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16 song starters

We pick a selection of kick-off ideas The Song Foundry founder Ed Bell’s book ‘The Ultimate Book Of Song Starters’

Idea starters are some of the most powerful and interesting starters in my book. They give you the classic song prompt-style starters like ‘Write a song that says X’ or ‘Write a song from Y person to Z person’ or ‘Write a song that tells the story of person W, Ñ or Ö’.

They’re all song ideas, situations, stories or concepts that give you free rein to turn that initial spark into a completed song. I’m not going to give you tons of explanation on what you could do with each idea, though sometimes I’ve thrown in an extra sentence or two where I thought it would help.


1. Write a song that says, ‘I love you’

Think about finding a specific and fresh way of expressing that idea, as well as a specific situation to explore it through.

2. Write a song that says, ‘I don’t love you anymore’

Think about what happened that changed your singer’s attitude and make sure the song explains that.

3. Write a song with a one-word title

– like Hello, Tomorrow or Fascination.

4. Write a song that says, ‘I want to love you, but I can’t’

Come up with a specific and compelling situation where someone has conflicting or mixed feelings and make sure it’s clear why.

5. Write a song with an abstract title

– like Simple Song, One-Note Samba or Song For Jane.

6. Write a song that says, ‘I’m happy’

– and have fun letting your singer explain why.

7. Write a song with an unusual or original word or phrase as its title

– like Versace On The Floor, Wonderwall or Strawberry Fields Forever.

8. Write a song that says, ‘I’m not happy’

– and make sure your singer explains why.

9. Write a song that has a metaphor at its centre

– like ‘’Cos baby, you’re a firework’ or ‘I am titanium.’

10. Write a song that says, ‘I don’t know’

Pick a specific situation where not knowing something is significant, and make sure your audience understands why.

11. Write a song that has a simile at its centre

– like ‘You shine like a diamond’ or ‘Sweet like chocolate’.

12. Write a song that has a non-English word in its title

Pick any word you like, but for impact you probably want a word that would be understood by most English speakers. You could also use some related non-English words in other parts of the song.

13. Write a song that uses the words ‘ooh’, ‘oh’ or ‘ah’ in a significant way

Do this any way you like, but incorporating them as a key part of your chorus lyric can be really effective.

14. Write a song whose chorus features a single word or phrase repeated over and over

There are plenty of these songs around – Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next is a good example – and this technique can be a great way of writing a catchy chorus.

15. Write a song that’s no longer than 90 seconds

Use whatever structure you like and see this limitation as a challenge to make every word and note you write really count.

16. Write a song that lists the things you love about someone

This could be a love song where the chorus is the list, or the chorus has a separate unifying message and the list becomes the raw material for the verses.

Ed Bell is a songwriter, author and songwriting coach. He created The Song Foundry, one of the Internet’s leading songwriting sites and is the author of the bestselling book The Art of Songwriting. His professional work is mostly in theatre and film and he also coaches songwriting worldwide via Skype. Find out more at edbell.com
Read more tips features like this, along with artist interviews, news, reviews and gear in Songwriting Magazine Winter 2019 > >

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