Writing word lists for song lyrics

Creating Word Lists: It Can Give You More Than Lyric Ideas

If you find that writing lyrics takes you a long time, creating word lists can be a big help. By building lists of words, you’re creating a vocabulary that speeds up the process of trying to find the right words: they’re probably all there in front of you, somewhere in your list.

Word lists can take many forms. Often it needs to be nothing more than something simple like this: let’s say that want to write a song about something nostalgic… perhaps a trip to the country when you were a kid. Your word lists might be basic, meant to get thinking in the right direction: stream, hay, lane, brook, horses, Grandma… that sort of thing.

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In that sense, your word lists can give you more than ideas for actual lyrics — they will put you right in the setting and get you feeling the way you hope your listeners eventually feel once your song is complete.

Here’s a real world example of this: The Christmas Song (“Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire”), written in 1945 by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells, was composed in the middle of the summer during a heat wave.

To get in the right mood, Wells created a word list. Actually, it was more a “phrase list”, where he was simply trying to create images to get him in the right frame of mind for writing a wintry Christmas song during a summer heat wave.

So he wrote “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”, “Jack Frost”, “Yuletide carols”, and so on. It turned out that not only was he able to get himself in the Christmas mood by writing this kind of list, he was writing the lyric, because he was able to take many of the actual phrases and use them as-is to form his lyric.

So your word lists can serve at least two different purposes. First, you can use them to create vocabulary, in which case you should not limit yourself to words, but also be writing down thoughts and phrases, anything you think might be useful.

And second, you can use your lists to put you in the right frame of mind, to get you thinking and feeling the way you want your audience to think and feel once they hear your song.

Lyric lists are so useful that it’s hard to imagine writing a complete lyric without doing at least a bit of list writing. I think it can be very productive to create verse and chorus lists. Since chorus lyrics are generally more emotional than verse lyrics, you can create a verse list that uses observational type words (stream, hay, brook, lane, etc.), and then a chorus list that has more emotional words and phrases (holding hands, rainbow, kiss, hug, heart, etc.).

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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