Singer - Songwriter

Locking Lyrics Into the Basic Beat of Your Song

When lyrics sound stiff or rhythmically awkward, it’s usually the case that the basic pulse and accents of the words and phrases aren’t being honoured by the pulse and feel of the music.

One easy way to deal with this is to read your lyric aloud, getting a sense of the natural pulse of the words. Once you’ve got that feel, you’re more likely to create melodic shapes and rhythms that partner up well with the words.

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But it’s often the case that you’re working on a song with only part of the lyric worked out. You might have a verse 1 and a chorus, but now it’s time to work on verse 2 with the melody already set. So you can’t really change the melody to suit the words of a verse 2. It’s the other way around: you’ve got to create words that rhythmically match a melody you’ve already created.

Most songwriters (and this likely includes you) find that if you’ve got one or two lines of lyrics working, other lines of lyric become easier to invent. So the trick in creating a verse 2 lyric is to get one or two lines that honour the beat and feel of the music, and the rest starts to fall into place.

This is where singing “nonsense syllables” can work well:

  1. Create at least one or two lines (or bits of lines) of lyric for verse 2.
  2. Record a rough instrumental version of your verse that you can sing to.
  3. Sing whatever you’ve got for verse 2, and hum or “la-la-la” (“scat-singing”) your way through the bits of verse where you don’t have lyrics yet.

You’ll notice that your humming bits will automatically lock into the basic feel of your song. So even though you don’t know yet what the actual words are going to be, you at least know what the rhythmic feel of those words will need to be.

Little by little you’ll start to add words to fill out verse 2. You’ll be replacing “la-la-la” with an actual lyric. And how do you know that the lyric is going to work? Like any good lyric:

  1. The rhythm and natural pulse of the words will match the rhythm and pulse of the music.
  2. The words you choose will be casual, oral-style words, ones you’d use in casual conversation.

With a good lyric, it’s always going to be the case that when the pulse of the words doesn’t match the pulse of the music, you wind up with lyrics that sound stiff — they just don’t flow.

And when that happens, it doesn’t matter what you’re singing about, or how great or clever the words are. If the pulse of the words is at odds with the pulse of the music, you’ve got a problem that needs fixing.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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