A Speedwriting Challenge For Songwriters: Musical Bungee Jumping

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!

  1. Choose a song topic. [Challenge 3= 30 seconds | Challenge 2= 30 seconds | Challenge 1= 15 seconds]
  2. Create a list of words that relate to that topic. [Challenge 3= 60 seconds | Challenge 2= 30 seconds | Challenge 1= 15 seconds]
  3. Create a chord progression. [Challenge 3= 60 seconds | Challenge 2= 30 seconds | Challenge 1= 15 seconds]
  4. Create a lyric. [Challenge 3= 2 minutes | Challenge 2= 1 minute | Challenge 1= 30 seconds]
  5. Create a melody.  [Challenge 3= 2 minutes | Challenge 2= 1 minute | Challenge 1= 30 seconds]
  6. 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.

Have fun!


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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  1. Pingback: The Benefits of Writing Quickly | The Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog

  2. Pingback: 3 Minute Songwriting Exercise Results | C-Sharp Productions

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  4. Gary, I am home with a cold and I decided to try out your 3 minute exercise. I basically started a stopwatch and went through each step as fast as I could and stopped at 3 minutes. Then I recorded what I had just done.
    1. Started with a title – Walked Through Fire
    2. Related words – Test, struggle, defeat, victory, success, trials, win lose, heat, pain, mission, motivation, push, drive
    3. Chord Progression: Am – G – F – G
    4. Lyric:
    Walked Through Fire
    by Chad Shank

    I’ve had my struggles
    Been lost in the trials and pain
    But I found my mission
    Motivation to run again

    That’s when I Walked Through Fire
    I tasted Victory
    Walked Through Fire
    Yes, I walked
    Oh I Walked Through Fire

    Listen: http://chadshankmusic.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/walkedththroughfire.mp3

    * Please ignore my vocals, since I have a cold, they are a bit strained.

    This was a fun exercise!! I am going to post this on my blog too.

  5. Pingback: Up for the Challenge? | 88pianokeys

  6. So I finally got this done. Here is a link of my speed writing challenge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5y3VSvPy1d0&feature=youtu.be

    Song Topic: Finding Myself

    Words: Journey, Road, Find, Search, explore, investigate, lost, home, direction, follow, time, compass, navigate, meander, stop, crossroads

    Started on a long road home
    Couldn’t find a map along the way
    tried to ignore the voice telling me to stay

    Traveled light and only in the dark
    The peace of the stars to light my way
    so maybe there is hope after all
    to find my way home

    Should have tried every other road
    but the one I chose took me further away from you
    I should’ve stayed by the stream a little longer
    and listened for your voice

  7. Reblogged this on C-Sharp Productions and commented:
    Fun Speed-Songwriting Exercise suggestion from Gary Ewer…Write a song in 3 minutes!! This sounds like something really fun and challenging. As writers we sometimes get stuck because we try to analyze and critique too early in the process. Sometimes we have to JUST WRITE! Get out of your own way and write! ~ Chad

    • Ok so I just tried this speed writing thing. I am going to post the song I got out of it tomorrow when I get a better internet connection. Thanks Gary for the great info!

  8. Hey Gary, I can confirm this is great fun and that it illuminates both your bad habits and your good instincts — three of us on 50/90 wrote and recorded 50 songs in 90 minutes — that’s about 30 seconds to ‘write’ the song and 1:30 to record it … we made ourselves a list of 50 songtitles beforehand though … then you can just react to the theme …

    I got about 14 goodish ones out of this, and made a mini-mini-album called ‘Quick’ — if you insist, here’s one: http://soundcloud.com/songsville/songsville-quick-parallelogram 🙂

    Thanks for all the great ideas, Gary! Are you gonna do one on how to program an album somtime? You know, the ballad as song 6, make sure songs aren’t all in the same key etc etc …

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