John Mayer

Improvising Lyrics As Part of Your Songwriting Process

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A few days ago I wrote a post that offered a step-by-step for writing a song lyric. I hope you’ve tried that, but there’s another way to put your lyrics front-and-centre in your songwriting process, which is to make lyrics part of your initial song improvisations.

If you want to see this in action, there’s a great video of John Mayer giving what amounts to a masterclass on how this is done:

You’ll be struck by the ease with which Mayer can let the words happen, and I encourage you to give it a try. It requires good instrumental technique, of course, because you’ll want to feel free from knowing what your fingers are going to do next.

This is not a contrast to my suggestion of brainstorming titles and phrases as I suggested in “7 Steps For Writing a Well-Structured Song Lyric” because in fact the brainstorming of ideas and song titles can be inspired by this kind of on-the-spot lyric improvisation.

There are many benefits that come from improvising lyrics in this way:

  1. You get to hear how lyrics (particularly the rhythm of the words) and melody support each other.
  2. You can develop the mood of your song right away.
  3. You can test out words and phrases, keeping what works and tossing what doesn’t.
  4. You get a head start on creating useful word lists.
  5. You get a strong sense of direction — of what the song is going to be about — by seeing where your mind takes you.

As with any kind of improvisation — melody, chords, etc. — you generate a lot of stuff that’s weak, but you also stumble across phrases, ideas, hooks, and word/music interplay that you know will work.

And as a first step, it’s a great way to feel immediately creative.

Improvising music and words is a great daily activity. If you’re the kind of songwriter who finds it hard to write on a daily basis, improvising melodies and lyrics works well to take the pressure off and let your musical mind do its thing.

So turn on your digital recorder, start playing, and see what your musical mind comes up with!


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

In the pop music genres, the success of a song is often all about the success of the hook. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how to make your hook really stand out.

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4 Comments

  1. Yes Dont worry about if it makes sense ? somewhere something will click

    No one else needs to hear it , just try it out and something will hook you,

    Also record it , that way you lose nothing .and you can listen to the play back

    another time , if nothings there wipe and start again,

    Let your songs evolve the same way, Listen listen again then re write the phrases

    that need it . Leave it for a few days come back to it, you may find that part you

    thought was sensational , still needs work; We get stories of people writing songs ;

    in twenty minutes , ?? That is a rare occurrence believe me.

  2. You can also hum a tune to improvise lyrics if you’re challenged on an instrument, sometimes that is best as you don’t have to worry about how good you can play.

  3. Everything gets easier when you do it everyday. Like Mayer says this is his living, so he does it 8 or more hours everyday.

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