Googling ‘songwriting tips’ will provide you with about 2 million leads to 0.42 seconds. That’s lots of ideas.
And y’know what? There’s a great chance lots of them won’t work.
Of course, there’s always these songwriting exercises that always work—like recording cover songs or collaborating with a new songwriting partner.
However, These tips are particular ones. The ones that put you and your ideas first. The ones that open up some time to actually focus, experiment and create your songs work.
Writing songs is a personal process. It’s all about getting back into yourself to search out that song gold.
Here are 12 ridiculous songwriting exercises to get your songs on track.
1. Play 5 radios at once
You may wanna do that one when nobody else is home. Or at least keep the volume low. It will definitely trigger your friends to ask if everything is okay.
Nevertheless, it really works! Tom Waits famously uses this method during his songwriting process. He turns a couple of radios on and then listens for the fascinating overlaps.
This kind of absurd composition is a type of aleatory music—It’s music where certain parts of the composition are left to chance. It’s the awesome storm for song inspiration.
If it worked for Tom Waits it’s definitely worth attempting. So turn on all these radios, roll the dice and listen for the fascinating overlaps.
2. Look out the window for a really long time
The small room that I create music in has a skylight in it. The view is quite limited—only a small blue square with the occasional cloud, bird or airplane.
However, I think I have learned more about my own process from that small blue square than any information, walkthrough, or manual might ever teach me. It lets me think clearly.
These days you must really rip yourself out of the hyper-fast distractions which are constantly there (laptop, cellphone, and so on.) to search out some quite silent time.
Do you think Brian Wilson composed ‘Good Vibrations’ while he was replying to an email, ordering an Uber, checking his plays on SoundCloud and tweeting about the climate at the same time?
I don’t think so.
3. Don’t talk for the entire day. Just listen.
Take a temporary oath of silence. Your songwriting will thanks.
A whole day may be a bit much. Moreover, you HAVE to talk to lay down that earth-shattering vocal of pure genius.
However, It’s no secret that silence is great for you. Even an hour of silence is more than enough time to reset your mind.
Whether you understand it or not, talking is a large and complex task for your mind to carry out. Putting it aside for a little while will put you in the right place to jot down.
And during all that silent time all these deep memories and emotions will have a clear path to the top of your mind. Y’know, all these ideas that make good songs.
So take a break from the chatting and attempt silence for a while. Let your mind do the talking and find all of the inspiration you need.
4. Set an absurd time limit
Guess what? Diamonds by Rihanna was written by Sia in 14 minutes. She put the beat on and the lyrics just flowed. It has gone platinum 5 times in the US alone.
Time is a tough scale to balance. Too much and you end up second guessing everything. Too little and you get nothing completed.
The solution? Set a time limit. Even better, set a time limit that’s method shorter than what you usually write in.
Setting slim boundaries will allow you to concentrate on what matters, write more songs, and streamline your entire process. And the more you do it, the better you will get.
Try it out and make your songs shine bright like a… gold brick?
5. Open your piano roll. Grab the pen tool and MIDI scribble
My favorite feeling in kindergarten was grabbing a handful of crayons and scribbling all at once. To be honest, I’m unsure why I finished.
Well, I guess I did not actually stop essentially. I Just do it in my DAW now.
If I am stuck building a beat I usually open my piano roll, load up an instrument, grab the pen tool and just begin scribbling down notes.
After I’m finished I play it back and listen for the happy accidents.
Most of the time it’s 90% crapola. However, that fascinating 10% is super valuable for ideas. So grab your DAW and channel your inner 5-year-old from time to time.
6. Write a few lyrics as possible
Right here’s a very good tip when you’re stuck: GET TO THE POINT.
In terms of songwriting easy is always effective. However, it’s hard to pull off. You must be ruthless with your method.
Just ask the Beatles. Their track ‘Love Me Do’ has exactly 19 unique words in it. However, it’s still one of the most iconic songs of all time.
Simple is a skill that every songwriter need to master. It keeps your songs relatable, engaging and catchy. Who does not like a great sing along?
7. Put a lid on it
Infinity exists. The only proof you need is a blank DAW. There is infinite VST plugins, infinite effects, infinite processing.
However, infinity is not always a great factor. Generally, the best way to better your songwriting is to set a gear limit.
Begin with a strict list of what you’re gonna use. Limit your ideas to your gear list. Ideas will take shape much faster than having to constantly decide between a million options.
It may sound weird, however, limitations could really make you more creative. Because you must work with what you have got and bend it to your sound.
Plus keeping yourself limited will provide you with a deeper understanding of the tools you work with because you will have to push all of them to the limit.
8. Cut your lyrics into a million pieces
Author William S. Burroughs created the cut-up method to assist with his own writing. Besides, he was not writing songs. He was writing books.
However, his concept is tremendously effective for songwriting as well. It’s pretty easy. Just write out a bunch of words which are on your mind, reduce them out and rearrange them into ideas.
It does not even have to be words either. It may be chords, melodies, notes, photos or anything else that works for you.
David Bowie famously used this technique to jot down some of his largest hits. He explained his own cut-up method in this BBC Documentary:
9. Arrange a reward system
When Brian Wilson was struggling with his own songwriting—among other things—he was reportedly rewarded with cheeseburgers for every track he wrote.
Brian’s system was fairly extreme. However, the concept is really good. Writing songs is tough.
If there’s a piece of gear that you are eyeing or a new studio toy you need, inform yourself that you must write 5 songs before you even think about buying it.
This will provide you with something to work towards beyond the satisfaction of being completed with a track—which is a pretty good reward in itself.
10. The Mozart effect
No, I am not about to let you know to listen to Mozart and then do what he did. That would be cheating right?
However, there’s another reason to listen to Mozart. Listening to Mozart has been studied and proven to have a positive impact on your target.
It impacts your ‘spatial-temporal reasoning.’ Which is basically a fancy word for focus. Beginning your session with a little bit of Mozart will put your mind into high-gear.
Great for pumping out some quality songs. Copying a few of his phrases and melodies could not hurt either… Just ensure you make ’em your own!
11. Copy a song entirely from memory
What would it sound like when you tried to re-record Bohemian Rhapsody right now without listening to it to refresh your memory?
Probably nothing like the original! That’s why making an imperfect copy could be such an amazing creative technique.
It certainly worked for Dirty Projector’s Dave Longstreth. The band’s wonderful 2007 LP Rise Above is a full-length cover of Black Flag’s legendary 1981 album Damaged.
Longstreth apparently had not listened to the original tracks in several years and the outcomes are a strikingly creative take on the classic album
12. Use extended techniques
Extended techniques are all about playing your instrument the “wrong” method.
The idea was grown in the 20th century to help composers push the boundaries of what was possible with traditional instrumentation.
The most famous instance might be John Cage’s notorious “prepared piano” that included forks stuck between the strings and objects placed throughout the mechanics.
However, extended strategies are not just for stuffy academic music. You may even think about Dave Davies decision to slash the speaker cone of his amplifier on “You Really Got Me” an extended method.
The rugged, distorted guitar sound set the tone for a whole new generation of music—that is raw creativity!
Get it into your songwriting with extended techniques.
Getting stuck happens
Songs don’t all the time move.
Generally, you must take drastic measures to make them work.
So think outside the box and get in touch with your best possible resource for writing songs: