Songwriting is a complicated process. It is a skill that takes development and practice. Writer’s block is only one of many hurdles we have to climb over in the process. I found this video by Andrea Stolpe from Berklee Online that really does a good job of showing how to write songs that connect with audiences.
What is a good writing prompt?
A good prompt is one that provides a lot of options to let your creativity flow. Something that evokes an emotion, or causes you to think about a specific topic. A good writing prompt should help you to tap into personal experiences or memories. These can be something that has happened to you or someone else, a place where the story takes part in real-life (or fiction) and any other detail relevant for your songwriting prompt’s theme.
There are five different types of writing prompts to use as inspiration: imagery-based, word association, dialogue-based, story starters and general questions.
Let’s take a look at these five types of songwriting prompts in detail.
Imagery-Based Songwriting Prompts
Imagery-based songwriting prompts involve using a visual to inspire creativity. For example, you might write about what it would be like if your song had its own music video (which is an image in the author’s mind). You could also describe images from someone else’s point of view or even create one yourself on paper and use that as inspiration for lyrics.
Just think to yourself how many songs have been written about natural places like mountains, rivers, the ocean, etc. Images like these evoke emotions in all of us in some way. They could also be regular things like a dog or a playground or sitting with your best friend in a cafe.
- Mother and Child
- Morning/ Sunrise
- Rain on the window
- Sitting in a cafe
- Walking the street at night
- Crossing an unknown bridge
- Sitting at a waterfall
- A foggy trail through the forest
- Around the fire with friends
Word Association Songwriting Prompts
This is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Word associations are simply when you list a word or phrase and then write what comes to mind. For example, if we say “candy corn” your brain may go in the direction of that tasty Halloween treat or maybe go off into an elaborate story of your junior high crush and the first time you tasted candy corn with her.
What you want to do is think of a word that inspires your creativity and then list it, followed by any thoughts or associations. The goal here isn’t for the process itself; rather this exercise will help move past writer’s block when you’re feeling stuck and trying too hard to think of a good song idea, use the following songwriting prompts to try and stir up some ideas.
Dialogue-Based Songwriting Prompts
Dialogue-based prompts can get you to think about how a song might sound in the context of a conversation. What’s being said and what’s not, how that voice is affecting other people around them – you’ll start to imagine scenes even if they’re just brief snippets.
Dialogue-based prompts can also be really useful for thinking about who your characters are when writing songs or poems from their perspective. You can imagine the conversation happening and the emotions surrounding it.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “It’s okay!” he replied, trying to sound cheerful. “We’ll be alright!”
This one might start out with a conversation between two people who have been through something tragic together and are struggling to stay positive in the face of it all.
Here are some examples to get the dialogue going.
- “I’m sorry for not returning your call.”
- “Hey, can we talk?”
- “You caught me at a bad time”
- “This is going to be way harder than we thought it was”
- “Don’t worry, just follow me”
- “I can’t believe this happened.”
- “I feel like I’ve known you all my life”
- “I know I have to tell her…but how?”
- “Hi, it’s me…I’m coming home”
- “You said goodbye and I felt a part of me die”
- “What did you think would happen? We would just start over?”
- “I feel like I’m going to break, but I can’t stop smiling.”
- “Are you trying to tell me something? Are you happy?”
- “How do we know what’s worth fighting for?”
- “It’s been so hard. But the hardest part is over now.”
- “Moments like these we will remember for the rest of our lives.”
- “I can’t believe the things you told me.”
- “Did I do something wrong? Is it my fault?”
- “You gave up on us but I’m not giving up on me.”
- “It’s over. It was never meant to be, but we loved each other anyway.”
Story Starter Songwriting Prompts
Story starting prompts are ones that give you an idea that leads into a story. You may have a story lying inside your mind but you just need a little push to get going. A good story prompt can get you to envision a scene, put yourself in a character’s shoes and get them talking.
- I never thought that a little one would change my life so much
- Last year was the first time I ever really got to sit down and actually think about what’s important in life.
- The dark hole of depression is crushing me, but sometimes all it takes is someone else reminding you how great you are.
- “It has been six months since our baby girl died.” She said with tears running down her cheeks as she spoke on the phone. “She was just ten years old…” Tears were pouring from his eyes now too. They both sat there feeling broken and lost without their daughter in this world anymore; barely able to hold on.
- There was something about her. You could tell by the way she walked into the room.
- On your bedside table lays what appears to be a letter addressed to “my dearest love”.
- As I walked through the dusty room, my eyes started to water. There was just so much history here.
- I saw a long-distance call coming through and I answered it without hesitation, “Hello?”
- Sometimes in life, we are faced with a crossroads. It’s the road that we’ve been on for years, or it is the unknown and unexplored.
- I was in high school when I first started making music with my best friend, but he just wasn’t committed to it like I was. I was afraid our partnership would have to come to an end.
- When the Sargent started calling names, I felt this sinking feeling that my life would never be the same.
- There’s a lot of pressure on today’s artists. We have to be the best at everything, and we can’t let anything slow us down. We’re expected to create this perfect life for our fans while also meeting their expectations with music that will change the world forever. But realistically, it doesn’t always work out like that.
- One more mile and we will have crossed the largest stretch of unknown wilderness still left in this world.
- “Is this heaven? What happened to me?”
- Shuddering to think what would happen if we stayed there, we slowly moved on.
- I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this excited about something. It’s a feeling that will never go away, no matter what happens in our lives. This is why we keep moving forward and not giving up on ourselves or others.
- I felt like I could take on anything now knowing that someone loved me, and I loved them even more.
- The sun was high in the sky, illuminating all of our problems with its warm rays. A gentle breeze pushed through my hair as if trying to tell me it would be alright.
- Gravity lost its grip and we slide into the unknown weightlessness of space.
- What else could I have done differently? It was like a knife in my chest.
General Question Songwriting Prompts
Sometimes a songwriting prompt can take the form of a question. These general questions can ignite ideas for lyrics that we may never have thought of.
- Is it possible to dream in colour or is dreaming always gray?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- When was the last time you were really happy with life for no reason at all?
- What is one memory that brings you so much joy?
- What is the one word that you feel defines your personality?
- What are two words you would use to describe yourself?
- Where can we find meaning in life, or is there no point because it ultimately ends anyways?
- Do you believe that there is one true love out there for each of us?
- Do you believe in love at first sight?
- What is your favourite part of the day, and what do you like to do during that time?
- What are three things on your bucket list for this year?
- At what point did ‘normal’ stop meaning anything to you anymore?
- If you could play any instrument, what would it be?
- What did your life look like before you had kids?
- What could life be, if anything were possible and love was everlasting?
- Do you believe in peace on earth or is it just a fairy tale at this point in history?
- Who has most influenced your viewpoint the way that you see the world today?
- What is your favourite thing to do with a group of friends?
- If you could be anywhere right now, where would it be and why?
- If you could live your dream, what would you be doing?
Finding a good topic for a song can be challenging. Sometimes music comes naturally, but finding inspiration in lyrical topics is often harder. Composers use songwriting prompts to help them find ideas for new songs and keep coming up with new tunes.
I hope these prompts have given you some ideas to start producing new music. Songwriting is an essential stage in music production. Find out what the other stages are in the life of a song.
It is important to keep trying new things in order to get better at creating great music.