Let’s face it: songwriting is HARD sometimes. So if you need some quick ideas to break out of a rut or find inspiration, you’re in luck!
According to John Braheny in his incredible book The Craft and Business of Songwriting, there are 7 basic song plots (ie topic areas) that most hit songs follow. With them in mind, I’ve put together a handy list of 101 songwriting prompts – broken down into these 7 popular song topics – to help you come up with incredible new song ideas.
You’ll also find a bonus section at the end of this post with some miscellaneous song prompts that don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories, but can STILL help you craft an original, compelling song that the world will love! Check them all out!
101 Songwriting Prompts for 7 Plots (Plus a Bonus!)
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Love Song Prompts
The most popular song category by far is love, because music helps you capture the feeling of this emotion better than almost anything. There are also so many different kinds of love songs – here are just some possibilities to get you started!
1) First date
Write a song about the first time you went out with someone special for the very first time. What was it like to meet them, where did you go, what did you do? Are you doing it in the present, or reminiscing about your first date many years later?
2) Familial affection
Write a song about someone in your family. How do you feel watching your children growing up, both needing your support and seeking independence from you? What would you do if you lost your siblings? Relationships with parents are always compelling; are you determined to be different than them, or have you become your mother/father?
Song Example: Daughter by Loudon Wainwright III
3) Puppy love/crush
Write a song about your first crush. How young were you two? Did you pass notes in class or exchange glances when the teacher’s back was turned?
4) Wedding anniversary
Write a song addressed to your spouse on your anniversary. How has your love grown (or not) over the years? Is there tension in the air, or is he/she the love of your life, no questions asked? Is your spouse your rock, or your hard place?
5) Making love
Write a song exploring sex and what it means to you. How does it make you and your partner feel, in the moment and about your relationship? Is there a creative euphemism you can use to get across the message while still being radio-friendly?
Song Example: Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard (plus millions of other songs!)
6) Love letter
Write a song in the form of a letter. Is it a romantic ballad expressing unrequited love, a message of regret that you’d rather burn then send, or a letter from a secret admirer?
7) Celebrity crush
Write a song about a famous person you admire. Why do they deserve an ode to them? Are they your muse, idol, or hero? What would you do if they loved you back?
8) Seasonal Love
Write a song about enjoying the holidays with a loved one. Is it nice to get cozy by the fire while it snows outside? Does your blanket buddy like one marshmallow or two in their hot cocoa?
9) Can’t quit you
Write a song about a love that you can’t seem to shake. Even though you know you’d be better off going, what’s keeping you there? Does it excite you that the love feels wrong?
Song Example: One More Night by Maroon 5
10) Short-lived Love
Write a song about a fling you had. Was it a one-night stand or did it last a whole summer? Did you always intend to keep it short, but now you’ve developed a deeper connection? Is it liberating or unfulfilling to have short-lived love?
11) Toxic relationships
Write a song about a truly unhealthy relationship. You love them, but at what cost to you? Are you risking your dignity, your sanity, or your physical safety? Why do you turn to love in the worst places?
12) Friends: the family you choose
Write a song about how you love your friends. What do they represent to you? What challenges can you overcome as a group?
13) Head over heels
Write a song about falling deeply in love. How does it feel to be submerged so suddenly in affection? Is it purely euphoric, or is there a powerless there that scares you?
Write a song about how much you love yourself. Are you proud of your body, your mind, or your talent? Are you a firework, brave, or ready to roar?
Song Example: Shake it Off by Taylor Swift
15) I love my (actual) baby
Write a song about how much you love a young child. How has having a baby changed your perspective on life? Do you want to be there for your child but worry you won’t – or worse – can’t?
Song Example: Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) by Billy Joel
16) Creepy love
Write a song where you are in love to a disturbing degree. Where is the line between romantic persistence and sexual harassment? Does not giving up on love make you a stalker?
Song Example: Every Breath You Take by The Police
17) Love at first sight
Write a song about falling in love with someone you see across the room. What about them caught your eye? How will you approach them? Do they reciprocate your feelings, reject you, or hide their feelings?
