Songwriting Exercise: Use your Current Favourite Song to Write your Next Song

Do you write by figuring out the music first? Maybe you need a riff on the guitar or piano to get started. Perhaps you need to find the chords that are really resonating with you that day. Sometimes the music isn’t coming to mind and you need another approach to get the ideas flowing. 

If you’re this type of songwriter or are just looking for a new way to start a song, try this exercise. The goal is not to write the same song as the one you love, but to take it as a starting point to jump into a new realm of ideas (plagiarism is not encouraged).

Step One: Find a song

Pick your current favourite song, preferably in the genre you write. If you haven’t heard one lately, it might be worth your time to listen to music until you find something that you really love and can’t stop listening to. (If you’re not listening to music these days, try to go back to it—it might be what inspires you!)

Step Two: Figure out the chords

If you’re a by-the-ear musician, take the time to figure out the chords in the section(s) of your choice. You can also check out Ultimate Guitar, Chordify or purchase the sheet music.

Step Three: Change the key

If you set out just using the same chords as your favourite song, you might write something too close to it. Instead, change the key until you’re not hearing the original song anymore. If you play guitar, this can be as simple as changing the position of the capo.

Step Four: Change one chord

Take one of the chords and change it to something else. For example, if you have four chords and one per bar, you can change one of the chords in the pattern. 

Original pattern:

Change one chord:

You could also add a chord, using two chords in one bar or using a chord to transition to the next chord. You could also simply add a chord and have a longer pattern length.

Two chords in one bar (repeated twice)

Add a transition chord:

Another option is to simply take out a chord, and you’re either left with a shorter pattern or (more commonly) repeating one of the other chords to keep the length of the pattern:

Step Five: Change the rhythm

If you’re in 4/4 time, consider changing it to 6/8 or another time signature. If you have one chord per bar, maybe switch it to two chords per bar:

Or, two bars per chord:

Or, try a syncopated rhythm for the chord changes.

Step Six: Write

If you’ve done all these steps, you likely have music to a new song that sounds nothing like the original. Go ahead and write your melody and lyrics, and soon enough, you will have written a new song!

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