Guitar, Pencil & Paper

Getting Ideas When a Line of Lyric is Missing

One bad line of lyric can make an entire verse or chorus sound lame. So what do you do when you’ve got a verse that you really like, except that there’s that one line that just seems to be elusive: you just can’t come up with anything.

It might be that the line in question is glaringly bad, or it might be that you’ve got this blank spot, where the line (whether good or bad) just isn’t happening.

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I’ve dealt with this before on the blog, and mentioned how George Harrison struggled to find a completion to “Something in the way she moves/ Attracts me like ____”

John Lennon’s advice is really great: “Just say whatever comes into your head each time: ‘Attracts me like a cauliflower’, until you get the word.”

So yes, improvising until the word happens is great advice. But there is another way to tackle the problem: write a short paragraph, or even just a sentence, to summarize what you’re trying to say.

Let’s say you’ve got “Though I fall in love with you each day/ __________” what do you do when you can’t complete the thought? Write a sentence or paragraph that expresses what you hope your eventual line of lyric will express:

“I always live in fear that you don’t feel the same way that I do, and you’ll eventually reject our love.”

So at least now you’ve got the basic sentiment of what you’re trying to say, and you’re not just floundering about with no direction at all. And you’ve got more than that: you’ve also got a basic rhythmic pulse, which should match that first line. Now you test out some random ideas:

  • “I fear the words you’re going to say”
  • “I fear the consequences, come what may”
  • “I’m scared to think of what you might say”
  • “I wish I knew that we’re OK”

…and so on. Just keep coming up with new lines. You can do this as part of an improvisatory process, as Lennon suggests, but you may have luck speeding things up by writing a sentence or two before improvising.

Before long, you’ll stumble on a word combination that works and adds meaning to your lyric.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. Gary’s suggestion for doctoring a lame line is a good one. I often find, however, that when I’m having trouble with a line or a part of a line it’s because the first part of the line, or the line before it, has backed me into a corner. Very often I solve the problem by tearing out the whole line or the preceding line as well and find a totally new way of saying what I want to say.

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