It’s very important for us songwriters to work on our craft, and constantly seek out ways to improve. While I do recommend you constantly write songs as it is great practice, there are also many different types of songwriting exercises that you can try out. The only thing is however if you’re like me, you don’t have all day. This is why I put together this list of songwriting exercises that I found actually made a difference in my writing.
If you want to work on your songwriting craft as efficiently as possible, look no further and get ready to learn! Keep in mind that I may add more to this list as I come across more beneficial songwriting exercises.
Table of Contents
5 Best Songwriting Exercises
1. Word Association
In this exercise, you follow a brainstorming type of structure where you try to come up with as many words as you can to an associated topic. You’ll want to set a timer for 3 minutes and have a list of words to choose from. For example, if you were to choose the word “Adventure,” you would need to brainstorm as many words and ideas that associate with it.
Journey, life, lost, new, and beginning. All words that you can associate with the word “adventure.” This will broaden your vocabulary, helping you have a better understanding of the words. You will also open yourself to more ideas and be familiar with synonyms of words.
I also like to go a step further by writing out sentences, phrases, and even song ideas for the words I choose. After doing this word association exercise, I find that I am able to expand my thoughts more, coming up with ideas I normally don’t think of. It’s important to keep your brainstorming session within the 3-minute limitation. This adds pressure that makes helps you put your ideas down with less hesitance.
Definitely, one of my favorite songwriting exercises since it’s not very time consuming, but very effective in helping you become a better lyricist. It’s easier for me to put together my thoughts into lyrics even able to find words that have more flavor.
Overall, this songwriting exercise is great for helping ideas that are related to the words you are associating with.
2. The 10-minute song
With this songwriting exercise, your goal is to finish a song in 10 minutes. You can think of this as the songwriter’s version of freewriting, except you’ll also be incorporating an instrument of your choosing. This means that you have to come up with lyrics and a chord progression in 10 minutes or less.
When doing this exercise, you will definitely feel the pressure as the timer goes down. To make it a little easier, here’s a song structure you can follow when performing this songwriting exercise.
Verse 1-Chorus-Verse 2-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus
As Dylan Laine explains in her YouTube video, it’s okay for your “10-minute” song to be random and have nonsensical lyrics. There are going to be moments where you might do really good with the first verse and chorus, but then find yourself completely stuck on the second verse. If you really feel like nothing’s coming to you, this is when you can rely on being random.
Like in freewriting, you don’t have to share what you come up with during this songwriting exercise. So don’t be embarrassed to put down whatever comes to mind during your session.
Don’t worry, if you really enjoy the sound of what you have before resulting to being random, you can always leave a note and go back to it after this 10-minute exercise. Even I have gone back to some of the 10-minute songs I put together during my practice sessions. I found myself combining lyrics and ideas from different days to put together something completely new.
Like in freewriting, once the timer goes off, put everything down, and perform your 10-minute song. I recommend recording it so you can look back on what you have worked on and how much you have progressed as a songwriter.
3. Learn Your Favorites (Learn the songs of your favorite artists)
Now here’s something any songwriter can benefit from. Learn how to play your favorite songs from your favorite artists and songwriters. At first glance, you might be wondering how this could be a beneficial songwriting exercise when it’s nothing to do with your own songs.
However, learning, practicing, and mastering your favorite songs is a great way to expand your musical abilities and styles. As you continue to grow as an artist, all of your musical influences will leave an impact on your own music. Your songwriting style will continue to evolve. Eventually, your musical style may mesh with the artists you follow closely, giving birth to a new unique sound you can call your own.
Chord progressions, lyrical style, even the overall vibe of your songs can draw inspiration from your favorite artists. Anything you learn while practicing music will be beneficial for those who are trying to become better songwriters.
(Re-writing the chorus)
When learning other people’s songs, a fun exercise I like to do is to rewrite the choruses. The chorus, also known as the part of the song that brings everything together can be the most challenging step in the songwriting process. This exercise helps improve your ability to put together catchy choruses that complete a song.
It’s also easier since you have a full song to draw inspiration from when creating your chorus.
4. The 6 Word Story
Songwriters are trying to convey a message through their lyrics while aiming to fit a melody. The “6 Word Story” songwriting exercise is great in helping us with the art of condensing, which is, according to Ali Errett from The Art of Songs, “Where we take big ideas and convey them in as few words as possible.”
When we write the lyrics of our songs, we want to give enough details that draw our listeners in, while at the same time, not giving them all the answers. You want them to think about your song even after they have listened to it. Errett says in his video, “The depth of the lyric is often in the mystery of the unspoken.”
To start writing a 6 Word Story, all you need is a beginning, middle, and end. Remember that you need conflict and resolution.
Here’s an example I came up with for this exercise:
If you feel up to it, you can increase the number of words to 9.
After doing this songwriting exercise, I find it easier to convey what I am thinking or feeling in as little words as possible. This is true in both songwriting and in general life. I never realized how important it is to condense your lyrics down. Every word you write down when putting together a song is important. Don’t flood your lyrics with a bunch of filler words if it isn’t necessary.
I have found myself having an easier time putting together lyrics that carry a lot of meaning behind them while trying to keep the words at a minimum. Try it out, you won’t regret it.
5. Freewriting (10 minutes)
Freewriting is an exercise that will help train your mind, creating the habit of writing/logging your thoughts down onto paper whether they are full ideas or developing ones. Thoughts always come and go and more often than not, people will only write down their thoughts if they are fully developed.
This is a bad habit that needs to be fixed as you never know what ideas will become your next biggest hit. Freewriting will help songwriters get more ideas written down so you can expand on them further. We definitely recommend you set aside 10 minutes a day for freewriting and at least 4-5 days a week.
Once your timer is set, you can now write about anything that pops up in your mind. There’s no pressure as you won’t have to show this to anyone if you don’t want to. Just think, feel, write, and once the alarm rings, drop your pencil/pen and stop writing. You can do whatever you want with the things you wrote down. Sometimes I even come up with song ideas from my freewriting sessions.
After a couple of weeks of freewriting, you will notice a difference in the freedom of your songwriting. You’ll find yourself freer to write down whatever it is that you’re thinking or feeling at any given time. This of course can lead to potential song ideas and lyrics.
Freewriting is very refreshing and I highly recommend it to any songwriter looking to improve upon their craft.
Songwriting, like any skill. It needs practice and training if you ever want to get better at this craft. If you put in the hours, you will find yourself improving as a songwriter. My hope is that this list of songwriting exercises help you during your practice sessions to work on your craft in the most efficient way possible. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or email me! Best of luck on your songwriting journey!