Written by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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For many, getting a lyric to work properly is the toughest part of songwriting. It seems that the line between a killer lyric and a dud can be painfully thin. Of course, the easiest way to deal with it is to partner with a lyricist! But if you’re keen to write your own lyrics, there are things you can do that will help the words flow. Being your own lyricist means that you can say things exactly as you want to say them, and convey the sense and meaning you’re trying to communicate.
When lyrics sound stilted and forced, the biggest cause is usually that you’re fighting the natural pulse of the text. If you’ve written your melody and you want to add lyrics, you’ll need to match the pulse of your text with the pulse of your music. This means that as lyrical possibilities present themselves, you may need to alter aspects of your melody to make the words work. Always consider the pulse of your text.
My advice for writing lyrics is to not try to write a poem, unless you feel that the words are presenting themselves to you in that format. To state the obvious, poetry is written by poets. And that may not be you.
So instead of writing a poem, what do you do? Once you’ve chosen a topic, here’s a little set of steps that can help ensure that your lyrics are going to work:
- Write the song topic as a heading, and start writing words and phrases that convey positive aspects of that heading. If it’s “Love for my family”, your words might include “peace”, “warm”, “supper time”, “birthday”, “graduation”… and so on. And at this point, you may not even use some of these words. But they become a list from which to choose.
- Under a second heading, write words that might convey negative aspects of your song topic. You might include words like, “hurt”, “ran away”, “fell down”, “on the road”, “missing you”, etc.
- Just the act of making these two lists will start to bring ideas into sharper focus. You’ll likely find that you have an easier time honing in on what your song is about. So on a separate piece of paper, start writing phrases and lines that pull various words together. Don’t worry if they don’t seem like lyrics yet. Just get the phrases together, even if they’re incomplete at this point. Something like, “I remember how hurt I felt when…”, “I love supper time with you”, “Holding hands as we walk with the children…” – that kind of thing.
This process solves one of the most common problems in lyric writing: knowing what you want to say, but not having the right words at your fingertips. With this method, you’ve got tons of words and phrases. And many that you may never use, but simply writing them all down helped you focus and create a better lyric.
If you’ve got your own ideas for creating better lyrics, why not share them here?
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