Sometimes it's hard to be a songwriter. You may always be expected to have a hit, no matter what you're feeling, what you're not feeling, or what's happening in your life. Writers go through dry spells of creativity all the time; often in times, they least expect it. It can be very frustrating not to be able to come up with a good song when you, or worse, you and others are depending on it.
Songwriting shouldn't have to be a chore or a source of anxiety. Sure it can be extremely challenging, but the challenge should excite you and be a source of happiness in your life. Try these songwriting exercises out if you find yourself in a creative rut and need to lighten the mood.
One common songwriting exercise is to write and/or perform words and melodies that come to your head without forethought. You need to establish a beat and key for this to work, but I find it works best if I sing along to beats or instrumental music. These instrumentals can be from popular songs, but the real challenge comes from singing and making lyrics along with instrumentation that is unfamiliar to you.
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Here is an exercise that can help you if you're having trouble with deciding on song structure. Reverse engineer the way you write, and start with how you want to end the song. From there, figure out how the climax of your song will go. After you do that, work on a second verse. Then work on a hook, and so on. This can give you a new perspective when it comes to thinking outside of the box and finding the fun in creativity.
Find a book, any book. Look for the last word in the second chapter and write that word down. If you don't have a book handy, google "Random word generator" once you have a good word (skip words like it and them), associate that word with five other related terms.
Create a song section from each word once you have these 6 words total. The first can be the main word in your intro. The second word can be the keyword in your first verse. The third word is for the chorus, and the fourth word covers the second verse. Let the fifth and sixth words cover the bridge and outro.
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Slightly similar to the previous songwriting exercise, instead of creating full lines for your verses and hooks, just go with one word per line. For example, your verse can simply be:
These words can come from something like a word generator or book, or it can be the general ideas floating around in your head that you aren't able to create full phrases for that you like. This is an exercise that can strengthen the skill of your melodic line creations.
Sit down and watch a good movie or TV scene. It can be something you've seen before or something entirely new for you. Take a few phrases from the script in that scene, use the emotion from that scene, and create a song from it. This will be especially fun if it's a scene you're very fond of, but the challenge of connecting to a completely new scene can be very fun as well.
Co-write with one or more other songwriters. To make this exercise the most fun, it would be great if you were in a room together or on a call together. This is nowhere near as fun if it's just an impersonal process of sending files back and forth over the internet. The key here is an intimate connection with a fellow music lover. You can learn by feeding directly off of their ideas, even the ones you both want to scrap. And here's a songwriting tip when it comes to collaborations: leave your ego at the door.
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No matter how bad you may think the final product will be, and no matter how impossible of a task you think it is, try to write a whole song in 10 minutes. That's right, both the lyrics and the melody. Record yourself, and write or type those lyrics out. Even if you don't make it to the end of the song, you will have a load of fun trying to make it there.
Find a cool short story and turn it into a song. This can be a story in any genre, as long as it's short enough that you can use a good chunk of the lyrics and tell the story fully within the time it takes to sing a song. This is a great exercise for matching lyrics to a melody and making a melodic idea fit the mood of a story being told. For an extra challenge, create your own short story first with no intention of making it lyrical, and then turn that into your own song.
Take one of your favorite songs by your favorite artists and create an alternate version of it. Try mimicking that artist's style of writing as best as possible, as if you were there in the studio making melodic and lyrical suggestions that would get the "okay" from the artist's team.
This is a great way to find ideas in styles that you wouldn't normally find for yourself. A great songwriter has the ability to take great ideas from other talented artists and writers and expand on them in a way that both the original writer and the writer's audience would be very pleased with. From here, you can incorporate small amounts of these ideas into your own projects.
Choose a genre of music that seems like it's on the opposite spectrum of your genre. For example, if you're used to writing rap lyrics, create a death metal song. If you're a singer-songwriter, write a full opera aria melody. If you're really into country, try to write a jazz song. Not only will this process be ridiculously weird and fun, but you may come up with cool concepts that you would have never thought of without considering a completely opposite genre and style.
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As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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