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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.
Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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umar, I have the opposite problem hee hee… how do write music for my lyrics! I’m not a musician, but I’ve written lyrics for about 20 songs in different genres. The syllables for each line have been counted. The themes are good. But the lyrics, some lengthy, will have to be tweaked for melody, harmony, chords, etc. I’ll need a band, studio, or collaborator I think. One way I write lyrics is to start with one line which I call, “A Line I’d Like To Hear In A Song”, like ‘on the edge of a wave of pleasure’; then I write a song around it. It’s usually a strong statement or opinion; a bad experience or good one; then I think about all the emotions I feel about the line I’ve written or the song; and sometimes I write the end of the song first. I enjoy songs that have a punch line or switch or surprise about them, like The White Stripes “Lovesick”s ‘I’d give anything to be with you’. Also, listen to a song you like… listen to the music of the song, forget the lyrics; then write your own lyrics to the music… alot of songwriters start this way. I wish I was a good metaphor writer like Robert Plant, ah well I try :/
I also listen to the radio… a man sings a song about a woman or to a woman; then the next song is like the woman’s reply to the man’s song to her; then the man sings to her again, and she to him, etc. I listen to his side of the story and write a song from my point of view to answer to him… the joy, the question, or the conflict.
Dear Gary, I’m learning alot, thanks very much… I’m going back over my lyrics and see if I can re-work them. I like the emphasis placed on a word in a line, or read the lyrics like they pulse, and so much more that you’ve written about.
How do you write lyrics to music?
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Good adice. One thing I would add is USE GOOGLE DOCS. Seriously, I don’t work for Google, so this is not a paid plug, but the magic of Google Docs is that it remembers all your revisions, so you never lose a thing. Really cool.
Thanks for that, Jeff. That’s a good point, because I’m a real fan of never throwing anything out. You never know when something that’s not working in your current song may wind up being useful in something else.