Songwriting prompt of the week

Here is the 3rd (of 4) songwriting prompts for the Songwriting Groups I run (if you want more info on the groups, please check it out here).

I’m sharing the prompts here so anyone can join in (though of course, if you want the community, the deadline, and the feedback, jump into a group!).

Here is this week’s prompt:

Open a novel to a random page. Incorporate the first full sentence on the page into your lyric, either in full, or adapted.

Let it cross pollinate with you and your world. How does it connect? What does it make you think of? Does it remind you of anyone you know? How do they make you feel?

How to use simple chords to write great songs

If you want to learn how to write a song, understanding how chords work is essential and in this video we look at how you can create interesting and impactful chord progressions using the basic concept of HOME and AWAY functions.

This fundamental piece of music theory is a valuable tool for songwriters of all levels, and requires nothing more than the basic major and minor chords of a major key.

Key Takeaways:

  1. The ‘I’ chord, also called the tonic, is our ‘home’ chord. It has the most weight of all the chords in a key. We can think of it as the center of the solar system in the major key.
  2. All the other chords are ‘away’ chords; they create tension, where returning to the tonic feels like resolving. It is the musical equivalent of a full stop.
  3. Since the tonic creates the strongest resolution, leaving the tonic OUT of a Verse section, and then using it as the first chord of our Chorus will actually create an incredibly strong impact. It is like night and day.
  4. By leaving the tonic out of the Verse, the impact of introducing it as the first chord of the Chorus is amplified. It can really make the chorus pop, and feel like it is landing with so much power and impact.

For 3 other variations on how to use simple chords to create great songs, check out our mini course, ‘The 5 Most Powerful Songwriting Exercises…Revealed!’ right here:

Top 5 Songwriting Exercises for Coming Up With Great Song Ideas: #5—Chorus Writing Prompts

What a Chorus is not

I have some important news about a Chorus—news that took me way too long to properly understand:

The Chorus of a song is not just the bit where the lyrics repeat!

If I had realized this a little sooner in my songwriting career, it would have saved me 10 years of learning the hard way.

One other thing that the Chorus is NOT:

The Chorus of a song is not just a summary of the main idea.

Thinking of it as the ‘summary’ idea is likely to lead you to write in generalities, or lead you to an idea that is the ‘average’ point of your story, emotion, or image. 

So what IS a Chorus?

The Chorus of a song is: the RESPONSE to the problem (or conflict, or tension) explored in the verses.

The Chorus houses the peak emotion, the central idea, or core message.

‘Peak emotion’ is critically different from ‘summary idea’. One stands at the top of the mountain; the other is halfway down.

So what kinds of responses are there?

  • The chorus is what most needs to be said.
  • The chorus may be the question that most needs to be answered.
  • The chorus may be the realization or insight that has been learned.
  • The chorus may be the decision that has been made, or the action that will be taken
  • Most importantly, the chorus is not just ‘another idea’, or even a ‘summary idea’, but it is a response to the problem exposed and developed in the verses. 

Chorus Writing Prompts

Below are a series of writing prompts, designed to drill straight to the core idea, central idea, or peak emotion of a song idea. 

Think of these prompts as jenga pieces; you need to push on each one to see which ones move. They won’t all move; but we need to push anyway.

How to use the prompts

The prompts are most effective when you have a song idea on the go; maybe you’ve written a verse or 2, or just some lyric sketches, but you have in your mind a sense of what this song is about, perhaps even a clear scene, situation, or moment in your mind, but no chorus lyrics.

Spend 2 minutes on each prompt. Even if it feels like it isn’t moving much, stick with it for 2 minutes. 

  1. So I realized…
  2. So I decided…
  3. So I’m going to…
  4. That’s why I always say…
  5. What I really need to tell you is…
  6. I’m scared that…
  7. What I really want to happen is…
  8. What I most want to know is (phrased as a question)…
  9. You make me feel…
  10. If I am a ________ then you are a ________ (use metaphor).

