Creating word lists, one narrative and the other emotional, really helps a song lyric come together.
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I truly believe that the best lyrics happen by writing lots and lots of words, and then paring the list down to the ones that really convey what you’re trying to say. That means that you start with a page (or several) that contains dozens of words, phrases, thoughts and ideas, and it can look like quite a jumble.
But that jumble has the benefit of helping you explore your song topic from all sides. You might be surprised how liberating it is to get it all down and on paper, or in your computer, in front of you for you to see.
There are actually several ways you can do this. The following set of steps has the benefit of allowing you to categorize the words that you brainstorm into two lists, one appropriate for verse lyrics, and one for chorus. Remember, verse lyrics tend to be observational and narrative in character, telling a story or describing a person or situation. Chorus lyrics tend to be more emotional, a reaction to what’s been going on in the verse.
- Write your song’s title at the top of a page. If you don’t have a title, but you do know roughly what you want to write about, write the topic. For example, you may not know what you want to call your song, but you might know that it’s going to be about the fact that you can’t find a job. So write, “Can’t find a job” across the top. You’ll change it to the song’s title eventually.
- On a blank piece of paper, start writing down anything and everything that pertains to your song’s title or topic. So if “Can’t find a job” is your topic, you’ll be writing down things like “lost”, “frustrated”, “they turned me down”, “hope turned to ashes”, “cried”, “don’t tell me”, “looked at the job listings”, and so on.
- On the other page, the one with the song title, make two columns, “Verse” and “Chorus”. You’re going to be placing narrative, story-telling words and phrases in the verse column, and emotive words in the chorus list.
- Place the words from the brainstorming page into the proper column. For example, you’ll probably want to put “they turned me down” and “looked at the job listings” into the verse column, and words like “lost” and “frustrated” in the chorus.
At this point, you should start to see the beginnings of a story taking shape. There are all sorts of ways to continue from this point. You can keep brainstorming and get your lists as long as possible. There’s no danger here that the lists will be too long, since you’ll be cutting the list as you put your song together.
The benefit that comes from working in this way also extends to the song’s topic. For example, you may discover, while working on your lists, that some angle is starting to emerge. For example, you may start noticing that you’re putting words in the list that refer to the fact that you can’t pay for your truck. You may then find that the story is not really about being jobless, but that you have to give up your truck, and you’re mainly singing about the wonderful times you had with it and your friends.
Word lists are a great way of focusing your mind, of allowing a good story to come forward, and of getting narrative words and phrases to lead naturally into emotional ones. It makes writing lyrics feel like a natural process, and helps to reduce frustration.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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