The Most Common Lyric Error in Songwriting

Balancing descriptive words with emotional ones is a matter of focus.
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Mumford & Sons - I Will WaitA good lyric is usually structured in such a way that it alternates between being a) mainly descriptive, and b) mainly emotional. Verse lyrics are the ones that are descriptive, describing people, situations, and story lines. Chorus lyrics are the ones that are emotional, offering a commentary, so to speak, on what has just been described. That moving back and forth between descriptive and emotional lyric is an important one, particularly in songs that are in the verse-chorus format.

It’s one of the most common songwriting errors: lyrics that aren’t supporting the form of the song, and in particular lyrics that allow the verse to be too emotional right away.

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The thing is, the best lyrics are very subtle in nature, not making that distinction between description and emotion such a clear line. For example, as you describe situations in your verse, you are likely also making it obvious what your emotional state of mind is. So in that sense, you can say that a verse lyric also makes an emotional impact.

The difference has to do with focus. The main focus or responsibility of the verse is to set the stage, and to draw the audience into story you’re revealing. In your own songs, take a close look at how you’re doing that. Your verse may describe people and situations in a clearly emotional way, but ask yourself this important question: is the main responsibility of my verse lyric to describe or to emote? For verses, the focus needs to be on description, and for choruses it needs to be on emotional response.

A good example of what I’m describing here can be found in the lyric for “I Will Wait”, by Mumford & Sons from their “Babel” album. The verse lyric describes situations, but there is no denying that the text is meant to elicit an emotional response from the audience:

Well I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of dust
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun

The chorus is the unassuming line “I will wait for you.” The emotion that’s portrayed by that simple line is strengthened and enhanced by the complex mixture of metaphors we find in the verse. While the verse gives us a clear view of the singer’s emotional state of mind, the main focus is to describe, not to emote.

The beauty of the song is in the subtlety of those two concepts. It’s a good reminder that verses should not be devoid of emotional words, and in fact can be strengthened by their inclusion. It all comes down to which of the two, description and emotion, gets the focus.

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Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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  1. Pingback: FEATURED LINK: The Most Common Lyric Error in Songwriting | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

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