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It’s pretty obvious that the more you write, the stronger your technique becomes. But it really pays off to put a microscope on your songs from time to time, and focus in on the aspects of writing that you find the hardest. Sometimes we become too accepting of the fact that we find one or another thing hard to do. For example, you might have resigned yourself to the fact that your lyrics aren’t your strongest suit, but your good melodies are what really work. But you may find that the weak part of your writing simply needs a bit of practice.
The great thing about practice is that you can create small tasks – games, really, that take the pressure off having to write full-length songs. The problem with solving writing problems with full-length songs is that you have to juggle all aspects of composition, and it doesn’t allow you to focus on your problem.
So what kind of games can you create to help you pinpoint your particular weaknesses? Try these:
- Word Partners. Write a word, then come up with a list of at least five words that either mean the same thing, or make you think of that word. Example: “Love” might give you the following list: peace, like, true, warm, need, want, care… Anyone can look up “love” in a thesaurus, but that list of words may not be words you’d use.
- Title Writing Brainstorm Session. Set a timer for one minute, and brainstorm possible titles for songs. These will be short phrases that feel like they’ve got an inherent rhythm that could set up a hook. You don’t even need to know what the title is supposed to mean at this point! Just let your mind go wild: “In a Different Place”, “Reaching Out to You”, “You Blow My Mind”, “Where Did You Go…” and so on. If you’re normal, 90% of what you write will be either not quite right, but many of your title creations could be reworked, and can serve as the start of your next song.
- Lyrical Emotion. Take a lyric from a song you’ve written, or write a new lyric. Then take a pen and circle every word that describes or implies an emotion. Emotion-laden words are the kinds of words that should be placed higher in melodies.
- Melodic Emotion. Choose a lyric from number 3 above, and create several short melodies that could work with that lyric. Be sure that the emotion word that you’ve circled is placed relatively high in the melodic range of your melody.
- Chord Substitutions. Create a chord progression, and then recreate it with substitutions. If you’re not sure how chord substitutions work, read this article (opens in a new window). See how many substitutions you can create for the same progression.
The advantage to these little games is that you don’t need to create an entire song, and they’re a great way to build skills especially if you’re going through a dry patch. And the games allow you to focus right in on that aspect of songwriting that you find the hardest.
In no time at all, you’ll discover that you’re becoming much better on the thing that you thought you were lousy at!
Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” for your desktop or laptop, and get back to writing great songs!