Every songwriter, whether experienced or not, should be constantly practicing their craft. But how exactly do you practice songwriting and what are the best songwriting exercises?
Well, by writing songs of course! Regardless of any advice you receive from anyone, simply picking up your instrument of choice and getting down and dirty with it is the best way to get better.
But, there are particular songwriting exercises any songwriter can take up to hone their craft into something better, something new, or something fulfilling. That’s why we’ve put together a list of five great exercises any songwriter can start today to get working on those songs that will change someone’s life!
Exercise 1 – Study Other Songwriters
Just as a great painter can spend hours in a museum, any great songwriter spends countless hours listening to the music of their favorite composers.
This is important because it can make creating impactful songs easier when you understand how it was done by others. Isaac Newton once said he stood “on the shoulders of giants” to create his groundbreaking theories – any songwriter worth their weight will tell you the same.
But while you’re studying other songwriters’ work, pay close attention to the lyrics and composition. How does the music interact with the words and vice versa? What is the song about, and how does the song express that point of view in an unforgettable way?
Also pay attention to structure. How does the bridge of the song roll into the chorus? In fact, how does the whole song fit together as a cohesive whole?
The best thing to avoid is slipping into the trap of sounding like your favorite songwriters. Remember, you’re learning from them, not trying to be them!
Exercise 2 – Play with Perspective
As you are writing your songs, you’ll most likely see that it is written from a specific perspective. One great way to flex your creative muscle and one of my favorite songwriting exercises is to simply change the perspective of the song!
For example, you could be writing about your own personal experience with something tragic like a breakup. If you try to rewrite the song from someone else’s perspective, you have to rethink almost every aspect of the lyrics to reflect that change. Just like lifting weights, changing perspective will sharpen your skills for whatever future songs you write.
Exercise 3 – Loops
With the increased availability of loops, musicians are able to repeat phrases to try different lyrical and compositional techniques in a novel and convenient way.
Looping is incredibly useful especially when you’re tackling with a rhyme that still has a way to go to perfectly fit into the song. An additional benefit is being able to try different approaches to singing and playing in a song all in one sitting.
Simple loop petals are available for relatively cheap. Grab a microphone and a cable, and you can loop most acoustic instruments with ease.
Exercise 4 – Record Yourself
Before you shop out your songs to others, it’s extremely helpful to hear the whole composition as a listener yourself.
This is because you can more easily judge the impact of a song on the listener when you can step out of the performance space. Especially when you’ve written for very specific moments to have specific impacts, you can be the first judge of whether you’ve achieve the desired effect.
One word of caution – recording yourself can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience, especially when it’s still a raw idea. Do not get discouraged with what you hear, but instead look at it as a springboard to an even more complete composition down the road.
Exercise 5 – Talk with Songwriters
One of the most enlightening experiences any songwriter can have is stepping into the mind of another songwriter.
While this will be hard with your favorites – they’re either dead, or busy being famous – talking with other musicians at local shows and picking their brain about their craft is an excellent way to think about your own process.
These can often be transformative conversations, so be prepared to experience an “a-ha!” moment that may change the course of your songwriting.
Here are some tips from the pros: