Speedwriting might be hard because all good music needs good structure. We might be able to come up with words, melodies and chords relatively quickly, but structure? That sometimes takes a little longer. Structure involves smooth transitions between sections, giving lyrics a sense of chronology, and pulling melodic fragments together using melodic and rhythmic motifs, etc. That usually takes a bit of work.
There can be some benefits to forcing yourself to write a song quickly, in real time. Mainly:
- There is a sense of creativity that comes forward when you don’t have time to evaluate and critique your process. You might be impressed with what you come up with so quickly.
- You learn how to expand beyond your comfort zone. If you find yourself keep using the same word combinations over and over, as a songwriter that’s important to educate yourself, expand your vocabulary and force yourself to learn more and more words, so be so comfortable with them that you won’t need to think about them when you want to write! Same goes about knowing “stories”. It is great to read different stories and folks or legends from different cultures and different parts of the world. It will give you a lot of ideas and examples and expressions which you can easily and nicely use them in your songs.
- You very quickly end up with a song that, even if it’s filled with weak moments, can serve as the framework for a better attempt later. In other words, a song that’s thrown together in 3 minutes gives you something useful that you can edit and fix.
There are many ways to speed-write songs, but I think the best way is to just sit with your instrument and start playing with little or no forethought. It’s best if you’ve got a chord progression as a starting point, so if you need, take a few seconds and sketch something quickly and then develop it from there.
Just start! Imagine that you’ve been asked on the spur of the moment to sing at a local show. You don’t have a song ready, but you don’t want people to know that. So, you just start.
Be sure to have a recording device rolling so that you have something you can go back to later on and listen to. Let it record everything! Don’t forget, if you record unnecessary audio, later you can simply delete them but if you want to just record selectively, you might miss a great part, because you wanted to avoid recording anything unnecessary! Plus, keep recording and pausing the record process will steal your focus from your main task which is to write! Just let it roll, and later come back to it and take the best parts and you can simply erase whatever you don’t need!!
Some tips for spontaneous speedwriting:
- Don’t stop. Keep the flow!
- Repeat melodic ideas. Remember that most good songs use repetition, whether it’s exact or approximate. Repeating makes it catchy!
- Use nonsense syllables if lyrical ideas are abandoning you. Nonsense syllables have a place in songwriting; many good songwriters will mumble and mutter as words are hard to find. You can even just use vows for the initial melody recording. You can fill in the blanks later if the song has possibilities.
- Feel the story you want the song to be about, even if you still don’t know how to describe it with words. Just feel the story and make the chords progression and melody based on the feel and the mood of the story. The words will come later!
Speedwriting allows you to see your musical instincts in action, and the results might surprise you (in a good way!) You might be tempted to always default to a slow tempo because it gives you time to think. But challenge yourself. Each time you try, choose a new tempo, a new key, and a new performance style.
You’ll discover that it’s not easy to do this, and you may wind up with nothing particularly useful for future songs. But forcing creativity in this way is a great mental exercise. No one has to hear your results, but every once in a while, you’ll create a gem of a moment that can find its way into a future songwriting attempt.