The First Rule Of Improv and Co-Writing Songs: Say Yes-and!

by Clay Mills
Sep 20, 2022

Stage Acting, Improv, and Songwriting…

Recently I went to see my friend and talented actress Becky Wahlstrom doing improv night at Bongo Java’s in Nashville. The group she performed with, the Nashville Improv Company, were amazingly witty, intelligent, and lightning quick in making stuff up. I was struck at the similarities between actors, improv, and co-writing songs. The flow, the short themed segments, and the exchange of ideas between the actors. I mentioned this to her, after her set, and asked her how they managed to keep the creative flow going while on stage. She told me the 1st rule of improv…Say Yes-and!

Always Say Yes!

Wow I thought. This is exactly my philosophy (if songwriters are allowed to have one of those!) on co-writing. Whenever your partner starts a scene/song always say YES. Denial is the number one reason most scenes/songs go bad. Hence, the number one rule of improv and co-writing is Yes– and!

Any time you refuse an offer made by your partner your scene will almost instantly come to a grinding halt. Both in improve and co-writing.

I can’t tell you how many times in the beginning of my songwriting career I would witness someone in the room throwing out idea after idea and a co-writer not be happy with them..”NO I wouldn’t say that” or “NO, that’s not what people are recording today” or “NO I already have a break-up song”..the list goes on.

Spin Is Everything…

Instead, how different those co-writes would have gone if a simple rule was followed- Always say Yes… and then add to it. Suppose your co-writer says “I have a title and sings the words “Someone’s Gonna Get Hurt Tonight”. You’ve been so tired of writing of sad songs so you wanna say “No let’s do something else”… But instead, what if you go with it and spin it off in a new direction…”Someone’s gonna Get Hurt Tonight, So Baby Hurt Me Good”.

By respecting your co-writers idea you have stayed in the moment and then added to it.

You’ve taken their idea and twisted it to fun and positive. You’ve kept the creative energy flowing in the room. So, try it today as you write and check out an improv night sometime if there is one playing in your town… you’ll be amazed at the similarities between improv and writing; and how much we can learn from the acting world.

Write on! ~CM

Clay Mills

Clay Mills

Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.


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