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Songwriting Exercise: Literal Scene

Songwriting Exercise: Literal Scene

When songs are not grounded in the literal, they become opinion – something we all know is a highly individualized perspective. You risk the listener deciding they don’t agree with you, so they just opt-out of the song.

Details can help avoid this problem as well as make the entire experience much more clear to the listener.

Now, I’m not saying you need so much detail that it sounds like you’re a journalist just gathering the facts. Giving emotion to your song is important, so details should add colour and context to help the listener:

1 – Know where the scene takes place

2 – Understand the speaker of the song and their core drivers

3 – Move through an experience or story


I have a quote written in the front of my songwriting notebook from a poetry professor I had at the University of Tennessee, Arthur Smith:

“By embodying the thing in a literal scene, it becomes an experience – not a thing to be agreed with or disagreed with.”

[Tweet “By embodying the thing in a literal scene, it becomes an experience – poet Arthur Smith”]


Create A Literal Scene One Verse At A Time


Step 1 – create an outline of the story you’re trying to tell.

Step 2 – pick the first “scene” you think begins the story, and picture it in your mind. Where is someone standing? What are they looking at? What are they touching? What are they wearing? What can they smell?  You get the idea.

Step 3 – write down every detail. They won’t all end up in your song, but they’ll put you in the scene and immerse you in the details.

Step 4 – create a verse.  Don’t worry about the rhymes, just get the detail down.

Step 5 – bust out your rhyming dictionary and determine if you need to add/delete details or change up how you’re saying something to develop a strong rhyme pattern.

Now do it again for Verse 2 and 3!


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