15 Unorthodox Songwriting Prompts To Spark Creativity
Songwriting can be fun and productive for a while, but eventually of us hit some kind of creative wall. Here, we look at fifteen unique ideas for songwriting you’re unlikely to find anywhere else that are bound to re-ignite the creative spark.
Guest post by Caleb J. Murphy of Soundfly’s Flypaper
Feeling stuck on a song? Or do you just need a new perspective?
If so, here are a bunch of songwriting prompts you can use for pretty much whatever you need. Whether you just need to jump-start your brain into creative mode, or you’re looking for a decent challenge to exercise your lyrical muscles, below are 15 ideas that you probably aren’t going to find in any old songwriting book.
But if you’re really looking for a challenging way to level up your songwriting, dive deep into your process with personalized feedback and accountability from a Soundfly mentor; simply tell us what you’re working on, and we’ll find the right mentor for you!
1. Rewrite someone else’s song.
Take another songwriter’s song, use the lyrics as the starting point for your own, alter the chord progression. Don’t plagiarize, just use it as inspiration.
2. Listen to many songs and sounds at once.
Tom Waits would turn on two radios set to two different stations and listen for interesting sounds. Seems chaotic, but I’d say Waits did alright for himself.
3. Stop talking.
Don’t talk for a certain length of time. Just listen. Then write down anything interesting you hear.
4. Draw a picture with MIDI notes.
Producer and YouTuber, and instructor of Soundfly’s free course, Making Music with Everyday Items, Andrew Huang, has done something like this a few times. Open your DAW, arrange MIDI notes into a picture, then hit play. Listen for melodies you can work off of.
5. Copy a paragraph from your favorite book…but backward.
I saw this in Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist Journal: A Notebook for Creative Kleptomaniacs. Copy a paragraph word-by-word but in reverse. Then look for a song title or idea in the backward paragraph.
And speaking of Kleon’s advice, well we take a lot of it. Read here about why stealing other artists’ work is kind of… fine?
6. What are five things you see, hear, and/or feel right now? Like, right now.
Write about what you experience. Describe everything. Sometimes people refer to this as the Object Writing Technique.
7. Watch the news and listen for song ideas.
Songwriter Aaron Espe wrote about how he will listen to the news in the evening specifically to listen for song ideas.
(*But don’t rely too heavily on this technique these days or you might need some emotional support to go along with it.)
8. Look at your last text conversation for lyric ideas.
No matter who you were texting or how boring you think it may sound.
9. Create a melody using the first 2-3 notes of someone else’s melody.
Listen to the chorus of your favorite song, but just pay attention to the first two notes. Use those notes as the beginning of your own melody.
10. Go outside and listen to your neighborhood.
Step outside and listen to the sounds of your neighborhood. Listen for notes and melodies in the sound of the birds singing, trees rustling, traffic, or machinery noise.
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11. Make a melody from someone’s speech.
Listen to some spoken word audio — an audiobook, a TED Talk, a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. — and make a melody out of the intonation of the person’s voice. You’ll realize humans actually sing when they speak (some more than others).
Or, you know, just use some of the words from the speech to transform them into lyrics.
12. Write a song to your younger self.
What would you say to your 10- or 15-year-old self? Or yourself from last year?
13. Pitch-shift someone else’s song.
Drop another artist’s song into your DAW. Then pitch-shift it. Listen for interesting sounds or melodies. Does it still work? Does anything need changing? Let them inspire your own track.
14. Talk to a 5-year-old.
Have a conversation with a 5-year-old for 5 minutes. Write down anything interesting they say, then turn it into a song.
15. Use only one-syllable words.
You know, write a song like this. Words with just one beat each. To tell you the truth, it’s quite fun.
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