Song Example: Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon
18) Man’s best friend
Write a song about the love you have between you and your pet. Is the song from your perspective or your pet’s? Who needs the other more? Where did you first meet, and if your pet has passed on, what was that like?
Hate Song Prompts
The other side of the coin with love, hate is a very popular genre. Powerful emotions like hate lend themselves to louder vocal performances, like those in punk and metal bands, but can be found in any genre.
1) Betrayal by lover
Write a song about a time you’ve been betrayed by someone you loved dearly. Was it a surprise that you should’ve seen coming? Do you regret ever knowing them now that they’ve revealed their true self? Now that your heart is broken, how can you pick up the pieces?
2) Teenage angst
Write a song about the difficulties of coming-of-age. How are the pressures of school, friends, and first loves getting to you? Growing up is scary, and now there are cameras everywhere watching us perform. If the world is going to hell in a hand basket, how does a powerless teen feel?
3) City dissatisfaction
Write a song about hating the city you live in. Is your city so big that you feel like you’re lost in the crowd, or so small that everyone knows about your mistakes? Do the landmarks in your town remind you of your ex or some other trauma you experienced there? Are you stuck there, dying to leave, or already on your way out?
Write a song about how you hate yourself. What have you done that disgusts you to your core? Is it your fault, or are you the product of a bad system, family, or relationship? Is there any hope, or are you already a lost cause?
Song Example: Creep by Radiohead
5) Diss track
Write a song about someone you want to disrespect. Is this a friendly rivalry where you roast the other for fun, or do you have a genuine bone to pick? What about them do you want to disparage – their principles, physical characteristics, and/or body of work?
6) Frustrated in love
Write a song about how you love and hate someone in equal measure. Have they taken advantage of you but you like the feeling anyway? What’s it like to be trapped between a rock and a soft place?
Song Example: Maggie May by Rod Stewart
Write a song about how you’ve made a mistake you can’t fix. Can you handle the guilt you feel, or is it making you rot from the inside out? What coping mechanisms do you turn to – sex, drugs, alcohol – that might only make the problem worse?
8) Political disagreement
Write a song about something political that you hate to see. Does it make you mad to see young people sent to war? Why do the rich never seem to have the rules apply to them? Is the system broken, or is it actually working as intended?
Song Example: B.Y.O.B. by System of a Down
9) Hating hate
Write a song about how hatred itself is poisonous to your soul. Is hate ever the solution? How could you explain the feeling of hatred to someone who never experienced it? What about it hurts the hater more than the hated?
Song Example: Relay by Fiona Apple
Write a song about something insignificant that makes you upset. Do you confront someone over it? Do you think people who do it deserve to burn in Hell? Is your song’s narrator justified or just bitter?
Loneliness Song Prompts
Loneliness is relatable. Whether you’re all by yourself or alone in a crowd, everyone has felt it and knows how it weighs on your heart and soul. That darkness, balanced with the hope of finding someone to be with, is perfect fodder for a hit song.
1) Lonely in love
Write a song about when you were aching to be with someone romantically, but it was not to be. Did they want you just as badly but couldn’t get to you, or did they not even know you exist? Was this recent, or a has your loneliness been fermenting for years?
Song Example: Alone Again, Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan
2) Alone and loving it
Write a song about how being single has it’s advantages. Maybe you’ve just broken up with someone and you aren’t nearly as upset as you expected. Is being alone bittersweet, or maybe entirely sweet, now that you aren’t dependent on anyone else for your happiness?
Song Example: Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson
3) Love triangle loser
Write a song about a love triangle where you’re the third wheel. Did you love and then lose your significant other to a new suitor, or were you always on the outside? Have you given up, or are you still determined to find love in the face of rejection?
Song Example: Perfect Situation by Weezer
4) Dear John
Write a song to break up with someone. Do you wish things had gone differently, or was your match doomed from the start? Is it you, or is it me?
