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A lyric, like any other other element in a song, needs to sound spontaneous and natural. The relationship between lyric, melody, harmony and rhythm in good songs will feel unforced and easy, as if there’s no other good way for those four elements to exist together. In particular, it’s crucial for a lyric to flow naturally. This natural flow comes in large part from finding the natural pulse of the words. You want to be sure that when you set your text to music, the rhythms you use allow the innate pulse of your words to happen.
Like many aspects of songwriting, I like to think of lyrics as something that happens in two stages: 1) The creation stage; and 2) The development stage. If you aren’t progressing to that important second stage of developing your lyrics, you’re probably missing out on the amazing potential of your lyrics to communicate your song’s message.
In that regard, there are five important aspects of writing lyrics that are part of the development stage. Are you realizing your lyrics’ great potential? Take a look :
- Treat your lyric with respect. By this we mean, are you reading and truly enjoying what you’ve written, or are you just satisfied with the first thoughts that come out of your brain?
- Read your lyric to the rhythms of your song. Do the pulses of the text match up with the pulses of your melody? Those melodic pulses are dictated by your choice of time signature, but the natural pulse of your words needs to be allowed to happen. Rhythms that force awkward stresses into your text usually results in words that listeners can’t understand.
- Create spontaneously random pulses in the flow of your lyric. Read the lyric to yourself, and see how the meaning of your text changes depending on which words get the stress. Even a simple line such as, “I love when we spend time together” can subtly change meaning depending on whether you hit the word “love”, “we”, or “together.” It’s all part of what we call “implied meaning”, and it’s so important to get this right.
- Try rewording a thought or phrase within your text. Is there a better way to say something? Have you given the listener enough credit for figuring things out? A sign that you haven’t is if your lyric is too literal, or explains too much.
- Give yourself time away from your lyric. This is an important stage in lyrical development. Read it, work on it, and then… put it away. Taking it out a week or so later will be a real eye-opener for you, and don’t be surprised if you come up with a brilliant rewording of your lyric within the first 30seconds after time away.
Always keep in mind that the best lyrics, the ones that make real connections to listeners, are the ones that use everyday kinds of words. If the listener can’t imagine those words as being something they’d typically say, don’t expect the lyric to make much of a connection. Conversational words will usually work better than high-brow poetry.
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