15 Ways to Write a Song (Part 2)

Another exciting installment of songwriting ideas. Click here for #1-5.

Here are #6-10:

6. Try a new instrument or tuning: Just as with playing a new style or genre, playing a new instrument forces you to change things up. I love this method, picking up a banjo or ukulele or instruments designed for kids. For example, I got an idea for a song when playing the ukulele and trying a banjo-style alternating roll (a right hand fingerstyle move).

You can also experiment with different settings on a single instrument. The easiest way to do this with the guitar is to change tunings or experiment with effects, while if you’re a keyboard player you can try different synthesizers like those by Native Instruments to get great new sounds and song inspirations.

[Examples: “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin, “Africa” by Toto, “Echoes” by Pink Floyd]

7. Adapt exercises: A number of songs have been inspired by seemingly mundane instrument exercises. Sometimes you’ll play an exercise and think of a way it could sound great in a song. Other times you may have to change the notes or the timing a bit, but can still get something useful out of it.

[Examples: “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler, “Eruption” by Van Halen]

8. The Chord Card Game: This is a fun exercise where you take 12 piece of paper, write all of the musical notes on one each (A-to-G#/Ab), put them in a hat, and come up with a chord progression based on the random order you draw them out. You get to choose the chord type (major, minor, dominant, or other).

Music written partly by randomness is called aleatoric music, from the Latin word for “dice”. It can be challenging, but will push you to try make something interesting. Randomness is used by a number of classical and popular composers, such as The Books, and John Williams.

9. Re-working an old riff: You can also find great riffs to build songs around by reworking existing riffs you know and love. Obviously, if the riff is unchanged, you’ve plagiarized, but playing a riff backwards or completely re-ordering the note sequence is often fine.

[Examples: “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith]

10. Jam: Entire genres are dedicated to this for a reason. Not everything you come up with while jamming will be gold, but there will be random jewels. Even non-“jam bands”, like U2, Led Zeppelin, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive are known for coming up with ideas for their songs while randomly jamming.

[Examples: “How Soon Is Now” by The Smiths, “Brick House” by The Commodores, “Homecoming” by Kanye West]


Next time we’ll have the final installment of songwriting methods, #11-15…