Write a song about the feeling of rejection. It could be about love, but it could also be about an offer of friendship, a new job, or a connection to a relative. Was the rejection undeserved, or is your narrator an unreliable storyteller?
Song Example: Rude by MAGIC!
Write a song about being stranded, either metaphorically or literally. Why are you in this situation? What’s it like not being able to find company of any kind, good or bad?
Song Example: Message in a Bottle by The Police
7) Self-imposed exile
Write a song about how you no longer can stand to be around a certain group of people. What have they done to force you to choose loneliness? Do you bristle at the thought of being lumped in with them?
Write a song where your narrator is experiencing the cold shoulder from one or more people. Is the silent treatment enough to drive you mad, or can you wait it out? Is getting ignored worse than a direct fight?
9) In space!
Write a song where you are sent to space. Are you awe-struck or terrified? How does it feel to have thousands of people working on Earth to get you to a place where you’re totally on your own?
Song Example: Space Oddity by David Bowie
10) Walk in the woods
Write a song about returning to nature. What kind of nature appeals to you – a forest, a shoreline, or a mountaintop? How can weather be used to convey the internal conflict that’s driven you away from civilization?
11) Two can be as bad as one
Write a song where you’re with another person, but you can’t quite seem to connect. Is it a new acquaintance or an old lover? Can you feel lonelier with them than when you’re alone?
Song Example: Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg
12) I’m just a little unwell
Write a song where you explore the lonely side of mental illness. Why do you feel you’ve gone insane? Are you the problem, or is it everybody else? How do these mental disturbances manifest themselves in your daily life?
Song Example: Zitti E Buoni by Måneskin
Happiness Song Prompts
Happiness is what we all hope for and lots of hit songs capitalize on that feeling. Whether you want to write bubbly pop songs, triumphant ballads, or nostalgic strains, we’ve got happy songwriting prompts to get you started.
Write a song about having a party. Who are you inviting? What’s the reason, or is there no reason at all? Is this a night to remember, or a night no one will be able to?
2) Hollow happiness
Write a song about how cracks are showing up in the veneer of happiness. Are you forced to act happy by society or pressure in a relationship? Do you actually have everything you wanted, but still aren’t happy? Was happiness fleeting or never real at all?
Song Example: Shiny Happy People by R.E.M.
3) Victory! Triumph!
Write a song about winning. What have you achieved? Has it been a long road, making your victory all the sweeter? What obstacles stood in your way and how did you overcome them? How does it feel to be a winner?
Song Example: We Are the Champions by Queen
4) Not a care in the world
Write a song about being carefree. Have you found the secret to happiness, or are you just so fed up with stresses that you aren’t going to give a damn anymore? Is it a feeling of euphoria or just relief?
Song Example: Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
5) A night out
Write a song about having fun during a night on the town. Are you with your friends or beau? Are you getting drunk or dancing on the club floor?
Song Example: Tonight Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae
6) Spiritual enlightenment
Write a song about how your religion comforts you. What’s it like being a part of something bigger than yourself? Is it a relief to have an answer to life’s biggest questions?
7) Fame and fortune
Write a song about the high-life. What’s it like enjoying the finer things in life? Where do you live? What do you eat? What kind of car do (or your chauffeur) drive? Is that wealth all for you, or if not, for whom will you make it rain?
Song Example: Rockstar by Nickelback
Write a song about the good ol’ days. What was so good about the world when you were young? What people, places, and things look a whole lot better through rose-tinted glasses?
9) What music means to you
Write a song about how music feeds your soul. Were you lost until you found music? Does having a guitar in your hand or a microphone at your lips make you feel like the king of the world?
10) Enjoy the simple things
Write a song about how something seemingly insignificant brings you great joy. Do you have an object that reminds you of a past love? Do you have a hobby that makes you smile even on your darkest days?
Song Example: Thrift Shop by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
11) What’s this?
Write a song where you are in a world of wonder. What do you see? Is the happiness just an illusion or is it really there? Are you inspired to make the real world a bit more magical?
