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Songwriting Games: Brainstorming

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Brainstorming

Brainstorming is free-writing with a purpose. Your goal is to write as many ideas quickly as you can… words, fragments and phrases, not lines or rhymes. Don’t edit or judge the ideas, just write them as they come. 

Once you can turn off your internal editor, every idea is a “yes” even if it feels off topic. Get your ideas out of your head and onto paper so you can play with them. Try it once a day for a week or more. Years ago, I practiced it for 10 minutes a day for two months making surprising improvements to the change in the speed and quality of my writing.

Brainstorming can feel awkward at first, it’s hard to write down “bad ideas.” You’ve trained your whole life to get the “right” answer and write down only the “best ideas” so it feels like a mistake to write down a bad idea. But, a series of bad ideas can lead to a brilliant one! 

While you’re brainstorming don’t think, just write.

I’ve listed these brainstorming games separately from lyric writing games, because brainstorming is such a powerful songwriting technique for getting ideas out of your head where you can manipulate and transform them into songs. I also use brainstorming to write music ideas.

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Brainstorming Titles: Songwriting Game

  • Set your phone countdown timer for 5 minutes 
  • Write ideas for possible song titles.
  • Stop and pick the most promising title
  • Brainstorm ideas for that title (5-10 minutes)
  • Take 2 minutes to make note of your most promising ideas.

Brainstorm Ideas for your Song: Songwriting Game

Choose a song you’re writing and brainstorm ideas about the:

  • Story in the song
  • Main character
  • Details of the situation
  • Imagery and figurative language you could use in the song
  • Conflict in the song and how you it’s resolved during the song

Brainstorming Writing Prompts

  • Possible song titles, lyric hooks, cool phrases
    • Bonus: pick one and brainstorm lyric ideas and phrases for that title
  • What you wouldn’t be able to do (or wouldn’t do) if you didn’t have your phone
  • List the objects you can see from where you are sitting
  • Write the story of an object in your room
    • For example, how your pen feels when you hold it too tightly and make it write things it doesn’t want to say
    • For example, how you book case holds knowledge that it can’t understand (or that it does understand but the human that keeps it captive, doesn’t read or follow)
  • Tell the story of a random person you saw today, or earlier this week
  • Emotional situations you could reference in a song… list many or choose one to write about in detail
  • How you feel when… 
  • Your favourite smells and describe them
  • Write about a regret you don’t want to avoid
  • Write about something you regret doing
  • Write about something you wish you had done
  • Write about something you wish you could do again
  • Write about something you’re glad you can’t ever do again
  • Write a different ending to a song you love (or hate)
  • Your Bucket List: things you want to do 
  • Your Bucket List: places you want to travel to see
  • Terrible rhyme pairs you should never use in a song
  • Ideas you could brainstorm about another day
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Brainstorm Prompts – Songs

  • Write a list of song titles you’d like to emulate
    • Bonus: write why you like them / what you could borrow from each song
    • Bonus: Start a playlist of these songs
  • Brainstorm song titles, then choose interesting words & phrases, combine them in different ways to write about
  • What are your favourite songs in a particular style (ex: summer songs, breakup songs, party songs, best songs when you were in high school, etc.)
  • Choose a song and write about why you love it (while listening to the song)
  • Choose a song and write about why you hate it and what how you’d write it differently to make it a great song (while listening to the song)
  • Write about the memories a song triggers for you
  • List song title you wish you’d written
    • Bonus: explain some of the reasons why you love each song

Brainstorming Prompts to Write Music

You can use the process of brainstorming (create intuitively and then judge your ideas afterwards) to write music, including: melodies, chord progressions and musical arrangements. 

There are also ways to write about musical ideas to give you insights to explore, for example:

  • List 4 chords and then write as many combinations you can to use for a chord progression
    • Play them 
    • Keep the most interesting ones to use in a song
    • Try again with the same list but change one chord… use the best in a different song section in the same song
  • List ways you can create contrast in the melodies between sections in a song
  • List ways to create contrast in the musical arrangement between sections in a song
  • How many ways can you transform a melodic motive (or motif… a short 3-5 note group of notes) to create a longer melody.

Brainstorming

Read this brainstorming article to be sure you understand all the subtleties, or watch this video…

Play More Songwriting Games

Trevor Dimoff, songwriting teacher, songwriter, how to write a song, songwriting tips that actually work, deliberate songwriting, Learn Songwriting Without the Frustration

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