Monthly Songwriting Assignments

Each month, we unleash chaos theory and cook up a songwriting assignment for the next  month’s meeting. The assignment could be anything from a general theme or a definite song title to a challenge to write, for example, ten new songs in ten days. Members are free to work on the assignment or follow the path of personal inspiration instead. Some of our best songs have come from assignments.

2020

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January: Write a song from the point of view of an unreliable narrator. Jayne provided some notes about unreliable narrators:

Here are a few examples of songs with unreliable narrators.

They seem to fall into 2 broad categories:
1) Narrators who are not being direct about how they feel about another person
2) Narrators who know more than they are saying about some nefarious event
or both, as in the Tom Waits and Bobby Gentry songs.

Ode to Billy Jo by Bobbie Gentry
It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, y’all, remember to wipe your feet
And then she said, I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
And papa said to mama, as he passed around the blackeyed peas
Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow
And mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
I’ll have another piece-a apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now ya tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
And mama said to me, child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge
A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe
And brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going ’round; papa caught it, and he died last spring
And now mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge
Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis by Tom Waits
Hey Charley I’m pregnant
And living on 9-th street
Right above a dirty bookstore
Off Euclid avenue
And I stopped taking dope
And I quit drinking whiskey
And my old man plays the trombone
And works out at the track.
And he says that he loves me
Even though its not his baby
And he says that he’ll raise him up
Like he would his own son
And he gave me a ring
That was worn by his mother
And he takes me out dancin
Every saturday nite.
And hey Charley I think about you
Everytime I pass a fillin’ station
On account of all the grease
You used to wear in your hair
And I still have that record
Of little anthony & the imperials
But someone stole my record player
How do you like that?
Hey Charley I almost went crazy
After mario got busted
So I went back to omaha to
Live with my folks
But everyone I used to know
Was either dead or in prison
So I came back to minneapolis
This time I think I’m gonna stay.
Hey Charley I think I’m happy
For the first time since my accident
And I wish I had all the money
That we used to spend on dope
I’d buy me a used car lot
And I wouldn’t sell any of em
I’d just drive a different car
Every day dependin on how I feel.
Hey Charley
For chrissakes
Do you want to know
The truth of it?
I don’t have a husband
He don’t play the trombone
And I need to borrow money
To pay this lawyer
And Charley, hey
I’ll be eligible for parole
Come valentines day.

Optional assignment: bring us a new song from your personal songwriting inspiration for feedback.

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2019

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November: Write a song that includes the 5 senses and/or focuses on one sense.

Optional: bring us a new song from your personal songwriting inspiration for feedback.

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October: Write a song with a question as the title, or the title as a question.

Optional: bring us a new song from your personal songwriting inspiration for feedback.

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September: Write a song based on a cliche/axiom/famous phrase. Add a twist to the exercise by taking the opposite meaning of the cliche/axiom/phrase..

Optional: bring us a new song from your personal songwriting inspiration for feedback.

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August: Write a song about an article of clothing.

Optional: bring us a new song from your personal songwriting inspiration for feedback.

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July: Two options: Write and present a song that includes a word that you made up, or that includes a non-4/4 time signature for at least part of the song.

Optional: bring us a new song from your personal songwriting inspiration for feedback.

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June: Write a song that has something to do with ‘Vision’.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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May: Write a song called ‘Green’ (or alternately has the word ‘Green’ in the title).

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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April: Write a song that has something to do with a year (e.g. 1965, 20,000 B.C., year 2070).

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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March: Write a song with the name of a city in the title.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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February: Video Exchange Revisited. Submit a short video, get one back submitted by another participant. Write a song inspired by the video you receive.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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January: write a song about “Celestial Body”, however you want to interpret that.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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2018

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November: write a song entitled “Talk”.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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October: write a song about a force of nature.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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September: write a song about an evening or an event that happened in your life.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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August: write a song with or about a limitation. For example: write a song using only the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G in your lyrics; write a song with sea food or subway vocabulary in every line of the lyric. Impose a limitation on yourself in lyrics or music and see what happens.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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Julybook title exchange. Send a book title. You will then receive a book title in return that will be the title of the song you write for the July assignment.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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 June: Write a song entitled “Offline”. You may add the following to the exercise: write the song in a minimalist style —that could mean very few words or whatever ‘minimalist’ means to you.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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April: Anonymous Photo Exchange.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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March: Write a song about… uh, I forget. No, actually, write a song about forgetting, something forgotten, forgetfulness.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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February
: Write a song about opposites/contrasts.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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January
: Write a song about an appliance.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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2017

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Novem
ber: receive a brief song description and write a song based on that description.  The October meeting attendees created brief descriptions and have already received their (anonymous) descriptions. For anyone who wasn’t at the October meeting, you can still participate because we created extra descriptions. Please let us know if you’d like to participate and we will send you a description.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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O
ctober: Write a song from the point of view of a child.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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September: Write a song that has something to do with a letter of the alphabet. You could have a lot of words starting with that letter, write about that letter, use that letter in a key word, or any other creative way of working with a letter.

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August: Bring 2 songs. Previously written ones, that is. We’ve all got songs no one else in TSA has heard yet. Let’s each of us bring a couple of them and have a fun night of getting to know each other a bit better through our songs.