A few tips

  • Use for the Verses too: A lot of the writing you do for these prompts can make great lyrics and ideas for the verses too! You are not contractually obliged to use them exclusively in your Chorus. What you will often find, however, is that some of them drive to the emotion heart of your song idea, and are touching that core element that is essential to the Chorus.
  • Look for a Title: as you are exploring the Chorus writing prompts, keep a little searchlight on in your mind that is always looking for a title. It may not happen, but simply turning that light on will help you identify it if it arises as you are writing. This is a useful lens to use when reading over what you have written at the end of 20 minutes. 
  • Writing the Chorus first: Lots of songwriters will write the Chorus of a song first, before writing any of the Verses at all. This is a fun and effective way to write. You can try it out here too, by using your writing to the prompts, plus a strong song title, to craft your chorus, and then expand the Verse lyrics out of the Chorus idea.
  • Repetition is fine: Don’t worry if you find that you are repeating yourself in several of the prompts. Each prompt is a slightly different angle or lens to explore your song’s central idea through. Remember the jenga! Push each one, and see how it moves.

Happy writing.

Download a free copy of the Chorus Writing Prompts PDF here.

Is AI Going to Destroy Music?

Is AI going to destroy music? 

Will lyric-writing bots, and track-making bots have an orgy and put songwriters out of business?

There are two important reasons why this is a non-issue.

Reason #1

Everyone is always scared of new technology. It always seems to spell the demise of music, and then give it 10 years, and it turns out that it wasn’t the anti-christ, it was like all other technology: a tool to use, to give you an outcome that wasn’t available before.

And like most of the new technologies, it’s always the people that use it in some way that it wasn’t intended to be used that end up creating something new and beautiful.

People ridiculed Suzanna Ciani, the electronic music pioneer who invented the vocoder. David Letterman publicly made fun of her for inventing something that made “people sound goofy”. Oh, David.

Pioneers aren’t afraid of it. They embrace it, and treat it playfully like a new instrument, because that’s all it ever is.

AI is auto-tune going by a different name.

Yes – autotune can make anyone sing a perfect melody, but it turns out that humans still like hearing other humans sing, because we’re all human.

People thought T-Pain ruined music (Usher told him so to his face on an aeroplane), but you know what? He didn’t ruin music. Music is still great. And there’s so much more of it than there was before. And also? As T-Pain himself says, he didn’t get successful because of autotune. 

He got successful because he is:

  • A great singer
  • Who found and embraced a signature sound; and
  • Wrote damn good songs
  • And worked so so hard

Which leads us to…

Reason #2

People respond to art not really because of the output. The ‘thing’ itself is kind of an avatar for all of the humanness that is poured into it, which is what people really respond and connect with. 

As Man Booker Prize winning author George Saunders says, “If a work of art is overflowing with energy, and with human life and it’s been beautifully organised to contain that energy and present it, that’s actually what sends us out of the theatre or out of the book happy.”

Same is true with music. 

So please don’t worry or despair. Keep making art and writing songs. Robots can’t (yet) auto-generate human connection. In that sense, I agree with Nick Cave. In another sense, however, I do believe it is the people who embrace a new technology rather than deriding it that will end up as the new captains of the ship.

End rant.

Songwriting Prompt of the Week

Today is the second fortnight of the Songwriting Groups I run (if you want more info on the groups, please check it out here).

Here, I’m sharing the prompt from today, as it is a little more unusual than the prompts I normally send.

[The prompts I normally send for Songwriting Group are short phrases, designed to catalyse an idea, rather than anything pedagogical; things like “dangerously close”; “making the bed”; “Babylon hairdo” (Yes, that was actually a prompt…!)]

Here is today’s prompt:

Write a song based on a place, where the place features as a central image of the song.

For example, “The River” by Bruce Springsteen.

“Ladies of the Canyon”, by Joni Mitchell.

Here are some suggestions on a way into this:

  1. Spend 10 minutes Sense writing about one of these places (got the PLACES section of the prompts); OR
  2. Pick a city or town that has special significance to you, and write about it; OR
  3. Where were you when a significant event occurred (either directly to you, or something that impacted you)? Describe the place in detail, and make the place an important aspect of your lyric writing.