Song Example: Fireflies by Owl City
Write a song about absolute bliss. Is it emotional, mental, or sexual? Does time stand still or does it fly when you’re having fun? Do you wish the moment would never end?
Sadness Song Prompts
When your heart is broken, it’s raining on your head, and your ice cream falls off the cone, you’re dealing with sadness. Putting that feeling to music can be cathartic for you and your audience. A thousand careers have been launched on the backs of sad songs.
1) Lost love
Write a song about your significant other dying. What do you think about when you wake up in the morning and the bed is empty? How many tears does it take to fill a river? Will you ever laugh again?
Write a song about the general feeling of dissatisfaction. What objects in your life have become symbols of a boring existence?
Song Example: People, I’ve been Sad by Christine and the Queens
3) Bad day
Write a song about your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. What did you discover that ruined the day from the start? What went wrong, and how badly did it go? Were you really upset about not having coffee, or were you actually upset about your girlfriend taking the coffee machine when she left you?
4) School sucks
Write a song about how school gets you down. Does your crush not notice you? Do your classes bore you? Is the vice-principal always on your case and your parents just don’t understand?
5) I’ve got the blues
Write a song about the feeling of depression itself. What’s the world look like when everything is under a rain cloud and shaded in blue? What have you lost that makes you question whether it’s worth getting out of bed?
6) Life’s not what you had hoped
Write a song about how life is letting you down. Did you keep thinking that your situation would improve only to discover you peaked in high school? Did the good times come and go before you had a chance to enjoy them?
Song Example: Story of My Life by Social Distortion
7) Unthinkable loss
Write a song about a non-romantic loved one passing away. Who were they in life and what’s the world like in their absence? Can your song work as a eulogy for the person?
Song Example: Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
8) I want something more
Write a song about hoping to escape your bad circumstances. Are you stuck in a small-town but have bigger dreams (that may or may not actually ever come true)? Do you have reasons to keep hope alive, or is the dream just a coping mechanism, not a realistic option?
9) Kids today
Write a song about how life for today’s kids will not be as good as when you grew up. Do you cry for your own child’s future? Is there a lake you used to love that’s not polluted or a forest you’d hike that’s burned down?
Write a song lamenting the end of something you care about. What saddens you about a friendship drifting apart, a coffeehouse going bankrupt, or an era ending? How sad can you make other people feel about it?
11) Guilty plea
Write a song about guilt eating you. Did you do something wrong on purpose or accidentally? Do you feel guilty when you’re sad but even more so when you try to be happy?
12) Holiday blues
Write a song about how a holiday depresses you. Are you alone on Valentine’s Day or tired of the commercialization of Christmas? Are you going to sit on your couch and gorge on chocolate Easter eggs?
13) For shame!
Write a song where you have done something that makes others ashamed to be around you. Is it fair of them to alienate you? Is there a hole deep enough for you to hide?
Write a song where something you believed in is totally destroyed. Will you ever be able to trust again? Was it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? Is there any feeling of liberation now that you’re free?
Song Example: Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus
15) Dust in the wind
Write a song about how temporary the world around you is. Can a person be happy when they know that happiness will inevitably end? Will chaos always overtake order? Why bother doing anything?
16) Too afraid to try
Write a song where failure looms so large in your mind that you are paralyzed. Why are you worried? What’s your impossible choice? When is change scarier than becoming stagnant?
Jealousy Song Prompts
Music lets us indulge in some of our darker feelings, and chief among them is jealousy. When you want what someone else has, whether it’s status, wealth, or a boy/girlfriend, it’s fun to imagine what it’d be like to steal them. Here’s some ideas to get you started writing jealousy songs.
1) Jealous crush
Write a song about wishing you were with another person who is already in a relationship. In what ways do you compare to the person they’re with, for better or worse? What do you feel when you see the two of them together – murderous rage, deep self-loathing, or a longing to be someone else?
Song Example: You Belong With Me by Taylor Swift
2) Why are THEY successful?
Write a song about how someone’s success is undeserved. What could you do so much better than someone else, if you only had a chance? How’d they get successful in the first place – was it their attractive body, their family connections, or their immorality?