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July: Wizard of Oz. Write a song inspired by the Wizard of Oz.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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June: Video Exchange Revisited. Submit a short video, get one back submitted by another participant. Write a song inspired by the video you receive.

Optional: bring us a song from your own personal songwriter inspiration.

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May: Write a song that has something to do with Science Fiction. You get a high-five for a  new song about sci-fi that you can later share over wi-fi in hi-fi.

Optional: bring us a song from your own songwriter personal inspiration.

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April:
Video Exchange. Submit a short video, get one back submitted by another participant. Write a song inspired by the video you receive.

Optional #1: Write a song with a singalong component. Teach us the singalong part when you present the song.

Optional #2: Bring us a new song from your own songwriter personal inspiration.

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March:
Write a song that has something to do with a PRODUCT. Maybe it’s the iPhone, maybe it’s your favourite brand of evaporated milk. Maybe it’s an imaginary product. Maybe you hate something about a particular product.
We’ll send our finished songs to the manufacturers and all make thousands of dollars, or be taken to court, as the case may be. May the muse be with you.

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February:
Write a song that has something to do with “no emotion.” Maybe your song could actually be called, “No Emotion,” or maybe it could be related to that feeling —  whatever tickles your fancy. It could be the opposite of traditional Valentine’s Day ideas.

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January:
Write a song inspired by Leonard Cohen.

2016
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November:
Write a song for Remembrance Day. Our meeting falls on November 11, Remembrance Day. So write a song called “Remembrance Day” or a song that has something to do with Remembrance Day.

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October:
Write a song with lyrics based on the viewpoint of a gender other than your own. This could be fairly broadly defined and could include any creature of the animal kingdom, trans-gendered giraffes being a definite possibility.

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September:
Lyric Exchange. Write lyrics to the title “The Lift” — submit these lyrics by next Friday August 19. We will then send your lyrics to another TSA member who will write a song based on those lyrics. Try to complete 2 verses and a chorus (a complete song is ideal but submit as much as you can).

This is an opportunity to whip off a set of lyrics in 10 or 20 minutes!! You won’t have to work with them!

To participate, contact us via the contact page for further information.

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August
Write a song about a cause. Any cause will do, but maybe one that you are passionate about. Below are some possible causes to get your creative juices flowing, but you would probably want to get more specific:

• Advocacy & Human Rights
• Emergency & Safety
• LGBT
• Animals
• Employment
• Media & Broadcasting
• Arts & Culture
• Environment
• People with Disabilities
• Board Development
• Faith-Based
• Politics
• Children & Youth
• Health & Medicine
• Race & Ethnicity
• Community
• Homeless & Housing
• Seniors
• Computers & Technology
• Hunger
• Sports & Recreation
• Crisis Support
I• mmigrants & Refugees
• Veterans & Military Families
• Disaster Relief
• International
• Women
• Education & Literacy
• Justice & Legal
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July: 
Write a song about a mythical creature or fictional character.

Optional sub-assignment:
Include a “riff” that reflects your mythical creature or fictional character.

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June:
Write a song that has some talking, speaking, or rapping in it. A tiny bit or a lot — it doesn’t matter.
One example of a song that has a LOT of speaking in it is Somewhere Down the Crazy River (Robbie Robertson) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KP9PNSUME4

Optional sub-assignment:
Write a song that has a time signature that is not 4/4.

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May:
Write a song with a one-word chorus. Or two words if you absolutely need two, but you get the idea. One word can paint a thousand pictures.
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April:

1. Choose a song that was written specifically about another person (E.g. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Elton John’s “Daniel,” Jefferson Starship’s “Sara.”). The name doesn’t necessarily have to be mentioned in the title of the existing song, but that might make it easier and fun to do.
2. Write your own song from the perspective of the person who was mentioned in that song.
Have fun!
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March:
Write a song based on a favourite song. Take a favourite song of yours — famous or not — but somebody else’s song that you think is great. Then rewrite the lyrics so your lyrics exactly match the meter/structure of the song you’ve chosen. In other words, you could take your lyrics and completely replace the original lyrics. Then, rewrite the music using your new lyrics.

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February:
Write a song based on James Bond. Really, it’s about anything related to James Bond. Shake it and stir it any way you want.

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January:
Write a song based on a phone number. Here are some options:

  1. Use the digits in the number to suggest a chord progression. For example, if the first 4 digits of your phone are 4213. In the key of C that suggests the chord sequence F, Dm, C, Em or, if you want something jazzy, FM7, Dm7, CM7 and Em7.
  2. Use the digits to represent notes in the scale. 1 thru 8 give you do, re, mi … If you get 0 or 9 you could decide they are wild cards or a rest.
  3. Write about something the number suggests. 967-11-11 could be food related for example. 911 might prompt a cautionary tale. What is the first phone number you memorized? What does that bring to mind?
  4. If you’d rather use another number, PIN, SIN, serial, address, etc. Go for it.

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2015

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November:
December. Write a song about December — whatever that suggests to you.

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October
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Work of art. Write a song based on a work of art — preferably a painting but not necessarily. Yes, we’ve done it before, but it was voted top choice, made topical by the Rheostatics reunion shows at the AGO last weekend. They recorded a whole album of songs inspired by the group of seven.

Close-runner-up assignment: Write a song based on or inspired by a dream — preferably one of your own. Apparently ingesting vitamin B is supposed to aid in dream recall.