27 Songwriting Jumpstarters

People have often asked me how I go about writing a song.

Do I start with the lyrics or with the music? How do I get ideas for songs? I’ll do almost anything to get an idea. You just have to get started. If you want to write a song and you’re looking at a blank page, here are 27 ways you can get the creative juices flowing…

  1. Start with a drum loop or a beat, esp. one you’re not used to using
  2. Start with a Scripture verse
  3. Do a word search in a Bible Program – print out the Scriptures that use the word. Start singing them and see what emerges.
  4. Write a whole page of song titles
  5. Write a theme at the top of the page (e.g. God’s faithfulness) and write as many related ideas as possible
  6. Pick a word and brainstorm or use Thesaurus (e.g. “cling” – hold fast, grip, embrace, remain, stay near, keep close, don’t let go, hold on)
  7. Pick a word and look at a rhyming dictionary
  8. Write out lyrics in poetic form before using your instrument
  9. Turn on the radio for 5 seconds – take the musical phrase you hear and expand on it
  10. Pick a musical phrase from a song and vary it, repeat it, etc.
  11. Use the form of another song, write new lyrics/music (My song “Glorious” – I used the lyrical form of “How Great Thou Art”)
  12. Write on an instrument that is not your main instrument
  13. Set a timer for 15 (or 5) minutes, try to come up with an idea, reset and try new idea
  14. Copy another song (change it so the original is unrecognizable)
  15. Use a capo (if you play guitar)
  16. Combine musical ideas from different songs
  17. Turn on a recording device or app and start playing and singing. Go back later and see if anything stands out (Peter Gabriel).
  18. Take a hymn and write new music
  19. Take a hymn and update the lyrics
  20. Take the ideas from a hymn and write a completely new song
  21. Take a well-known song and write another song about the same theme
  22. Ask a question (e.g. How do we know we are forgiven? Where could I go?)
  23. Variations on an existing song’s title (e.g. Eternally Grateful – I’m Forever Grateful)
  24. Use a Book Title (e.g. Book: One Holy Passion – Song: One Pure and Holy Passion)
  25. Use a book chapter title (The Triumph of the Crucified)
  26. Play 3 or 4 random notes and try to make a melody with them, repeating, varying, etc.
  27. Force yourself to write in a style you don’t normally write in (e.g. folk or blues)

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.