5 Tips to Improve your Songwriting
by Samantha Perren
Songwriting can be such a fun, healing and exciting process, but when writer’s block strikes it can become something very stressful. Here’s just a few tips and activities that we use in Songwriters Club to get the most out of our songwriters.
- Object writing
We begin a lot of our song writing sessions at Downtown Creative Studios with an object writing challenge. This is an exercise adapted from “Songwriting without Boundaries” by Pat Pattison. This exercise involves placing a random object in the middle of the room and writing about it for 5 – 10 minutes. This is an opportunity to expand your creativity and explore the boundaries of your mind.
You might begin thinking quite literally about the object in front of you. For example, if the object is a water bottle, you might describe it as cold, shiny, metallic, filled to the brim etc. The trick is not to limit yourself to what you see physically and expand on a more creative approach. For example, your mind might draw an analogy between the water in the bottle and a storm on the ocean, or the hard container being a metaphor for society’s rules and limitations.
Resulting in something like:
The waves crashed hard against the surface of the earth
While the world slept peacefully, blissfully unaware
There’s a storm on the horizon threatening a world
Where opinions conflict, what’s right? and what’s fair?
Remember not to put too much pressure on yourself, there are no wrong answers and it definitely doesn’t have to make too much sense. It’s just an exercise to relax your brain and open the floodgates for your creativity to rush out.
- Write a song using only twenty words or less
Ever heard the saying less is more? It worked for the Beatles! Their song Love Me Do has only 18 individual words. A great exercise to assist with making your writing more succinct is to try writing a song with only 20 words or less. Sometimes we can get bogged down in adjectives, prepositions and words that we don’t need. Tighten up your writing by limiting your words. You will find not only will your lyrics become more purposeful and concise, but you will be forced to expand your creativity when creating melodies and rhythms to carry your lyrics.
- Take your first line from a random page in a book
As a songwriter, there’s nothing more intimidating than an empty page. Figuring out where to start can sometimes leave our minds as blank as the page we’re staring at. A fun tip to overcoming the overwhelming task of jotting down that first line is to simply move past it and start with the second one. Instead grab a random book lying around the house and flip to a random page. Now scan that page for a line that resonates with you and use that as the first line in your song. This will kick start your creativity and get the cogs turning to create a song you never thought you would.
For example, a book we have lying around in the office is “The Alexander Principle” by Wilfred Barlow.
I’ve chosen the line “A whole range of most subtle emotions are manifested in the shoulders.”
So my song could go something like this:
A range of most subtle emotions
sprinkle your face when nobody’s watching
look to the left, while you hide from the right
with the strength you have left, you hold on so tight
Already my song has evolved to clearly be about someone going through a hard time, and not wanting anyone else to know.
- Swap instruments
I’m going to let Miss Kathleen tell you about the benefits of this one:
“I feel most comfortable singing and playing the guitar or piano. When Miss Sam asked me to try and write song using a ukulele one week, I was a bit worried as I only knew a few simple chords. I got out the ukulele and started strumming, the sound to me was sweet and carefree and this is exactly the mood my writing started to go in. I had been writing in a similar way and feeling less than inspired so this change of instrument, change of sound and change of mood really inspired a lot of new and exciting lyrics and melodies to create a song I was really happy with! The challenge of trying a new instrument left me with what I thought were limitations, but really it gave me freedom to open up, simplify and create something brand new! I am excited to give more instruments a go, even if I can only play a few chords or notes. Some of the best songs in the world only have a simple backing, some inspired words and a lot of passion and emotion. What instrument should I try next?” – Kathleen Maloney
- Don’t put so much pressure on yourself
Remember that putting too much pressure on yourself to write something good and profound can be a slippery slope to not being able to write anything at all. When your brain is relaxed, your creativity is unlimited. I’ve been told by many Songwriters that the moment right before you fall asleep at night is when your brain is at its most creative. It’s a great idea to keep a note pad and a pen by your bed in case you come up with some inspired lyrics you’d like to remember. I’m constantly jotting things down in the notes section of my iPhone when I should be trying to sleep. It’s also good to remember that sometimes you can’t force a song to go in a particular direction, sometimes you need to let it guide you. Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember that there are no bad ideas!