Songwriting Inspiration: Get Better with These Seven Creative Challenges9 min read

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songwriting challenge

Has your inspiration for songwriting run completely dry? Do you feel like you have lost “it”, or perhaps are struggling to get “it” in the first place? Fear not! This article should be just the thing you need to get you excited about writing again.

With all the people who spend time writing songs every day, it’s interesting that many probably don’t often consider HOW to actually write a song. For instance, where should one begin? Do you start with the chorus, or the verses? Is it best to write on the guitar, or piano? Or should you try to write the song away from your instrument?

There’s no “right” way to write a song

The ways one can write a song are seemingly endless. However, there are some out there who have been lucky enough to find a method that works for them. Which is great, but it often leaves the not so lucky ones to feel like they don’t have what it takes. And then there are the people who are convinced that there should be no method at all and that all music should only come “naturally”.

What is for certain is that there will never be any one way of writing a song that will work for everyone. On top of that, something that works for a musician one week might not work as well for them the next.

If you want to continue to believe that songwriting is nothing more than sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike, feel free to stop reading now. Not trying to burst anyone’s bubble. Though, if you are looking for ways to change up your writing technique the following is a great place to start.

Read through the following seven ideas that you can take into your next writing session. These certainly are not the only seven ways, but they’re just a few to give you a taste of what’s possible.

Old Reliable

This is the tried and true method of writing a song. First you want to find a couple chord progressions for your chorus and verses. Sing over these progressions till you find an acceptable melody that works for you. You’ll probably arrange the song alternating the verse and the chorus until you reach the bridge of the song to change it up a bit. After this you might add a solo or instrumental break and another chorus or two. On top of this you could potentially write an intro and outro and there you have it.

With this method you will at the very least have the start of a solid song (especially if you are writing pop music). However, once you write too many songs this way, you risk sounding too predictable. This is a solid technique to know how to use, but probably shouldn’t be the only one you use.

Put The Intensity In Your Opening Line

Instead of writing your chord progressions or lyrics first, try to write a song in terms of intensity or dynamics and how you want it to develop throughout the song. Perhaps you want the intro of your song to be high intensity and and then quiet down into the first verse. Or maybe you would rather start off quiet and build the intensity towards the end of the tune.

Figure out if you would like the either verses or choruses to be the more intense parts of the song. Or maybe you want the first two choruses to be loud, and the final chorus to be quiet. There is really no one way to do it.

A great thing to do is to take a piece of paper and draw out your dynamics of the song before writing it. Where do you want the biggest part of the song to be, and how exactly do you want to get there? Once that is decided, then find chords, melodies and instrumentation to best suit that plan.

Start With The Lyrics

You’ll find that most songwriters like to find a good chord progression before they figure out the lyrics. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t try it the other way. There are in fact many popular tunes that started with the lyrics, Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” being one of them.

The advantage to starting with the chords is that it’s easier to find words that fit within a certain chord structure than it is to try and find a chord structure to fit around words that have already been written. Though trying to do it the other way around is a challenge that may lead to interesting results. Perhaps the lyrics you wrote only works in a time signature you have never tried before. It gets you thinking outside the box a little bit and produces a more unique sound.

If you are someone who writes metal or prog rock music, this is definitely something you should try. It’s a great practice to get you used to odd time signatures.

Let Other People Inspire You (Money For Nothing)

If you’ve been staring at a piece of paper for hours, unable to think of anything good enough to write about, why not go ahead and write about other people? A great thing you can do is go out and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. You’d be surprised the stories some people are willing to share.

When they do, pay attention and take note of not only what they say, but how they say it. The phrasing some people use to tell their own stories might be enough material to write a whole chorus with. The tune “Money For Nothing” by Mark Knopfler came out of doing this exact thing when he started a conversation with a clerk in an appliance store.

You don’t need any special skills to try this out for yourself besides a willingness to listen to people.

Start By Choosing The Instruments You Want

Before actually picking up an instrument, decide in your head what instruments you’d like the song to have. Once you do, be sure to write it down so you don’t forget.

What you write down could look something like this… “The song will start with a soft piano intro until we get into the opening line of the song, at which point a string section will be added. At the first chorus I will include some bass drum and vocal harmonies in the back that will build up throughout the song. When the final chorus comes I will include a full drum kit and electric guitar. The outro will go back to the original soft piano.”

This technique is not only easy, but its fun too! By imagining how you want the song to sound before playing it, you aren’t limited to your own playing abilities and you will probably write more interesting and complex sounds than usual.

Get Yourself A Song Writing Buddy

When writing a tune, there’s no need to do absolutely everything yourself. Try finding a friend to not only write with, but to hold you accountable for writing more often.

When writing together, you can have one person write the lyrics and the other person write the music (it’s good to change up who does what once in a while). Who ever writes their section first can share it with the other person to complete.

After both parts are written, you can try recording a rough demo to check out the result. Co-writing does take a bit of getting used to, but you’ll be surprised what sort of things you can come up with.

Pick An Emotion Or Situation And Write About That

I’ve always enjoyed this method. Much like the title says, pick a specific emotion or story you want to write about. Don’t be too general when doing this. For example, “joy” is much to general. “The joy of falling in love”, is not bad. “The joyful feeling of being in love when you are 10 years old and holding another person’s hand for the very first time in an empty school yard” is a great start.

Once you have these details figured out, go on to make note of what musical elements you want to include. This being what kind of instrumentation you want to use, the time signature and the speed of the song, what kind of singers (if any) you want to be on the track, and so on.

Fill up at least one whole page with these details before touching your instrument. Don’t cheat this stage. Actually write it down so you aren’t left guessing later on. Once you have figured out these parts, the actually writing flow out much more naturally. It might sound like a lot of work now, but try it for yourself before you knock it!

If you want to see first hand how this technique works, watch the following video:

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Write A Song

At this point you should hopefully feel inspired to start the actual writing process. What you are going to want to do is…

  1. Pick from one of the above methods (whichever one you liked the most)
  2. Shut down your computer and remove any possible distractions
  3. Begin writing a song

Set a time limit and give yourself a couple hours tops to write a full tune beginning to end (the world doesn’t need more half written songs). Continue this process once a day for at least a week and then you will have 7 new songs to enjoy. If you find you enjoy one of them enough, post it to YouTube and send me the link. I’m interested in hearing what you create!

About the Author

A professional guitarist, teacher, and composer, Tommaso Zillio enjoys particularly writing about writing songs

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