The narrative-to-emotive design of song lyrics is a necessary part of pulling an audience into your music.
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If 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):
You’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:
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”:
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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