The Inverse Relationship Between Emotive and Descriptive Lyrics

The narrative-to-emotive design of song lyrics is a necessary part of pulling an audience into your music.

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Taio Cruz - DynamiteIf you write your own song lyrics, you’ll notice right away that the more you describe things, the less emotion the words tend to have. And the opposite is true: a chorus might be a great place for a singer to scream out, “ohhhhhh yeah….”, but that does very little to describe a person or situation.

This kind of inverse relationship (the more emotive words are, the less precisely descriptive they are) is an important part of the narrative-emotive roller coaster that good songs take you on. If you find as a songwriter that your music just doesn’t seem to be building much of a fan base, you might look to the way you use lyrics to see if you’re dropping the ball.

Here’s a chart that shows how the narrative-emotive pattern works in a song that uses a verse-chorus-bridge-chorus design (Click to enlarge in a new tab or window):

Emotional-Narrative lyric relationshipYou’ll see that there is a purposeful up-and-down shape that works to entice the listener. The lyric becomes more emotional as it approaches the chorus, but eventually the listener needs more story. So emotion abates as it returns to the verse. Once you reach the chorus for a second time, emotion (at least in this model) continues on a more-of-less upward direction. This chart would be an accurate rendering of the narrative-emotive plan for a song like Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite“.

Many songs feature a bridge section that can either intensify the basic energy of the song right away, or build slowly (like “Dynamite”), or diminish energy (like Christina Perri’s “Thousand Years“). In any case, most songs feature a rising and falling emotional line, the purpose of which is to grab the listener and keep them enticed.

For songs that feature a return to a verse 3 instead of returning to the chorus, you’ll find that the purpose is to complete the story related by the lyric, as well as to intensify the ups and downs of the roller coaster:

emotion-narrative-verse 3 plan

With this in mind, it’s possible to design your own song, one that doesn’t necessarily follow standard verse-chorus designs. The main purpose of a verse-chorus-bridge song, and why they work so well, is that the up and down of song emotion and energy is built right into the design.

But you can build that in without necessarily following a standard form. Some of the better songwriters adopt more of a “first this section, then that one” approach, where lyrical emotion dictates up and down effect on the listener. This sort of “ad hoc” approach to song design was a favourite of progressive rock songwriters.

Watch a short video, “Controlling the Emotional Impact of Lyrics”:


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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  1. I agree, Re writing is important. Since I’ve been reading Gary’s books and info on this site, I’ve had to re write my lyrics a few times. At this moment I don’t care whether my songs are a hit. I am more interested in improving my songwriting abilities.

  2. When we realise that the first version of music we write to a lyric is not going to be a show stopper , we can get somewhere.
    I write every day and have at least five songs to work on, that way I don’t get stale or a block, sometimes I know it’s time to walk away and let the ideas work out in my subconscious

    It’ so important to listen to playback of each part of the song, what may seem right in your head hardly ever sounds perfect when you listen to it on playback.

    The Key, The Tempo, The Rhythm, The range of each phrase , all these things
    have to be right, and it rarely happens straight away. Re write till it sounds right
    even then what soundsgood enough today may sound completely wrong tomorrow,
    and that’s because the subconscious comes in and tells you when or where you can improve. You may have a fabulous Chorus but if the verse is a drag the listener wont even get to The Chorus.

    Every thing has to work, some songs Great Songs can take months even years, nothing rarely comes quickly in reality, maybe it does to top class writers who have put in the time and gained experience.

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