Speed Songwriting: How to End Writer’s Block with John Nicholson

Here is the recording of my conversation with John Nicholson using the ZOOM app.

John lives on  acreage in Queensland Australia. He is a retired business consultant and a full-time singer-songwriter. He also teaches a songwriting course called "Myth Busters" at festivals around Australia. 

The first half of our chat covers common problems with new songwriters, unhelpful aspects of the music industry, and how chunking (a collection of basic familiar units that have been grouped together) can help you get in the flow.

In the second half we dive into specifics of the speed songwriting technique he uses to stave off writer’s block and produce hundreds of songs a year. 

I have tried speed songwriting in the past but always got stuck. It was never speedy. I think my chat John gave me some insight into why that was happening.

My big takeaway was:
“Structure beats block every time…”

The key is having something super basic and familiar to fall back on.

ZOOM Chat Video

Just a heads up, our conversation ended abruptly when my power flicked off.

You can jump right to the speed songwriting technique at: 34:15.


Speed Songwriting Technique

“...the less you are inspired the more you go to structure...”
  1. Find a topic. Either use a proverb, an object, or a writing prompt. Example: “Sunshine”: Write about my son. “Here’s my little Mr. sunshine.”
  2. Quickly craft a chorus idea.
  3. Pick a standard song structure: VVCVVCBC (Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Verse 3, Verse 4, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus)
  4. Pick a standard rhyme scheme: XAXA. First and third line don’t rhyme, second and fourth do. This one is the simplest because you only have to rhyme two out of the four lines.
  5. What kind of genre will it be? For this example: Songwriter Ballad with the basic chords: C, A minor, F, G in the verse and reverse the chords in the chorus to: A minor, G, F, C.
  6. The chorus will write itself in a couple of minutes. What rhymes with “sunshine”? Fine—”every day he gets up and he’s fine.” Now you’ve got the 2nd and the fourth lines that rhyme and all you have to do is come up with something, anything, for the first and 3rd lines.
  7. For the verses, when in doubt start in the past and go to the future. Tell the story from beginning to end. At this point you’ll be sitting at about 10-15 minutes. You don’t have to be too clever. 
  8. Create a melody. Take it to the keyboard, guitar, or DAW and come up with something simple. Remember this isn't about creating something amazing. It's about speed.

The power of this exercise is you keep continuity. The problem with coming back to songs is that “you lose your flow..." You can lose the emotion of the original day. Getting back to that feeling can be very challenging. 

John also said that his best stuff will often come from a speed songs. The process doesn't allow for overthinking things. What will often come up is directly from the subconscious, which is the holy grail for creativity..

Give it a try and post your work in the group!

–Rigel Windsong Little Deer Thurston
Songwriter - Community Builder

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