Sometimes the biggest hurdle for a songwriter is to turn song ideas into actual words. The best way is to create mind maps, as the process will give you a much clearer picture and direction of the song. You may also find weaknesses in the idea because it’s easier to see in a mind map. After doing some research online, here’s what I found to be the best way to brainstorm song ideas:
- Notebook/paper and pen (optional: colored pencils)
- Write down your title in the middle
- Add broadly related topics you can think of
- Extend each branch with smaller branches
- Fill the entire page
- Mark the most useful points
- Make sentences out of the points
Notebook/paper and pen (optional: colored pencils)
First, get a notebook or a piece of paper. Make sure the whole page is blank as later on, we’ll actually fill up the whole page. Get a pen, or a pencil if you prefer that. If you have colored pencils or markers, that would definitely help. Once we have a lot of things in our mind map, it can be very useful to use color to distinguish different types of ideas.
When you’re choosing colored pencils, try to pick out colors which are easy to tell apart. For example: Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Purple, Pink. That way, you’ll avoid confusion if similar colors are used later on. Also, just pick a handful, you don’t need 20 different colors. Instead pick 5-10 different distinct colors.
Write down your title in the middle
First and foremost, write down the song title right in the middle of the page. Every other point we write down from now on is linked to this directly or indirectly. If you still haven’t decided on your song title, the topic or main idea will do.
For example, David is our songwriter and he has written: “Cruising in the Sunset” as the title in the middle of the page.
It’s also helpful to put the title in a shape. Some people like to use ovals, some prefer rectangles. The choice is up to you. Don’t make the shape too large though, as we’ll need a lot of space throughout the brainstorming process.
In my personal experience, I find creating mind maps on a landscape orientation much easier and intuitive than using portrait orientation. So if you’re not sure which to use, try landscape, with the width of the paper length longer than the height.
Now, it’s time to start our brainstorming! Try to think of related topics or things to link to your title. Some ideas include places, objects, people, weather, emotions, etc.
Back to our example with David, he wrote down a few points to link to the title: Car, Breeze, Girl, Beer, Loved.
These first topics should be quite broad so that there’s room for expansion down the line. If you don’t know where to start, try using the 5Ws 1H questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
Extend each branch with smaller branches
Now we’re going into the more difficult parts. Try to extend each of the broader topics into finer details. You can keep on extending if you have the ideas.
With David the songwriter, he has extended “Car” with Tyre, Road, Window, Backseat, Luggage.
Try to imagine yourself at the location, if you’re not physically there. What would you see, hear or feel? What’s happening around you? What are the people doing? These are all valid ideas to write down.
If you keep on running out of ideas, maybe you’re not familiar with the topic enough. In that case, research a bit more on the topic, or pick another title to write about. I would recommend writing a song that you personally have experience with. By doing that you would save a huge chunk of time trying to imagine things since you’ve got the experience first hand.
Fill the entire page
Don’t worry about not using certain words or topics for now, just keep on extending every single point until you have no space left on the page. Even better, if you still have more ideas, you can add another page and keep on extending! By writing down more ideas and words, you’ll have a much easier time writing lyrics later on down the line.
When you have many ideas written down, it may start to get difficult to go through each and every single point. When it reaches a size in which you think it’s way too huge, it’s time to stop. In my experience, anything more than 3 pages is just too much for a single song. You may end up having several different song ideas in one single mind map, which would do more harm than good.
Mark the most useful points
If you’ve prepared colored pencils or markers earlier, now it’s time to use them! Go through every single point you just wrote down, and decide if it will be useful in your actual song lyrics. If so, mark them with different colors according to their categories, either by song sections or by the nature of the points.
For example, our songwriter David has decided he will use the words “Beer” and “Loved”. He marked “Beer” with the color blue to indicate he’s going to write that in the Verse, while “Loved” with yellow for the Chorus.
Make sentences out of the points
Once you have completed the above steps, you’ve basically completed your mind map. And the only thing left to do is make sentences out of the marked points.
Try to tell a story, add emotions, and rhyme each of the sentences. You’ll write much better song lyrics that way!
After you finish the lyrics, don’t throw the mind map away. You may need it later on for creating revisions. It also acts as a way to record your growth in songwriting. After you’ve written a dozen songs, look back at your first mind maps. The amount of improvement you find may surprise you!
Like many other exercises, creating mind maps take practice. You will get better the more your write, believe me. The most important thing is to not take shortcuts, and enjoy the process. Once you make it a habit, ideas will flow much more naturally over time.