Tips ‘n Tricks: Brainstorming Song Lyrics

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You may think that starting the songwriting process with lyrics means coming to the table with an already-finished lyric sheet, or a completed poem. It doesn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t. If you want your song’s lyrics to really have an impact, there are things you can do to be sure that you (or your singer) are communicating with words that really sell the song. Developing lyrics should always include a brainstorming session. Here’s how that can work.

Brainstorming lyrics means that as a starting point, you at least know the general topic; you know what the song’s going to be about, even if you’re not sure of the ultimate direction the “story” will take.

For example, you may know that the song’s going to describe your love for someone, even if you’re not sure what the story in detail will be.

There are lots of ways you can use the creation of lyrics as the beginning stage in the songwriting process. But why not try the following step-by-step, and see if it works for you:

  1. Create a working title for your song. It doesn’t need to be overly creative, just a topic or a descriptive phrase. You’ll likely change this eventually, but it gets your mind pointed in the right direction.
  2. Create a list of words and phrases that relate to the topic. All you’re really doing at this point is creating a vocabulary, a list of words that are the likely suspects in your chosen topic.
  3. Organize the list into two categories: Positive and negative. For example, if you want to write a song that addresses the fact that we need to take care of the planet, your positive words/phrases might be clean, green, recycle, protect, care for, etc., while negative words might be global warming, melting, pollution, waste, and so on. (Notice that you’re not worrying at this stage whether you can work this into a lyric; you’re just getting the lingo front and centre.)
  4. Look for phrases that jump out as having a good implied rhythm, or roll off the tongue easily. You still may not know what to do with those words or phrases, but you may just feel that they’ve got lyrical potential. Put these words and phrases in a list list called “Possibles” by themselves.
  5. Spend some time with your “Possibles” list, saying each word and phrase over and over. See if you can work them into longer lines or phrases. Are there other phrases or words in your positive/negative list that rhyme, or nearly rhyme? Can you create a line or phrase that seems to provide an answering idea to something in your “Possibles” list?

At this point, you’ve really discovered all, or almost all, of the vocabulary associated with your song topic. And that’s a huge step in the right direction. Even if you’ve got to the end of Step 5 with no useable lyric yet, you’ve got your brain focused and primed. You’ll be surprised at how quickly song lyrics develop once you’ve reached Step 5.

This process works especially well for writing songs where someone has asked you to address a particular topic. For example, if you’ve been asked to sing something original at a loved one’s wedding, making lists containing words that describe that person, or the couple, is actually fun to do.

(In that case, however, you may find it prudent to skip the “Negatives” part of Step 3. ;))


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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  1. lonely gaze of dawn the days are battered and long. The night sings to me a melancholy song, one that goes on and on days get sadder dust collects on my broken heart. I used to be happy now I’ve fallen apart.
    The moon weeps a tune of how i used to have her and the night sings a song it gets sadder and sadder it goes
    Lonely gaze of dawn the days are battered and long. The night sings to me a melancholy song, one that goes on and on days get sadder dust collects on my broken heart. I used to be happy now I’ve fallen apart.

  2. this helped me write my first song. I decided i should write one, and i had no idea where to start, but this literally helped me so much

  3. Pingback: Brainstorming Song Lyrics |

  4. Hey Gary,

    I completely agree brainstorming is important. Many of the songwriters I work with rarely do this exercise, and mainly just use whatever words pop out of their heads while their strumming (or at least is sounds like that). This is also true in the larger music industry where I’m from – the music is fabulous, but the lyrics are lacking in depth and meaning; the same old same old over and over again.

    My personal technique is creating a mind map for themes, lyrics, and connections between ideas. Some other songwriters have called me a little OCD for doing that! But they hear the results and try it out for themselves 😉


  5. Pingback: Tips ‘n Tricks: Brainstorming Song Lyrics (via The Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog) « Letter2Self

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