Are Your Song Lyrics Working? Try This Little Test

Lyrics need to support the form of your music; verse lyrics are not the same as chorus lyrics.

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SingerEverything progresses in music, not just chords. There’s very little that could be considered random or arbitrary. And that’s a good thing. Progression is what makes listeners want to keep listening.

Song lyrics also progress, in the sense that the the kinds of lyrics you use in a verse are not usually the kind you’d use in a chorus or bridge. It’s something I talk about frequently on this blog. In general, successful songs follow this basic design:

  • Verse lyrics are narrative in nature, telling a story, or describing a situation, person, or circumstance.
  • Chorus lyrics are emotive in nature, describing a personal, emotional reaction to whatever has been described in the verse.
  • Bridge lyrics often switch back and forth quickly between narrative and emotive, expanding on the basic story and then quickly responding emotionally to it.

And that all feels very natural to a listener. The reason why that basic lyrical progression works is because the emotional outpouring of the chorus needs something to help it make sense. It’s usually bad writing technique to start your song with “I feel so lousy, my heart is broken…” as a verse, and expect a listener to connect with that. There’s no story yet.

Which leads to this little test that you can give yourself. Take a look at the following lines of lyric. They all come from published songs. The test is simple: Even though you may not know the songs each line comes from, can you tell which lines are verse lines, and which ones are chorus lines? Sometimes it can be obvious, but other times not so much. Even narrative-style lyrics can have emotional content. See how you do?

    1. “I love you/ I want you/ You’re the one that I live for…”
    2. “Well I met an old man walking down the street…”
    3. “These are my words/ That I’ve never said before…”
    4. “Bring my baby to me…”
    5. “Woke up this morning with a smile upon my face”

Click here to see the answers. (Opens in a new browser window. Close that window to return here)

Now take the last 5 to 10 songs that you’ve written, and really scrutinize the lyrics. Are your verse lyrics too emotive, and stealing the emotional spotlight from your chorus?

Whether they know it or not, listeners want to hear that natural progression of descriptive text in a verse changing to emotive text in a chorus. If you find that your lyrics are not making a connection, you can be sure that getting the description-emotion progression wrong is often the culprit.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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