcome creative blocks and access new and unexpected lyrical content.
Rappers do this all the time. They simply play a beat, start rapping over it, and write down or record anything interesting that comes out. You also either record yourself over an instrumental or write stuff down.
This exercise keeps your style authentic, personal, and intuitive since everything coming out is from your mind, which is less likely to be borrowed from somewhere else, at least not deliberately.
2. Object-Based Songwriting
In the “Object-Based Songwriting” exercise, you select an object and then delve into its memories, emotions, and stories, whether a photograph, an old letter, a keepsake, or any other meaningful artefact.
This approach breathes life into the inanimate and allows you to craft a heartfelt and personal song that connects deeply with you and your audience.
It involves choosing an object, exploring emotions and memories about it, and then allowing your mind to wander freely over that, eventually coming up with melodies, lyrics, and other song ideas.
Object-Based Songwriting is a profound way to create music and a therapeutic exercise that allows you to process your feelings, preserve memories, and share meaningful stories through your art. It adds depth and authenticity to the song, making it an intimate and relatable experience for you and your listeners.
3. Melody First
In “Melody First” songwriting, the creative process begins with a captivating melody or instrumental riff. This approach allows the music to influence the song’s mood and tone. First, you experiment with various musical ideas to find a memorable melody that sparks inspiration.
Once the melody is set, you can craft lyrics that harmonize with its essence, guiding the emotions and narrative of the song. Working within this framework proves liberating, as the melody provides a structure to explore different themes and storytelling approaches.
The interplay between melody and lyrics creates a seamless and cohesive union, enhancing the song’s impact. The melody’s emotional power transcends language barriers, enabling a broad audience connection.
Throughout the process, you can fine-tune the melody and lyrics, refining them until the song reaches its full potential.
4. Backwards Song
The “Backwards Song” songwriting technique involves composing a reverse song. Instead of following the traditional process of starting with a melody and lyrics and then arranging music, this approach reverses the order entirely.
Songwriters embark on this creative journey by developing the song’s structure, chord progression, and musical arrangement before crafting the lyrics and melody to fit the existing framework.
The process begins with creating a unique and compelling chord progression or instrumental arrangement. This is the foundation upon which the entire “Backwards Song” is built. You can first establish a distinct and captivating atmosphere, rhythm, and flow by focusing on the musical structure.
Once the musical backbone is established, delve into the lyrical aspect of the song. This phase requires imagination and a fresh perspective, as the lyrics must align with the established music while also telling a cohesive and meaningful story.
Crafting lyrics in reverse can be an exciting challenge, as it demands a careful selection of words and themes to match the pre-established musical elements.
The “Backwards Song” technique encourages you to think outside the box and discover innovative musical connections that might not have arisen through traditional approaches.
By reversing the typical songwriting process, artists can breathe new life into their compositions, infusing them with an element of surprise and intrigue.
5. Re-write your favourite song
The “Re-write Your Favorite Song” exercise is a creative challenge that involves stripping the original lyrics from your favourite song and replacing them with new ones of the same syllable count.
This process encourages you to explore their unique voice, adapt to existing melodies, and experiment with different themes. Crafting new lyrics while maintaining the same syllable count becomes an intriguing puzzle that sparks unexpected ideas and emotional depth.
Improvising a fresh melody over the existing arrangement adds a personal touch, transforming the song’s meaning and showcasing your musical versatility.
This exercise hones songwriting skills and opens doors to reinterpreting familiar songs and infusing them with authenticity and passion. It is a valuable tool for growth, self-discovery, and expanding creative horizons.
6. Write a 10-minute song
The “Write a 10-Minute Song” challenge encourages you to embrace immediate creativity and spontaneity. In this exercise, you trust your instincts within a constrained time frame, quickly select a theme, and establish a captivating melody or chord progression as the song’s foundation.
You must delve into your emotions as the lyrics unfold, drawing from personal experiences or imaginative narratives. The time pressure fosters inventive wordplay and memorable hooks, concisely capturing the chosen theme’s essence.
During the recording phase, artists embrace imperfections and the magic of live takes. Whether solo or collaborating, the goal is to capture the song’s authentic essence within 10 minutes.
The challenge’s pressure often leads to unexpected breakthroughs and unique musical choices, as creativity thrives under limitations. Learn to let go of perfectionism, focusing on capturing the raw energy and soul of the song instead of polished outcomes.
The exercise encourages the exploration of unconventional songwriting methods and genres, opening doors to uncharted territories of musical expression.
While the 10-minute song may not be a finished product, it is a valuable starting point. You can later revisit and expand upon emerging ideas, refining and honing them into fully developed compositions.
7. Associated Words
The “Associated Words” exercise is a powerful tool for expanding creativity and vocabulary. It involves a brainstorming-style format, where you immerse yourself in a given topic, explore all its facets, and generate various related words and phrases.