Song Example: Money for Nothing by Dire Straits
3) You’re going down with me!
Write a song about wanting bad things for other people. If your life has issues, what curses can you wish for other people? Would blotting the sun out really make you feel better, or is schadenfreude better on paper than in practice?
Song Example: Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones
4) Is she really going out with him?
Write a song disapproving of someone else’s choices? What have they chosen that grinds your gears? Are you really upset about the negative effects the choice causes for your subject, or do you wish they had chosen you instead?
5) Bite me!
Write a song about how others are jealous of you. Do you enjoy showing off your success and letting others turn green with envy? What about you drives others crazy?
6) I’ll steal it. No one will ever know!
Write a song about acting on your jealousy and stealing from someone else. What’s your plan for your heist? Is it impulsive or well-thought out. Does it turn out well for you?
Song Example: Steal that Car by Alice Cooper
7) You’re better than me
Write a song about not feeling good enough compared to someone else. What kind of compliments can you give someone else that actually insult yourself?
8) Dollar signs in your eyes
Write a song where you dream about the life of leisure you wish you had. What’s it like being on the outside looking in? How much better would your life be if you had bubbly champagne in your poolside bar?
Song Example: Beverly Hills by Weezer
9) Hands off!
Write a song where you are protecting something/someone of yours that you think others are jealous of. What/who is worth taking from you? What lengths would you go to keep it? Are you rightfully defensive or just paranoid?
Song Example: When You’re In Love with a Beautiful Woman by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show
10) Anyone but me
Write a song where you’re jealous of people with relatively bad lives. Why would you rather be the lonely cat lady or the struggling street artist? Do they have something you don’t have? If so, is it abstract or tangible?
Revenge Song Prompts
When you’ve been wronged, there’s only one thing that can make you feel right again: revenge. Revenge is such a natural story arc: trust, transgression, and finally vengeance. Fitting all of that in a song can be challenging, but doing so makes for a memorable musical experience.
1) Take it in stride
Write a song about being wronged but you making it right. If you’ve been cheated on, do you destroy their favorite things or spend all their money? Can you tell their new girlfriend what a chump they are? How’s it feel to light his car on fire and walk away without looking back?
Song Example: Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!) by Blu Cantrell
2) This calls for violence
Write a song about how violence is the answer to your problem. How far will you take it – a slap, a punch, a murder? What did they do to deserve this fate? Do you feel better for choosing violence or do things escalate quickly from there?
3) I’ll protect you!
Write a song about avenging someone who has been wronged. What’s your connection to the person who needs saving? Are you a real hero, or are you doing it for selfish reasons?
Song Example: 99 Biker Friends by Bowling for Soup
4) Success is the best revenge
Write a song about how far you’ve come despite your detractors. Who were the people keeping you down and how did you beat them? What about your life is so good now that even your critics would have to concede you’ve won?
Song Example: Started From the Bottom by Drake
Write a song where you’re the target of your revenge. What have you done to yourself that deserves retribution? Are you punishing yourself so you’ll make better decisions in the future or just out of anguish?
6) Fire and fury
Write a song where you’re consumed with rage. What lengths will you go to seek recompense? Is your rage directed at one person, or has an entire system broken you?
Song Example: Your Obedient Servant from Hamilton
Write a song where you have an opportunity to exact revenge, but choose to forgive instead. What kind of drama can you mine out of a last-minute decision to forgive? Is forgiveness more therapeutic than revenge?
8) Fight! Fight! Fight!
Write a song where you enter into a competition and are losing. How will you make it on top by the end? What are some stakes that can make the battle more suspenseful?
Song Example: The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band
9) They’ll all pay
Write a song about how you’re going to get revenge on a group of people.
Song Example: Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People
10) Compare revenge plans
Write a song where two characters take very different approaches to a tragedy. Why should one turn to revenge when another doesn’t? Is the tension between victim and transgressor as interesting as between two victims with different coping mechanisms?
Song Example: Mama’s Broken Heart by Miranda Lambert
11) Now who’s cheating?
