Songwriting Prompts

Songwriting Prompts Image

Over the years, I've participated in a few different types of songwriter groups, where people get together to workshop their material. This past September, I started a new group of my own (affectionately referred to as 'Fury Wrote' ... I'll give you a hint: think 'Mad Max'). For each meeting, I provide an optional writing prompt and at this point, I've assembled a small collection of prompts that I thought might be helpful to share. So please enjoy and I hope these inspire!

  1. Pick up any book or magazine, open it up to a random page and chose the first sentence on that page. Make that the first line of your song.
  2. Choose a song or album at random (shuffle on iTunes or grab an actual CD/record, etc.) and write a song inspired by that style/genre.
  3. Write a song without using any pronouns.
  4. Choose a phone number out of your phone and write a song using the chords from the number. Pick any key. If you want to limit the number of chords in your progression, choose a number with a few zeros. You can decide to keep the chords in the same order or mix it up. For example: 508-243-5454 in the key of C, would be: Gmaj - (skip the 0) - Cmaj - Dmin - Fmaj - Emin - Gmaj -Fmaj - Gmaj - Fmaj
  5. Finish an unfinished song!
  6. Try an online random prompt generator. Some examples include: Creativity Portal and Learn How To Write Songs
  7. Write a song in which the chorus is one verb repeated as many time as you like.
  8. Take an existing song and 'turn it on its head.' It's up to you how you want to interpret that - you can remix it, rewrite the lyrics, rearrange the music, change the style, you name it! But don't be afraid to take it in another direction completely and ultimately create a brand new song out of the exercise.
  9. Write a song in a style (or genre) that is different from what you normally do. For example, if you typically write pop songs, try a ballad or narrative - or go classic rock!

10 Ways

Lately, I'm experiencing an internal struggle: to 'singer/songwriter' or not to 'singer/songwriter'. It's difficult to break away from the paradigm you know, and it's frustrating to feel unable to tap into the authentic performer I really am. I've always emulated performers I admire in an attempt to connect with my own 'musical personality' but I think this album is proving to me that I'm not quite there yet.

I received some advice yesterday that was particularly helpful because it gave me a tangible way to tackle this problem: play each song 10 different ways. It doesn't matter if the performance is 'good' as long as it's different from the last attempt. At first, I felt stuck in my usual rut, but I think the challenge of needing to come up with 10 different approaches allowed me to experiment more.  

  1.  The usual way. I played the song as I usually would....(it took me some time to get the ball rolling).
  2. Way too much tremolo! Played with the Princeton and upped the intensity quite a bit. The tone was too wonky for the song, but it was good to play around with the amp's controls.
  3. Working the overdrive. Automatically gave me some grit (which I need) 
  4. Pick + heels. Yes, as in high heels. PJ Harvey always wears heels, so why not? Plus, I love shoes. But most importantly, the pick gave me the intentionality I was missing in earlier performances. It really helped me dig in and I definitely felt a difference in my attitude.
  5. Delay-delay-delay (plus pick). I love my carbon copy analog delay. It makes everything more fun. I continued to dig in with the pick. 
  6. Pick technique (sort of). Instead of just strumming like an indie musician wannabe, I approached the song with some of my limited pick techniques so as to not play like a sloppy mess.
  7. Acoustic with pick. Sat down and tried my hand at the acoustic, but still keeping in mind the attitude I was tapping into from earlier performances.
  8. Sing it like you mean it. Still emulating, but I thought: 'how would PJ sing the song?' and that's what I did.
  9. Re-phrasing. It's a take away from attempt number 8, but I had some ideas how to rephrase the vocal, which allowed me to 'dig in' from a vocal performance stand point.
  10. No capo. I tend to capo when I'm trying to find the key that really fits my vocal range the best. Since I'm enjoying singing deeper and stronger (from the chest), I removed the capo and dropped the song a full step. Might just keep it that way... 

End result? I've got the inkling of a new attitude. I think I need more practice and commitment to myself (this kind of shift doesn't happen overnight) but it's a good first step.

I recommend trying out the approach if you face a similar conundrum. Your 10 steps can be whatever you want - just make every performance different.