How to Elevate the Emotional Energy of Lyrics

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Singer-songwriterThis article is not about how to make music more emotional, per se. It’s more about that nagging problem that many songwriters experience: what to do about Verse 2 lyrics, and then what to do after that. Specifically, how do you make lyrics more interesting as they progress through the verses and choruses.

This speaks to an important principle regarding the writing of songs, or indeed, of writing any kind of music: musical energy at the end of a song should be as much or more than the energy of the beginning.

Practically all songs exhibit this important quality — some more than others. Just to demonstrate the concept, take a listen to the first 30 seconds of “Afterlife”, by Ingrid Michaelson. Now compare what you hear to the final 30 seconds.

The psychology behind building emotional energy isn’t complicated. Loudness has a lot to do with it. Asking “Oh, what’s that?” in a gentle, whispery voice causes people to feel quietly inquisitive. Bellowing “Oh, what’s that?!!” in a primal-scream fashion would make them dive for cover.

But there’s far more than loudness involved in controlling emotional energy. A while back I wrote a post called “Making an Energy Chart For Your Song,” which showed a way for you to keep your eye on how energy builds (or doesn’t, as the case may be) over the length of your song. With this post, I want to speak more to the issue of lyrics, and what to do as they move beyond verse 1.

There are many ways to do it, and it depends on the kind of song you’re writing. If you’re writing lyrics that are describing a situation, here’s how you might control the energy so that it moves in a generally upward direction. (This following chart follows the lyrics of a standard verse-chorus-bridge format, but can be adapted for almost any formal design):

  • Verse 1: Describe the situation. Use imagery, metaphor and/or other poetic devices to make your lyric intriguing, but keep a limit on how emotional you allow things to get. At this point, you’re trying to draw the audience into your story.
  • Chorus: Allow emotion to come through. Let the audience know how you feel (happy, sad, elated, strong, determined, crushed…), responding to the situation you find yourself in.
  • Verse 2: More describing, but you can’t hide the emotion now. Listeners already know how you feel, so while you’re still describing situations, scenes, people, etc., you can allow more commentary on how you feel.
  • Chorus: A repeat of the previous chorus.
  • Bridge: Finish the story. Most of the time you’ll find the most emotional lyrics will occur in a bridge. This is where “the guy finally gets the girl,” so to speak.
  • Final chorus: Repeat previous chorus.

Many songwriters feel most frustrated with what to do about verse 2. It’s easy enough — relatively, of course –to write a verse 1 lyric. But if you’ve described the situation you’re in, and then emoted about it with your chorus, what do you do after that?

If you find yourself in that situation, you might use verse 2 to elaborate on what you said with verse 1. That may seem like a lyrical cop-out, but it serves a very important purpose: to continue the lyric’s elevating of emotional content. Some songs that use this technique of rewording for verse 2: “Sister Golden Hair” (America); “My Eyes” (Blake Shelton); “First Train Home” (lyrics here) (Imogen Heap).

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. As far as writing the second verse and even a third , in general we should have
    The chorus finished before we even start to write the verses, and that way we can point every line of the verses at the chorus.

    In general The Beatles chorus’s were not written that way and they often just
    used the title as a three line Hook. “Ticket To Ride” and ” All My Loving” some cliche’e
    You and True rhymes but that was the Sixty’s and in general The Beatles melodies
    and the blend of the two main voices carried those songs. – “Things We Said Today”
    using major to minor and a modulation to A major, re A minor to C major to A minor
    to A major, one of their cleverest musical modulations they wrote in my opinion .

    A good guide For The Chorus is writing a summary of what has gone on in the verses,
    as Gary states responding to your story line. is a fair bet

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