You could argue that the best way to practice songwriting it to pick up your pencil and instrument and start writing. It seems to make sense that the more you write, the better you get.
But there is a problem with this kind of on-the-job training approach, which is (assuming you are left to your own devices with no one to guide you) that you’re inadvertently reinforcing some errors you haven’t noticed.
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Songwriting is something that can and should be practiced. But how do you practice something that presumably comes out of your imagination? Can you actually practice being creative?
Yes, you most certainly can. Practicing creativity is important especially when you remind yourself that creativity and imagination are not the same thing. Creativity refers to your ability to assemble the bits of music from your imagination, and that process becomes better when you study and practice.
If you’re looking for ideas for honing your songwriting craft, here are a few ideas. Please feel free to share some songwriting activities you’ve tried over the years, tips that you’ve found particularly helpful.
- Rewriting lines of lyric. Take a line of lyric you’ve written, and challenge yourself to rewrite it in as many different ways as you can. Don’t worry about rhyming; this is more a “vocabulary” kind of exercise.
- Invent words and phrases. Write a common word, and then try to invent new words that could be inserted in a lyric. Example: Original word: Icicle. Possible new words: Frosticle, frostule, iceware, etc. Original word: happy. Possible new words: grinnable, smilish, the pleasant tense, etc.
- Changing melodic shapes. Create quick line of lyric, add a chord or two, and then invent a melody to set the words. Once you’ve done that, keep the chords and lyrics, but keep changing the melody so that a different word in that line gets placed at the top. Example: “Come walk with me and share my life.” Say that line with a different word placed high in your voice, and you’ll get what I’m talking about.
- Brainstorming titles. Make a game out of it: set your timer for 1 minute, and see how many titles you can come up with. Don’t worry about context… you may not have any idea how you’d use these titles, but you want to find a short phrase that’s catchy and enticing. By the end of that minute, you’ll likely have at least 3 or 4 that will have good promise for working into a song.
- Convert a lyric into a story. Take a favourite song — one you haven’t written — and write a short 1-page story that could have preceded the writing of that lyric. Some lyrics are hard to fathom… what is the writer really trying to say? This is your opportunity to decide for yourself what some more complicated lyrics are actually about.
There are lots of other ideas to try. What do you do to become a better songwriter? Please feel free to share your ideas below.