Turn it inside out

Take an old chestnut, any old song you know well, and give it a new twist. There are many ways to do this. We’ll get to a few in a minute.

But first, why would you do this? Not to find a creative new way to perform an old song, although there’s nothing wrong with that. You do this to warm up your creative muscles, get those creative juices flowing. It’s much less intimidating with someone else’s material. And once you get going, once you’re on a roll, creatively, it’s easy to let the old song slip away as you develop your own original ideas. And before you know it, you’re working on a completely new and original song.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Think of an old rock standard, but imagine it with a reggae beat. Start to develop that idea. Or convert a Motown hit, making it hip hop. Or find a corny old love song from the 30’s, drop the moon/June rhymes, update the language and turn it into a something more current.

Here’s another one. Find a song in 4/4 and play it in 3/4 or vice versa. It’s amazing how that can transform a song. You’ll find yourself automatically getting creative with the phrasing so the song makes sense in the new time signature. You could challenge yourself to keep it as close to the original as possible, except for the new waltz time. Or you could let yourself go, straying as far from the original as much as you want, taking the melody in a totally new direction and letting the chords follow.

The point of this exercise is to get your motor started, jump started, if necessary. Think up some of your own tricks to get your creativity flowing while ostensibly working on existing tunes, all the while knowing it will lead to a new melody, riff or rhythm that you can develop into your own piece.

Let us know if you find this exercise helpful, and if you have any that work for you — we’d love to hear about them!

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