Some Guidelines for Speedwriting Your Songs

Speedwriting helps to increase your creative abilities, even if the activity terrifies you.


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Songwriter working at a piano keyboardSpeedwriting can be either fun or terrifying, depending on how you’re feeling on any given day. But there can be no doubt that speedwriting has a lot of benefits, and as a songwriter, you should treat it as an important exercise.

In practically every area of creative arts, you’ll find people who work speedwriting into their daily regimen. Authors in particular love the power, creativity and verbal prowess that come as a direct result of speedwriting.

For songwriters, it can be fun to set a timer for something ridiculously short, like, say, 3 minutes, and see what you come up with. But the main problem that songwriters face, which authors don’t usually have to deal with, is dealing with verses, choruses, bridges and other sections, all of which need to transition more-or-less seamlessly. That’s where speedwriting a song can create the biggest problems.

So let’s try to solve those design problems first. Here are some tips to help you get set up; they’ll increase the chance that you’ll be able to speed-write something worth keeping.

The Set-Up

You should be able to do the following three steps in 30 seconds or less:

  1. Choose a basic song design as a starting point: verse-chorus, verse-chorus-bridge, or something else. Write out each section that you plan to use (see diagram below).
  2. Choose the first two chords of each section of your song.
  3. Create a first line of lyric.

The Song

So now you’ve got a basic framework. Get your instrument ready, as well as any materials you typically use to write: paper, pencils, smartphone, computer… whatever you like to use.

Get your sheet of paper where you wrote your song design so that you can refer to it as you work. It might look something like this:

Song design form

To make this a true speedwriting activity, set a timer for 3-5 minutes, and then start. The idea here is to not set down rules for how this should happen. But there is one rule you may want to remember: Don’t second-guess, judge or criticize what you’ve written down. Don’t take time (yet) to go back and fix what you’ve written. The idea is to always move forward.

Once the timer tells you that the activity is finished, you may find that you haven’t even come close to finishing your song. That’s OK. Keep whatever you’ve written, set it aside, and get set up for a new song.

For each time you run this activity, try changing things up as much as possible. Try not to use the same song design twice in a row, and always choose different starting chords and a different lyric.

The more you try speedwriting, the easier you’ll find it. You’ll start to notice that you’re able to write songs that are “keepers.” Once you’ve got something that’s got potential, then it’s time to go back and fix.

Don’t let the difficulty of speedwriting discourage you. It will be hard at first, but you’ll be surprised by how creative you start to feel, especially if you make this a daily part of your songwriting schedule.


Gary Ewer

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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  1. Pingback: Speed Up Your Songwriting, and Minimize Your Inner Critic | The Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog

  2. Forgive me Gary for sending you an e-mail on your speed writing blog. The lawsuit that recently affected everyone, seems to me to be way out of line. I thought only a melody can be copyrighted. The melody in “Blurred Lines” doesn’t sound anything like “Give it Up”. Only the beat is similar. Would you please respond and give us your opinion as to this lawsuit.

    Chuck ( Sent from my iPad


    • I’m really puzzled by the jury’s decision. They were carefully instructed not to take the feel of the music into consideration. In fact, the only things they were allowed to consider were whatever could be represented in the sheet music. Once you strip away the elements that contribute to “feel” (tempo, instrumentation, bass, sparse musical arrangement and vocal style), there are no similarities between these two songs. Unless there is something being incorrectly reported on this story, I can only conclude that the jury was not able to dissociate the recording from the sheet music. The melodies are different. The lyrics are different. The rhythms that contribute to both those elements are different. Of course the two songs “feel” the same, but they were instructed to ignore that fact, as “feel” wasn’t the issue.

      So in the absence of any other information on this (and assuming this decision is being correctly reported to us), it’s impossible to conclude anything other than: the jury blew it, and got it massively wrong.


  3. As much as I appreciate speed writing I also like Snail Writing Leonard Cohen
    stated that he would fill a whole note book with lines for a lyrical phrases over
    the course of a day, and if at the end of that day he chooses one or two
    words to start or complete a line its been worthwhile There are very few hit
    songs that have endured the test of time convinced and written in a
    couple of days or less

    Why should we put a time limit on any new song, the only reason for
    working fast would be to write a filler for an album

    • Thanks for this Gary. The structure is helpful and I will try it out. I take Peter’s point about snail writing. Good things do take time to develop.

      For me, however, I find that songwriting has at least three stages, each of which has very different creative dynamics: 1.) teasing out the idea; 2.) developing the idea into a song; 3.) polishing the song.

      When I’m writing, speed is an important part of the first step, especially when I’m playing with a scrap of a lyric or riff that could go in many different directions. This can be paralyzing if I don’t act on it, and especially if I don’t let go of my hangups and inner critic. Speed writing helps me get over those issues and gives the idea room to breathe, as it were. However, it very rarely results in a complete song. It does set a foundation in place though.

      The next two stages do require more time. Not necessarily sustained time as in sitting for hours at a single stretch with my guitar, but time in the sense of walking away from the draft idea for a day or two and then coming back to it. Or, time as in, making lots of small changes over a period of days/weeks as the idea matures and blossoms into a unified whole. This is where persistence and patience is important. Your inner critic can now jump in and actually help because you’ve got a foundation for the song in place. His role is now to improve rather than kill your writing.

      The final stage, polishing, also takes time and, more often than not, is a collaborative effort with a producer, other writers, or musicians, each contributing something to the final result. Maybe it’s the way a line is phrased, or perhaps small change in word choice, or the arrangement of your lines. And then there is the performance of it. A rushed production or recording can kill a good song’s potential.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this, Peter. Just to clarify, I wasn’t suggesting speedwriting as a best way to produce the best music. It was an exercise meant to challenge one’s musical imagination. Some well-known songs that have been influential have been written very quickly. Dylan claimed in a conversation with Leonard Cohen that he wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 15 minutes. But in general, as you imply, the best music is going to happen when ideas are developed and honed, not written in a flurry of activity. Speedwriting, however, can be a very useful exercise.


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