There is a writing exercise that I developed years ago during March Madness. I’m a real college basketball freak, and I love laying out the brackets and following the tournament from its first round to the Final Four.
I also love to play with words. I like the pictures they paint, the feelings they evoke, the messages they send, and the sounds they make when bounced and banged up against each other. So, I created a game that uses words and brackets to trigger ideas, stretch the brain to find connections, and force me to draw conclusions based on specific though limited bits and pieces of information.
For Creative Breakthroughs
I’ve used the exercise to break through writer’s block, to trigger new ideas, but mostly to kill time. In any case I have found by engaging the activity with friends, fellow songwriters, groups at parties, and even as a corporate team-building exercise, it really can feed the muse and stimulate creativity. It can be a fun party game.
This tool has been presented to you in various forms these last few months such as fighting through writer’s block or finding a name for your band. But now I thought we’d apply it more with some relatively focused direction in mind for songwriters and for general problem-solving.
New Angles + Fresh Ideas
Let’s say you’re thinking about writing a song, but you want to come at it from a different angle or maybe you want an arsenal of ideas to explore in pulling it together. The exercise is a perfect tool for helping you restock your tool kit or ammunition or pantry or storehouse or whatever metaphor you want to use.
Begin by writing down either eight or sixteen words or phrases that you associate with the song you want to write. Even if it’s something as simple as “a love song,” write down eight or sixteen words or phrases related to the topic.
Next, take a piece or paper and make brackets, with each space numbered from one to sixteen (or eight). Then put that aside and randomly assign numbers from 1-8 or 1-16 for each of the phrases or words. You can also fold them up and draw them one by one, filling in the brackets as they are drawn.
Conclusions + Bonding
You will then proceed to draw conclusions or cite the common bond or image formed by the coupling of the initial eight or sixteen line items (two lines = one bracket, so it’s four or eight brackets). For example, let’s say your first two lines had “wine and roses” and “first dance.” The association or conclusion might be “sweet stagger.” So, that phrase would move to the line that would be the equivalent of the “winner” between the first two lines. You keep moving until your final winner is the result of the paired conclusions and associations. So, you start with eight lines (four brackets) and move to four lines (two brackets), and then have one line. Or you start with sixteen lines (eight brackets) and move to eight lines (four brackets) and move to four lines (two brackets), and then have one line.
Your final word or phrase will be (or can be) what anchors your song thematically or what represents a key moment or action in the song. Or, it can be your title. This exercise opens your mind and senses to twists and turns while also focusing your piece. This is a great standalone exercise to simply keep your mind supple, your muse entertained, and your mind open.
Real Life Applications
This exercise even works with problem solving. Let’s say there is an issue you’re struggle with or something you are having difficulty getting a handle on. By identifying thoughts and feelings associated with the issue you can come closer to a solution or gain a better understanding through this process of making associations and drawing conclusions.
You can apply to concerns or thoughts about image, song selection, and even decision making. It is a simple tool that has as many unique applications as your heart and imagination desire on your road to singing success.