Write a song where you cheat on your significant other. Does cheating bring you the thrill of revenge, or do you feel you’ve sunk to a new low? Is an affair still cheating if they cheated first?
BONUS: Miscellaneous Song Prompts
Not every song follows a simple plot. There are many songs that use more than one of the above story arcs and there’s just as many that don’t fit nicely into any of the categories at all. Here are some more creative writing prompts for those who want help writing an original song.
1) The world at large
Write a song about a time and place. Who and what are important at this specific where and when? What are the quintessential symbols of your chosen era that you can immortalize in song?
Song Example: We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel
2) Ode to an object
Write a song praising a specific thing or concept. What about it deserves your affection? Does your fondness represent something deeper about you that you can reveal obliquely?
Song Example: Alcohol by Barenaked Ladies
Write a song about writing songs. What’s a good metaphor for songwriter’s block? How’s it feel when the music seems to stream from your brain and fingers effortlessly?
Song Example: Waiting on a Song by Dan Auerbach
Write a song with lots of nonsense lyrics? How can lyrical folderol represent a feeling better than actual words? What kind of made-up words can you make memorable with the right melody?
Song Example: Around the World by ATC
5) Life in the Internet age
Write a song about how your online life affects your real life. Do people online get to you? Is social media making the world a more connected place, or is it causing more harm than good?
Song Example: Don’t Feed the Trolls by Jonathan Coulton
6) This one’s for the nerds
Write a song meant specifically to appeal to the nerds among us. What aspect of pop culture bring out our inner nerd? Is being a nerd completely free of stigma, or does it still retain some of its old insulting connotation?
Song Example: White and Nerdy by Weird Al Yankovic
7) Nose to the grindstone
Write a song about working a day job. Does it interfere with your musical goals? Is is fun to be ambitious or is it weighing on your soul?
Song Example: 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton
8) Money Money Money
Write a song purely about cash flow. Why do you need more money? How can you get more cash? Have you done something criminal to get the money?
Write a song that sounds cool but doesn’t actually have any clear meaning. Your song might still have meaning, but can you make one that’s strange enough that a listener can’t be sure? Can you make imagery that’s psychedelic or fantastical?
Song Example: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by The Beatles
10) That’s illegal
Write a song where you’re engaging in clearly illegal activity. Will you get caught? Are you proud of what you’ve done? Is it liberating or are you doomed to look over your shoulder for the rest of your days?
11) Dance dance
Write a song about what dancing means to you. Are you afraid to get on the dance floor and prefer to stick to the wall? Are you cutting the rug as soon as you hear the beat? Are you dancing by yourself or do you want to dance with somebody?
12) Just drive
Write a song about your experience driving around town. Who do you see? What are the stories of the homeless man or the single mother carrying groceries? Is the city how you remember it?
Songwriter Prompt List Wrap-up
I hope this list was helpful! Whether you were able to read through these prompts all in one sitting or bounced around to find the ones that spoke to you, my recommendation is to actually take ONE songwriting prompt in this list and give it a try!
Sit down, set a timer for 15 minutes, and do a brainstorm of musical or lyrical ideas based on the prompt. The rule is, you can’t second-guess or filter yourself during those 15 minutes – just write!
You can also check out our list of 13 unconventional songwriting exercises for more inspiration.
Now, I know it can be hard for songwriters to commit to an idea and see it through, but it’s honestly the ONLY way to get better at your craft.
For more advice on coming up with a new song, be sure to check out How to Start Off a Song – it’ll give you some ideas on 11 different song intro ideas! (And for guidance on rhyming lyrics in your songs, check out our guide on the question Do Songs Have to Rhyme?)
Lastly, why not bookmark this page so you can come back here any time you need inspiration?
Best of luck, songwriters!
One of my favorite ways to come up with new songs is just sitting down at the piano and playing until an interesting idea captures my imagination. I recommend trying Piano for All to help you take a kernel of a song idea and turn it into a finished masterpiece!
Improve your songwriting by mastering piano.