"Help! I'm Not a Poet… How Do I Write Lyrics?"

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” E-book Bundle
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LyricsThere’s nothing like writing lyrics that can make a lot of songwriters feel that they’ve lost the ability to put English words together. And of the triangle comprised of melody, chords and lyric, it’s the lyric that can do the most to make songs sound lame and out of date. But if you’re not a poet, conveying thoughts and feelings can seem daunting. What’s a bad lyricist to do?

Suggestion number 1, of course, is obvious: partner with a lyricist. I think songwriting partnerships are the way to go, and a quick peek at the writing credits for most hit songs will indicate that there are very few songwriters out there working in isolation. A lyricist takes the pressure off you to create a good lyric.

But there’s another issue here. It’s not important or necessary to be a poet to write a good lyric. Poetry, when it works, is wonderful. But there’s a problem with poetry, which is that most poetry does not flow in a way that’s useful for a song lyric.

Song lyrics need to be comprised mainly of everyday words, conveying common emotions with common words and phrases. With your lyric, you want to connect to people’s hearts. You want them to feel the emotion that you are describing. If you’re trying to do that by using complicated metaphors delivered with complex poetic devices, you run the risk of leaving your listener behind in a cloud of irrelevant snobbery.

So if you want to try to improve your lyric writing skills, you need to strike a balance. Lyrics can be too banal, and the listener needs more than that in order to feel something. Lyrics that are too poetic have the same effect: the listener feels nothing.

Here are some suggestions for improving your lyrics:

  1. Be focused. Even if your lyrics describe several different emotions or events, be sure that your song focuses on one overall universal emotion or theme.
  2. Don’t over-describe. Using descriptive words is necessary, but keep it simple. “The aching pain in my languishing heart..” may be overkill; try “the pain in my heart…” and get on to describing its effect on you and your life.
  3. Think of form. Whether you’re using free verse, or some sort of rhyming scheme, choose one and let it be the form for that song. What’s really important is consistency.
  4. Don’t force rhymes. Forced rhymes are the worst culprits of bad lyrics (“Your best friend Harry/ Has a brother Larry..“).
  5. Opt for common words. Lyrics of hit songs tend to use words that people standing in the grocery checkout would know and use daily.

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2 Comments

  1. It strikes me you are obsessed with the possibility that your Lyrics will be stolen
    I would keep your 100 lyrics to yourself, because the likelihood that they could be
    used in a collaboration with a musical composer, as they are written is very small.

    You can not copyright a theme or a synopsis for a song, and Professional songs are not written this way, The lyrics may well be used as a starting off point, but when the composer gets into the song the words will need to be changed in 99 % of cases ,purely because you have not considered a melody that can portray the emotion you are seeking
    and your original lyric could be unrecognizable.

    Most Learning Lyric writers write for the eye, when they should be writing for the ear.

    Patt Pattison a Professor at Berklee College of Music has written several books on lyric writing and of course he teaches the subject, you need to understand every contemporary format of lyric writing the many ways of Hook Placement . The Balance of Phrases
    Rhythm Setting Up, Shutting Down and what he describes as The Vowel Triangle

    All of this and so much more , is a must for successful song writing I would advise you to purchase these books and spend a couple of years studying them. before you even think of internet collaboration, other wise you will be making all the mistakes millions of other have made , and get nowhere.
    Also I would say read and purchase every thing written by Professor Gary Ewer, your host here, he has a marvelous way of writing and talks from years of experience in a very professional manner. His teaching is benefiting many many writers.

  2. Gary,

    I am on the hunt for some advice from someone with honesty and credentials. I do believe I have a talent for writing lyrics (poems with a hook)and I am looking for some way of getting my lyrics noticed by some musicians without paying a studio to put words to my lyrics. I am in the starting process of copyrighting some 100 lyrics. I would be willing to send you a sampling after that. Gary thank you for your advice.

    Happy Trails!!!!

    Duff McAndie

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