Creating Word Lists: Helps You Write Better Lyrics

Word lists help keep your mind focused as you work on your song’s lyric.

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Songwriting partnersOne of my favourite suggestions for songwriters who are trying to develop a lyric (once you’ve chosen a song topic) is to create two lists, one of positive words or comments with respect to that topic, the other of negative words.

So you’d choose a topic, like “leaving home”, and create a list of terms and words that reflect positively on that topic (“gotta go!”, “see the world”, “heading down the road”, “exciting”, “where I’ve never been”, etc), and then words that reflect negatively (“I miss you”, “feeling lost”, “like I lost my friend”, and so on.)

That’s a great way to get your brain around the mixed emotions of a situation that you’re singing about. Once you’ve got those lists built up, you might try organizing them into two other lists: One list for “narrative” kinds of words, and the other for “emotional”, provocative kinds of words.

The reason that you’d do this is so that you can more easily get your brain around developing a verse lyric that keeps emotions in check, and then a chorus lyric that allows the song to soar a bit and become more emotional.

As you hopefully know, a verse lyric spends most of its time setting the stage and describing people, events and situations. Once you get to the chorus, you allow those emotions to come out, and that’s where audiences really start to make an important connection to your music.

So in a song topic like “leaving home”, a narrative kind of list might include words and terms like, “heading down the road, “got in the car”, “put the pedal down”, while a list of emotional words might be, “gotta go!”, “where am I?”, “help”, etc.

Try to make the lists as long as possible, because not everything you write will make it into your song. You need to try to flesh out a story line, and once you’ve done that, many of the words and phrases will fall off your lists because they won’t really pertain to your story.

Lists are a great way to deal with writer’s block as well. As you feel a bit stuck, simply allow your eyes to skim over those word lists. They have a great way of refocusing your attention on the topic, and new ways of saying things will suddenly come to mind.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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3 Comments

    • Sure – I just did a songwriting workshop with a group of high school students last week, and we did this process as a way to brainstorm. The list examples in this article were the ones they came up with. The students wanted to write a song about someone leaving the country life behind, moving to the big city, but feeling lonely and scared. So I drew two headings on the board (narrative and emotional), and they started coming up with words and phrases. I instructed them to have their narrative words be the kind of words that weren’t emotional in and of themselves, but still created strong “images” in the mind. So they came up with “Chevy Truck”, “campfire”, “beer”, “family”, and so on. Under “emotional” they came up with “excited”, “Where am I”, “Who am I”, “feel so alone”, “metal horses” (a term for cars), and so on.

      Once they had two good sized lists going, they started with the chorus, and if I remember, the first line someone came up with was, “What am I doing now?” or something to that effect. The neat thing about this process was that it was the word brainstorming that actually formed the topic of the song. At first, all they knew was that it would be about moving to the city, and the first ideas weren’t necessarily negative ones. But as the process continued, everyone started giving words and terms that related to loneliness, and it started to take shape.

      The workshop was one hour, and they had 3 chorus phrases worked out. Their plan was to continue working on it this week sometime, so it will be interesting to see what transpires.
      -Gary

      • Coooool! Will try it on my next ideas. I have titles and I found out they kinda write the whole song but I have to make them sound logical from verse to chorus. Thank you very much.

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