6. Crumpled bits of paper
This one is from Andrea Stolpe (songwriter and instructor who had had songs recorded by such artists as Faith Hill, Julianne Hough, Daniel Lee Martin, Jimmy Wayne). The concept behind this exercise is to challenge you with a narrative that isn't your own. Have each person grab a piece of paper. Set the timer for 10 minutes and write down one thing that you've been wanting to tell someone for a long time but have been too afraid to say.
Get descriptive, but try to stay anonymous. Don't use names or specific references that would identify you or the person on the receiving end of the conversation.
When the timer goes off, have everyone crumple up their papers and throw them into the middle of the room. Then each one of you will go and pick up a random one of the crumpled pieces, The goal being that each one of you will have someone else's untold story. Now write a song based on the emotions enclosed within the letter you picked.
7. Photos and words
Another one that I like from Andrea Stolpe is her Photos and words exercise.
First, print out a bunch of different photos, and then each write random words on small pieces of paper. Fold them all and put them in a container (or hat). Then, pull out one random photo and one random word and try to write a song about anything that this photo and word may bring up for you. If you select your own photo, you can choose to share the story behind the photo or not.
Sometimes letting your co-writers create their own story around what they see can result in some very interesting ideas. Also, try to incorporate the random word in the song lyrics.
8. Rewriting, reimagined
This one is a particularly fun one. First you’ll need to pick an existing song that everyone knows. This could be something as famous and standard as “Amazing Grace.” Your job as a team is to first write new lyrics to the melody of Amazing Grace. They can be about absolutely anything you want. In fact, the further from the original you can get, the better.
You want to match the original melody’s rhythm and rhyme scheme as much as possible. So count the syllables in each line of the original melody and match that. Analyze the original rhyme scheme and follow it in your new lyrics. You should be able to sing these new lyrics to the original melody without any hiccups.
Once you're done with this part, strip away the original melody, and what you're left with is your new lyrics. Now write a brand new melody to these lyrics. Change chords, keys, and the tempo however you please. Again, the further from the original the better.
Aftering you complete this double rewrite, you'll end up with a brand new song that has a new lyric and a new melody that sounds nothing like Amazing Grace (or whatever song you were writing from).
9. Multiple melodies
On occasion, you will want to start writing your song melody first. One exercise worth trying is to have someone choose an eight-bar chord progression. Next, go around giving each songwriter a chance to sing their own melody on top of that chord progression. You can just sing to dummy lyrics (temporary lyrics that are about nothing, like Omelets, waffles, baby greens, give me very vivid dreams) or on Na-na-na.
Each one of you will probably sing something different and unique. With each turn, you can either sing a new melody or build on something someone else has sung. Eventually one of you may stumble on the melody that makes everyone go "ooh." Work off of that for the remainder of the song.
10. Homemade toplining
Toplining is how almost all modern pop and R&B songs are written. It consists of writing a song (melody and lyrics) on top of a fully produced instrumental track. Thus the term top lining—writing melodic lines on top.
Getting a high-quality track produced can be expensive and time consuming. To get the ball rolling faster, try to find a karaoke or instrumental track for an existing song. Use that as a basis for your toplining. Of course, you'll have to get a new track done sooner or later, but using an existing one is a great way to get ideas rolling, as you’ll be restricted to work within the parameters of the original song.
I hope that these exercises open the doors to some incredible songs for you. So get together with a friend, two or even seven, and try them out. You'll be surprised by how a simple exercise like any of the above can kickstart your creativity onto new levels.