Enjoy!

PS – Here is the song I wrote for this prompt! My partner and I agree on most things. There’s one where we don’t: The Stanwell Park Overpass just south of Sydney (aka Sea Cliff Bridge).
I think it’s beautiful.
He thinks it’s awful.

Top 5 Exercises for Coming Up With Great Song Lyric Ideas: #4—Metaphor Sense Writing

Metaphor Sense Writing is a combination of Exercise #1 (Sense Writing) and #2 (Metaphor Collisions).

It’s a way to take a novel combination of ideas—the sun is a bride; aging is a church (for example)—and expand the connection between the two ideas, filling it with rich language that furrows into the rabbit hole of the metaphor.

Here’s how it works.


Step 1. Find an interesting metaphor!

(Use Exercise #2 for this).

Metaphor works best when it is a novel combination of ideas. 

When we make a metaphor, we are using one image as a lens through which we are seeing and describing some other thing. The lens is the metaphor: it’s the colors we are using to paint the picture. But the picture itself is what we are actually describing. 

If I say, “the sky is a mouth, spitting rain and screaming thunder,” my lens is ‘mouth’. That’s the color palette I’m using to describe the sky. The sky is my target idea. 

Metaphor is all about showing something familiar in an unfamiliar way. Its magic sparkle is all in its power to surprise (and delight) a listener.

So when starting with a metaphor, aim for something novel rather than something we’ve heard before.


Step 2. Build a word palette for your metaphor image.

Spend 5 minutes creating a list of words and phrases that are closely related to the metaphor image. Aim for a variety of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and phrases.

For example, let’s say my metaphor is: “her temper is a hurricane”.

Hurricane is a metaphor image.

Here’s my word palette:

Thunder, Lightning, Crash, Swell, Tide, Tidal wave, Flood, Electricity, Surge, Strike, Crack, Crash, Rain, Hale, Clouds, Dark, Grey, Cold, Humid, Air is thick, Eye of the storm

You can use a few extra resources to help you build a rich palette:

  1. Use an online Idiom Dictionary. Use a few different search terms around your metaphor.

For ‘hurricane’, I would also search: ‘rain’, ‘storm’, and ‘weather’. 

  1. Use the ‘related words’ filter on rhymezone.com. 

Sometimes the list can have a few random things in there, but often will throw up lots of useful language related to your search.

  1. Get yourself a hard copy of the Roget’s International Thesaurus. The internet has not yet replicated the awesomeness of this resource, and it is by far the best thing for this job. For a deeper dive into this resource and how to use it for this job, check out this YouTube video from our channel

The aim here is to give yourself lots to choose from, and especially to give yourself options beyond the first and most obvious words associated with your metaphor. 


Step 3. Spend 10 minutes Sense Writing using your metaphor as the prompt.

Write in full sentences (prose). Dip into your word palette, using those words and phrases by applying them to what you are actually describing.

Here’s an excerpt from mine:

The clouds of her mind gathered, darkening in her eyes. Her words were lightning, striking out at the nearest touch point – her voice swelled and spilled, and you hardened like ice. You could sense her humid thoughts, invisible but making everything heavy under them. For days afterwards, her dark mood rumbled on the horizon of your life…


How to use Metaphor Sense Writing in your Lyrics.

  1. Write a Metaphor song

‘Metaphor songs’ are a ‘type’ of song that is entirely based on a strong, central metaphor. The lyrics to these songs almost always express the central metaphor in the Chorus or refrain, and use language related to the central metaphor throughout the rest of the lyric to express and explore the different dimensions of the idea and emotion.

Let’s take a look at one here. I have highlighted all the language in the lyrics that is drawn out of the strong, singular metaphor at the center of the song, ‘Love is Rocket Science’. 

