*Before I continue, and I’ll say this many times, I operate under the assumption that the opposite of everything I say is equally true. Including the opposite of what I just said. 🙂
Here’s my top 10 lyric writing insights:
1. The rhythm of your melody and the rhythm of your lyrics should match.
Rhythm has *strong and week beats. So do words. When you speak to someone, you use conventional stresses–found in the dictionary–to communicate your ideas as efficiently as possible. If you spoke with the ac-CENT on the wrong syl-LA-ble, people would have a hard time understanding you. Yet this happens over and over again in lyric writing. Match your stresses and your listeners will get what you mean.
2. Show, don’t tell.
Compare “I was nervous” with “My palms were sweaty” and you’ll get the picture. The first example is about the experience while the second example is from the experience. The easiest way to do this is to stimulate your listener’s senses by using sense-bound language. Write from the 5 senses and you’ll find interesting details that will keep your listeners captivated and emotionally involved.
3. Use prosody. Support your meaning with your lyrics.
How you put your lyric together should support what you have to say. You can create prosody with:
- Form: Organize your song functions into effective song forms, e.g. verse/chorus, AABA, and verse/prechorus/chorus, etc.
Musical Stress: Put words in relation to each other according to its relative stress in the bar and its relation to surrounding notes. Put the most important word in the most important stress, beat 1 of bar 1.
Line Length and Number of Lines: You can balance or unbalance a section accordance to its meaning by having an even (balanced, stable) or odd (unbalanced, unstable) number of lines. You can also match line lengths perfectly (balanced, stable) or match lines imperfectly (unbalanced, unstable).
Rhyme: Perfect rhyme and Family rhyme will support a stable or resolved meaning. The more remote rhyme types (assonance rhyme, consonance rhyme, etc.) will support an unstable or unresolved meaning.
4. Create contrasting sections.
Lyrically, line length is one of the most effective tools to create contrast. Create contrasting sections using one or more structural elements, i.e. contrasting ideas, number of lines, rhyme schemes, etc. Ask yourself, “What have I got? What’s different than that?”
5. Consider when to balance and unbalance your lyric.
The main point of balancing and unbalancing is, again, prosody: supporting your meaning with your structures. Do you need stability or instability to support your meaning? Combine all four structural elements–number of lines, line length, line rhythm, and rhyme scheme–to balance and unbalance sections.
6. Use fresh metaphor.
To see one thing as though it is something else is your unique ability. To make sure your metaphors aren’t cliche, use the “duh” method (I got this from Shane Adams). You start with your first object, cake. Think of the most obvious characteristic of the object, as in the cake is round. These are called the “duh” descriptions. Now take the “duh” description and think of something else that has that quality or characteristic. The cake is round…duh…what else is round? The moon. Now think of a “duh” characteristic of the second object, the moon glows, the moon is distant. Now plug those new traits into the original, the cake glowed like a distant moon. Now that’s original.
7. Develop your verses.
Develop your song idea from verse to verse making sure the chorus gains meaning and interest each time it is repeated. Give your final verse a “pay off” that rewards your listener for their attention. Think of how you tell stories to your friends. Usually, the point of the entire story comes at the very end. Where you begin your story and how much you share depends on what material is relevant to the understanding of the song’s climax.
8. Control the song’s point of view and verb tense.
Discuss a song’s story-line from the singer’s point of view. This solves a lot of problems: verb tense, setting, point of view, gender, etc. Write from the perspective of the singer of the song.
9. Use fresh rhymes.
Rhymes occur at the ends of lines. These positions are natural spotlights. Since your listener has time to consider what you just said before the next line begins, make it worthy of the spotlight. Avoid cliche rhymes and boring rhyme schemes. Learn how to find fresh rhymes that stick in the mind of the listener and that help you say what you mean in a unique way.
10. Spotlight important ideas.
Certain positions in a song spotlight important ideas. These power positions get special attention:
- Opening lines
When you have something important to say, these techniques can help emphasize the point:
- Shorten lines to spotlight important ideas
Lengthen lines to spotlight important ideas
Put your important ideas in opening lines, balancing lines and unbalancing positionsAnd use power words (action verbs, sensual adjectives, unique words, etc.) in your power positions.
Rules are definitely meant to be broken. But please learn the rules first. 😉
*This relative pattern of strong and weak beats, from strongest to weakest:
In 4/4: Beat 1, Beat 3, Beat 4, Beat 2, Beat 4&, Beat 2&, Beat 3&, Beat 1&
In 3/4: The only strong beat in a bar of 3/4 is the downbeat. The second and third beats are weak. In order of strength, the beats line up like this: Bar 1, Bar 3, Bar 2, Beat 1, Beat 2, Beat 3, Beat 2&, Beat 3&, Beat 1&
In 6/8: Think of it as two quick bars of 3/4. In order of strength, the beats of 6/8 line up like this: Beat 1, Beat 4, Beat 6, Beat 3, Beat 2, Beat 5