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When a song is working well, it has the ability to grab the listener’s attention and keep them. In a sense, a song is successful if it makes you feel that it’s good now, and about to get even better. Lyrics have a way of doing that — by alternating between descriptive, imagery-based words and phrases, and then switching quickly to an emotional response.
The following is an excerpt from “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro”, a free download when you purchase “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 6-eBook Bundle.” It describes the importance of switching from narrative to emotive-style lyrics in successful songs.
We often speak of a song’s lyric as being one long, continuous poem or text. But in fact, the kind of lyric that is used in the verse is not usually the kind we’d find in the chorus. And the bridge – that’s another kind of lyric as well. What differs between verse and chorus is the purpose of the text. The job of a verse lyric is to tell a story, describe a person or illustrate a situation. In that sense, a verse lyric gives information to the listener that serves as important background information. The chorus, on the other hand, is where the songwriter emotes. If the verse describes a story, the chorus offers an emotional response to that story.
Get that lyrical development in the wrong order, and you’ve got problems. If you use your verse to wail about how you lost your boy/girlfriend, you’re emoting too quickly without giving enough of a story first, and your song quickly sounds like a 4-minute complain-a-thon.
Here’s a quick list of how lyrics should typically change as a song progresses:
- Verse 1. Don’t start verse 1 by telling the listener how you’re feeling. It’s too soon. You’d be trying to elicit a response from the audience, and you haven’t given them anything to commiserate with you about. Use this verse to set the stage, to tell the listener mainly what the situation in your life is, and mention your own emotional response only as it plays a part in that story. This part of your song should be you saying, “This is what’s happening.”
- The bars leading up to the chorus (“pre-chorus“, or “rise“) should be a place where you can start to modify your lyric. It’s as if you want to say, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” Allow more emotional response to come through.
- The chorus should allow you to open up more fully, emotionally-speaking. It’s your chance to say, “This is how I’m feeling.”
- The second verse is still narrative, but you can interject more emotion-based observations into your lyric. After all, the listener has already heard your emotional response, so while you are expanding on the story, you can allow more of the emotion to come through.
- The lyric of the second chorus is usually identical to the first, but if it’s different, allow for deeper emotions on key words, and perhaps move the melody higher on certain key emotion-laden words.
- The bridge needs to expand on how you’re feeling, and in addition, the bridge can be a great place to add to the story you’ve set up in verses 1 and 2. Perhaps consider alternating observations-based lyrical lines with emotional-response-based lines.
If you get that procedure working for you – that moving from “narrative” to “emotive” – you’ll have solved one of the most prevalent problems in the writing of song lyrics.
Watch a short video that describes the ideas in this post:
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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