First, choose a specific topic or theme you wish to explore. It could be anything from love and nature to freedom and perseverance. The chosen topic serves as the focal point for the following creative exploration.
With the topic in mind, brainstorm freely, and allow your thoughts to roam and associations to emerge naturally. You can then jot down words and phrases that come to mind, building an extensive network of connections around the chosen theme.
The exercise encourages diving deep into the subject matter. By exploring various dimensions and nuances, you will unearth new perspectives that might have been overlooked in conventional approaches to songwriting. As you traverse the web of associated words, you will discover exciting angles and fresh imagery that can uniquely shape their lyrics.
Associated Words exercise is not only beneficial for lyric writing but also for song theme development. The abundance of related words provides a treasure trove of potential hooks and concepts that can become the foundation for captivating songs.
Furthermore, this exercise is a vocabulary builder, enriching your linguistic toolkit. Associating words expands your word choices, making your writing more vivid and impactful.
The newfound words can also be incorporated into future songwriting endeavours, enhancing their expressive capabilities.
Collaborative songwriting sessions can benefit greatly from this exercise. When multiple songwriters contribute to the brainstorming, the pool of associated words multiplies exponentially, leading to richer and more diverse ideas.
8. Song structure analysis
Song structure analysis involves deconstructing existing songs to understand their organizational framework. By studying various songs from different genres, you gain insights into effective songwriting techniques, helping you craft your compositions more skillfully.
During this exercise, you can focus on the arrangement of sections like verses, choruses, bridges, and pre-choruses, as well as the overall length of the song. You can identify patterns in the repetition of sections, the placement of instrumental breaks, and how dynamics are used to create emotional impact.
Deconstructing successful songs teaches you how to build engaging narratives, create memorable hooks, and maintain listeners’ attention. You also explore the balance between verses and choruses to keep the song flowing seamlessly.
Additionally, this exercise aids in comprehending the role of lyrics and melody in complementing each other. Analyzing the emotional build-up within a song can help you master the art of storytelling through music.
For example, here is a breakdown of the song structure of a Taylor Swift hit:
9. Random phrase generator
Using various online tools and techniques, you can generate random phrases or words that serve as prompts for your songwriting process. The exercise allows you to break free from conventional thinking and venture into unexplored territories of lyricism.
Numerous sources offer songwriting challenges and exercises that can be adapted for this purpose. Websites like yonamariemusic.com provide songwriting exercises, including “Freestyle Writing,” where songwriters write or perform words and melodies that come to their heads without forethought, exploring unfamiliar instrumentals to challenge their creativity.
Other websites like improvesongwriting.com propose “Unconventional Songwriting Exercises” that help break free from typical approaches. These exercises encourage playing new instruments or none, enabling you to explore fresh sounds and create unique musical ideas.
Another approach involves using “Power Words,” as mentioned on smartblogger.com. Power words are persuasive and descriptive words that can transform ordinary lyrics into compelling and impactful phrases, enhancing the overall emotional impact of the song.
Additionally, you can explore the concept of “Automated Generation of Song Lyrics using CFGs” as discussed in researchgate.com. Though it mainly focuses on an automated lyric generator, you can use similar techniques to experiment with combinations of words and phrases, generating unexpected and intriguing lyrical content.
Furthermore, you can also benefit from AI tools, such as AI video generators or AI companions, as outlined on synthesia.io. These tools offer unique perspectives and inspiration for crafting song lyrics from unconventional angles.
10. Melodic dictation
Melodic dictation is a valuable songwriting exercise that enhances your ear-training skills and ability to identify melodies by ear. The exercise involves listening to a short melody and then transcribing it accurately onto paper or an instrument.
By honing this skill, you can develop a deeper understanding of musical structures, chord progressions, and tonal centres, which are crucial elements in crafting captivating and harmonically rich songs.
Mastering melodic dictation can be challenging, but it offers several benefits. First, it allows you to speed up your songwriting process by immediately identifying and notating the melodies they hear in their minds.
This eliminates the need for trial-and-error experimentation and enhances the efficiency of turning your musical ideas into tangible compositions.
Secondly, melodic dictation expands your musical vocabulary. By identifying and analyzing melodies in other songs, you can adapt interesting musical elements to your own compositions. This process broadens your creative toolkit and allows you to experiment with melodic motifs and structures.
Several resources and tools are available to support melodic dictation practice. Online platforms like tonesavvy.com and tonedear.com offer exercises where you can practice identifying the major scale degree of each note in a melody you hear.
These exercises can be customized to include or exclude certain notes and can be practised regularly for incremental improvement in your ear training.
Improving ear training through melodic dictation also benefits you as a musician playing in bands or collaborating with others. It enables better communication and understanding of musical ideas between bandmates, leading to more cohesive and harmonious performances.
