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Every song you write represents an attempt to communicate thoughts and ideas to others. Every element you compose contributes to that task. Without a doubt, we communicate most directly by our words: the lyrics lay the groundwork and tell the story. Other elements support the lyrics. For example, we carefully choose chords that convey the mood and character of the lyrics. Melodic shape can also help; we tend to place emotion-laden words higher in pitch. While it’s obvious that the lyric’s role is quite straightforward (i.e., tell the story), there are things you need to keep in mind when creating your songs’ texts. Take a look at the following tips.
- Strong lyrical emotions belong in a chorus, not in a verse. Songs that begin by telling everyone how down you feel, without really giving much background for the emotion, come off as sounding whiny and complaining. Let your verse set up the emotional response of the chorus.
- Look for ways to support your lyric by considering chord choice. Chorus lyrics are the kind we call “conclusive”, because they tell everyone how you’re feeling about what you just sang about in the verse. So conclusive lyrics need conclusive chords. In musical terms, conclusive chords means strong ones that clearly point to one chord as the tonic. Here’s an example of a strong progression: C Dm F G C… Introspective lyrics are often the kind that show up in verses, and you’ll want progressions that wander with the story. So a “fragile” progression will often work best. Here’s an example of a fragile progression: C Bb Eb Dm Gm F Eb G7… We call it “fragile” because it wanders from C major through Eb major before returning to C. It can fit a lyric that recounts a story that wanders emotionally.
- If you aren’t a poet, don’t write poetry. Poetry has a way of sounding stodgy and pretentious if it’s not done right. The best lyrics are the ones that use simple, every day words and phrases. It is very possible to be creative with plain uncomplicated words. The Beatles did it all the time.
- Try rewording your lyrics. Once you’ve got a lyric fleshed out, take it phrase by phrase, and try rewriting it in as many different ways as you can. Most of the ways won’t work, but you may be surprised how changing one word will suddenly make everything seem better.
- Use lyrics to help intensify a song’s bridge. The bridge, which usually occurs after the second chorus, usually intensifies in energy. You can use lyrics to help: switch quickly from situational lyrics (“this happened…”) to emotional response (“…and so I feel this way…”). That quick switching back and forth will help boost the energy.
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