Rocket Science

By Lori McKenna

They say it ain’t complicated
Any fool can understand
Until the fuse is lit and
It blows up in your hand

It all looks good on paper
Step by step, you follow the plan
In the sky watch the desperate vapor
‘Til it blows up in your hand

Love is rocket science
What comes up it must come down
In burning pieces on the ground
We watch it fall
Maybe love is rocket science after all

Not if, but when you crash and burn
Somehow you survive
But you’ve touched the hem of heaven
For a time you felt alive

Love is rocket science
What comes up it must come down
In burning pieces on the ground
We watch it fall
Maybe love is rocket science after all

From the distance in the twilight
Love is such a beautiful thing
Dry your eyes beneath the night sky
And I’ll hold you, I’ll hold you
I’ll hold you like a dream

Love is rocket science
What comes up it must come down
In tragic pieces on the ground
It’s worth it all
Maybe love is rocket science

Here are a few other well-known songs that use the same technique:


  1. Extract the stand-out lines

In spending a little longer on developing a metaphor idea through Metaphor Sense Writing, sometimes you will write a sentence that never would have happened if you weren’t following that trail of crumbs through the forest.

I found myself writing this the other day, while exploring the metaphor, ‘the teacher was a map’:

…she showed me that although the curriculum was the main highway we were traveling, that the best learning I would do would be on the side roads of experience outside the classroom.

Would I write a song about a teacher? Maybe yes (there are some absolutely gorgeous songs about teachers), but also, this line alone stood out to me:

“On the side roads of experience”

That line alone was worth the 10 minutes it took to get there, and it’s important to note: I never would have gotten there if I wasn’t exploring the metaphor. 

Now that I have the line, I can leave behind the initial metaphor. I’m not contractually obliged to use it at all. It’s often the discoveries along the way when we are Metaphor Sense Writing that are the treasures to keep.


  1. Twist an idiom

Here’s a slightly different approach to this exercise. Instead of using a novel combination of ideas, actively seek out a familiar combination, but use Metaphor Sense Writing to add something new and original to it, that turns the familiar into something worth seeing again.

Let’s take something like:

 “eat your words”

There’s a metaphor here that has to do with eating/food.

In spending 10 minutes creating an ‘eating’ word palette, and exploring the metaphor, I wrote:

“Hungry enough to eat our words”

I suggest using an idiom dictionary, either an online version, or even better, a physical version (I use this one), to explore idioms based on a metaphor image. Spend 10 minutes on it, and see what new trails of thought you end up with. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

Here are a few to get you going:

Handed on a silver platter

(word palette: food/serving/restaurant)

In the line of fire

(word palette: fire/war)

Live like a king

(word palette: king/castle)

Go off the deep end

(word palette: pool/swimming)

For more on this, check out Exercise #3.


Breaking down FLOWERS by Miley Cyrus

There’s no better way to learn how to write a song than by deconstructing songs that capture the attention of millions of listeners worldwide; and Flowers by Miley Cyrus has certainly done that, becoming an international hit and breaking Spotify records with over 100 million streams in the first week. So in this video we put Flowers under the microscope and examine what elements make it so appealing to so many people.

20 Songwriting Prompts

Wanna know how to write a song?

Start with one of these 20 songwriting prompts that will kickstart your creativity and fuel your songwriting on any given day.

And a huge THANK YOU to the 20,000 subscribers of our YouTube channel who have supported us, inspired us, and contributed so generously to our growing community of musicians and songwriters.

Happy writing.


Free Songwriter Split Sheet

Co-writing is such a creative, fun, and often essential part of songwriting; we go into great depth on it in our Udemy course, The Art of Co-Writing and Collaboration.

One part of a great collaboration is an open and honest agreement on how to share the ownership of the song’s copyright (hint hint: split it evenly if the song was essentially written from the ground up together). 

However you land on your splits, having a written document of your agreement is essential.

Here, we offer you a standard written split sheet that you can print and use in your co-writes. Make sure all co-writers sign the sheet, and retain a copy for their records.

Registering the copyright of a work is a different process, but this split sheet gives you a written record of your agreement that you can refer to when it comes time to formalising your splits when registering copyrights.