11. Five Radios at Once
To employ the “Five Radios at Once” technique, find a quiet space where you won’t disturb others, and then gather five different radios or devices capable of playing music. Tune each radio to a different station or playlist, ensuring they cover various genres and styles.
Now, simultaneously play all five radios at once. Embrace the cacophony of sounds and listen attentively for any interesting overlaps or moments of musical serendipity.
As you immerse yourself in this chaotic symphony, you may encounter unexpected chord progressions, unique melodies, or fascinating rhythmic patterns.
This exercise, popularized by musicians like Tom Waits, encourages you to step outside your comfort zone and let your subconscious mind pick up on intriguing musical snippets from various sources. It eliminates overthinking and encourages spontaneity in your songwriting process.
Once you hear something that catches your ear, quickly jot down the musical ideas you want to explore further. These newfound inspirations can serve as the foundation for your next songwriting adventure.
Embrace the randomness, have fun with it, and let the diverse musical elements influence your creative flow.
12. Play a brand-new instrument
The “Play a Brand New Instrument” songwriting exercise encourages you to explore unfamiliar territory by incorporating a new musical instrument into your songwriting process. This exercise can invigorate your creativity and lead to fresh musical ideas.
Choose an instrument you have never played or had limited experience with. It could be a traditional instrument like a ukulele, a digital instrument like a synthesizer, or even a non-conventional object that can produce sounds, such as a wine glass or a rubber band harp.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the basics of the chosen instrument, learning a few chords, or experimenting with its unique sounds. Allow yourself to play freely without worrying about creating a polished composition. The goal is to explore the instrument’s capabilities and let its tones inspire you.
As you experiment with the new instrument, keep a recording device handy to capture any interesting musical phrases, melodies, or chord progressions that emerge. These raw ideas will serve as a foundation for your songwriting process.
Embrace the novelty and challenges that come with playing a brand-new instrument. The unfamiliarity can lead you to approach songwriting from a different perspective, breaking free from routine patterns and enriching your creative expression.
Remember that the exercise is not about mastering the instrument immediately; it’s about sparking creativity and opening new pathways for songwriting. Embrace the learning process and let the instrument guide you to unique musical discoveries.
13. Chorus Prompts
This exercise involves coming up with different ideas for the chorus first and then choosing the best idea out of all to expand the song. Once you have a good chorus, the rest of the song will likely follow.
You can ride on the inspiration of the chorus to write the rest of the sections of the song. Hence, “Chorus Prompts” simply involves creating a catchy and inspiring chorus that helps you write the rest of your song.
14. Use Chat GPT as your songwriting companion
With tools like Chat GPT, you now have an additional songwriter that you can go back and forth with to rotate and brainstorm different ideas. Using Chat GPT as a songwriting technique involves leveraging artificial intelligence to generate ideas, lyrics, and themes for songs.
Chat GPT is an AI language model that can assist you when you encounter creative blocks or need inspiration. By interacting with Chat GPT, you can receive surprisingly effective suggestions and prompts to overcome challenges in their songwriting process.
15. Eminem’s Dictionary-chugging exercise
One little-known fact is that the only book Eminem read as a child was the dictionary. He spent considerable time poring over the dictionary, searching for words that rhymed with each other.
This exercise helped him build a vast vocabulary and improve his technical brilliance as a rapper. He used these words to create clever and intricate rhymes during freestyle rap “battles,” which played a significant role in his education in hip-hop.
To emulate this exercise, you can take inspiration from Eminem’s dedication to language and vocabulary. Make a habit of studying the dictionary or other language resources regularly.
Look for interesting words, synonyms, and wordplay possibilities to incorporate into your raps. Expanding your vocabulary will enable you to craft more unique and creative lyrics like Eminem.
If you want to know more about Rap songwriting, you can watch the following video:
In conclusion, songwriting exercises offer valuable tools for songwriters at every level to enhance their creativity and hone their skills.
Songwriters can unlock new dimensions of their artistry and create powerful, meaningful songs by exploring exercises like writing songs about specific emotions, trying different genres, collaborating with others, and storytelling.
Various songwriting exercises, such as freestyle writing, object-based songwriting, melody-first approach, and even the unconventional “Backwards Song,” encourage you to think outside the box, break free from conventions, and explore uncharted musical territories.
Additionally, melodic dictation and analyzing song structures from existing songs empower you to improve your ear training and craft engaging and cohesive compositions.
Embracing spontaneity, embracing novelty by playing a new instrument, and leveraging technology like AI with Chat GPT as a songwriting companion can enrich the songwriting process with fresh perspectives and limitless possibilities.
Overall, the 15 best songwriting exercises presented here are versatile and impactful tools aspiring and experienced songwriters can employ to fuel their creativity, overcome challenges, and unleash their full potential as artists.
Whether a seasoned pro or a novice, everyone can benefit from these exercises to awaken and nurture the songwriting genius within. I hope the article helps. Thank you for reading.