How long does it take you to write a song? Time to have some fun: how about a song in less than 3 minutes?
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It’s often a useful exercise to change the way you write music, if only to keep things interesting. In my last post I talked about changing the way you start songs, because how you start is often going to determine how a song sounds. But what I’m talking about here is a little different. I want to focus in on your songwriting technique, by which I mean how you develop your ideas once you create them. It can be an incredibly useful exercise to spend a session speedwriting.
Speedwriting is what it sounds like: pick up your pencil and paper, sit at an instrument, and then give yourself an unreasonably short amount of time to come up with a song.
The exercise is very much akin to shortform improvisational theatre. A group of actors take suggestions from the audience, and then they immediately perform a scene based on those suggestions. There’s almost no time to think! They need to create a theatric scene that works well and is entertaining. It’s terrifying and skill-building at the same time.
Speedwriting for songwriters is also skill-building, but usually less terrifying because it’s something you’ll do without an audience in front of you. (Having said that though… there’s an interesting idea!)
Are you up for the challenge? Try the following set of steps. Each step has 3 suggestions for the amount of time you should allocate. Challenge 3 is fast: a song in 7 minutes. Challenge 2 is crazy: a song in 5 minutes. And Challenge 1 is the equivalent of songwriting bungie-jumping: a song in 2 minutes and 45 seconds.
What’s even more of a challenge here is that you’ll need to be developing the form of your song (i.e., verse-chorus-bridge, etc) as you go. At first, try sticking with a verse-only format, but as you gain confidence, try a song or two with a more elaborate formal design.
Ready? Get a stopwatch, pencil, paper, a musical instrument, and… GO!
- Choose a song topic. [Challenge 3= 30 seconds | Challenge 2= 30 seconds | Challenge 1= 15 seconds]
- Create a list of words that relate to that topic. [Challenge 3= 60 seconds | Challenge 2= 30 seconds | Challenge 1= 15 seconds]
- Create a chord progression. [Challenge 3= 60 seconds | Challenge 2= 30 seconds | Challenge 1= 15 seconds]
- Create a lyric. [Challenge 3= 2 minutes | Challenge 2= 1 minute | Challenge 1= 30 seconds]
- Create a melody. [Challenge 3= 2 minutes | Challenge 2= 1 minute | Challenge 1= 30 seconds]
- Fix and hone. [Challenge 3= 60 seconds | Challenge 2= 60 seconds | Challenge 1= 60 seconds]
As soon as you’re finished, record what you’ve done – no thinking or rethinking. You may find the results to be hilarious, and you may find that your speedwriting has proven to you just how musical you really are.
Each time is just a guideline. As soon as you finish one step, get going to the next one.
And never worry about how bad your song is. There’s an actual purpose to this exercise. Most people in the creative arts (musicians, novelists, essayists, actors, etc.) will benefit from the challenge of being creative at the drop of a hat.
And don’t be shy – feel free to post a link to your songs below.
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