Music Theory - Songwriting

An Idea For Practicing Lyric Writing: Creating Second Lines

If you find yourself fixated on improving your lyrics, you’re right to be. Over the long term, the quality of your lyrics is probably going to take you further than the quality of almost everything else you write.

If you find everything else about songwriting relatively easy (the melodies and chords), but struggle with lyrics, here’s a way you can practice your lyric writing: take a line from an existing song, and write your own line to follow it.

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If the line you’re borrowing is well-known, you won’t be able to easily use it in your own song; I don’t recommend starting your song with “Lady Madonna, children at your feet.”

But creating your own line to follow an already-written line is meant purely as an exercise anyway. The first line is there for you, and you simply need to come up with something that gives the same feel and flow of the borrowed line.

It’s best if you choose a line from a song you don’t know, so do an online search for performers or songwriters you’ve heard of, but never really gotten into their music.

For example, if you’ve never been big into Imagine Dragons, do an online search for [imagine dragons lyrics]. I did that, then went to an online lyrics site, randomly clicked on “Selene” from their 2010 “Hell and Silence” EP.

The first line is “To the top of all the world.” Your job is to start writing second lines that could work with it. Try not to focus on what the actual second line is… just start brainstorming your own second lines. Try rhyming and non-rhyming:

To the top of all the world…

…I set my feelings free;
…you see the rolling hills;
…like flags and sails unfurled;
…I open up my heart;

The point of the exercise is that when you find lyrics hard to write, the first line is often the toughest one. When you’ve got that first line, you’ll find that a second line will often happen more easily.

What To Do With Your Invented Lyric

You may really like the lines you’ve written, and even though you wrote them all as possible second lines, you may find that they all work well as a pretty good verse lyric. If that’s the case, go back to the first line that you randomly selected, change that line, put your second lines together, and see what they look like:

From the top of the towering mountain
I set my feelings free;
You see the rolling hills
like flags and sails unfurled…

Not a great lyric yet, but sometimes it’s easier to edit bad lines than it is to come up with something while staring at a blank computer screen.

You can now edit, remove, or otherwise fix lines as you see fit. Sometimes getting just that first line of lyric given to you is all you need to get your lyric-writing juices flowing.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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