Guitarist - songwriter

Starting Songwriting Sessions With a Musical Game

For most songwriters, the way their craft gets practiced is to do more writing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes doing exercises that target specific songwriting skills is the best way to take what you do to the next level.

A number of years ago I came up with five “games” that target specific areas of songwriting, and I thought it might be relevant to mention them again here. I think starting a songwriting session with a short exercise, or game, particularly if you don’t have any specific songwriting goals in mind for your session, can be a great way to get the creative juices flowing.


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Several of the ideas relate to lyrics, one to writing melodies, and one that helps with chord substitutions. Getting started with this sort of activity is a great way to be creative without pressuring yourself too much. And they can actually be a lot of fun.

So have fun!

  1. Word Partners. Come up with a word, and then quickly try to create a list of synonyms and closely-related words. For example, if you choose the word “Love”, you might choose “care”, “help”, “cherish”, and so on. Some might be synonyms, but others (like, let’s say, “warm“) might simply be words that conjure up the notion of “love.”
  2. Title Writing Brainstorm Session. Set a timer for one minute, and see how many potential song titles you can come up with. Don’t worry that you have no idea yet what the back-story might be to these titles. Just try to find short phrases that seem to have a rhythmic feel, ones with potential to make an audience interested: “Just Try It With Me”, “Hopes and Fears”, “That Kind of Thing”,”Going All Out”, and so on.
  3. Lyrical Emotion. Take a lyric from a song you’ve written, or write a new lyric. Now take a pen and circle the words that imply some sort of emotion. These can be actual emotion words, such as “love”, “hate”, and so on, but it could also be words and phrases that are the result of emotions, such as “jump for joy” or “shaking.”
  4. Melodic Emotion. Choose a lyric from number 3 above, and write several melodies to set the line that the word or phrase comes from. This can be challenging, especially if you’ve taken the lyric from something you’ve already written, as you’ll want to try to put the original melody aside and come up with something new. Give your melody some contour, and try to place that important emotional word somewhere high in the newly-created melody.
  5. Chord Substitutions. Create a chord progression, and then come up with chord substitutions. For a refresher in how chord substitutions work, read “8 Tips to Guide Your Search for Chord Substitutions”. See how many substitutions you can create for the same progression.

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

Gary EwerHooks and RiffsHooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.

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