Song Writing – Lyrics part 1

I’ve neglected this topic, too much for too long. Today we’re going to start a series of posts on song writing.

Some people are very precious about their songs and have major objections to any kind of “rules”. None of what I’m saying here is hard and fast and you will find many exceptions to every bit of advice here. Sometimes because of not knowing better but sometimes because of the artistry of the writer allows them to bend the “rules” to good effect.

How to write also depends on what you want to do with the song. If you are writing for yourself or your band you are far more flexible than if you are trying to write a song to submit to Beyonce or One Direction.

You are free to pick and choose which tips fit in with what you are doing. But many of them are proven techniques which have appeared on hit after hit and many timeless classics.

Today I’m going to focus on overall song structure.

Structure

Generally, most modern pop/rock/dance songs follow a fairly well established pattern:

  • Intro
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Bridge/Middle 8
  • Verse
  • Chorus repeated until the end

Some songs may add another verse or miss the last one, some songs may start with the chorus, but the basic pattern remains the same.

So your lyric is likely to have 2-3 distinct sections.

  1. A verse pattern – this section progresses your story and usually has different words each time it repeats
  2. A chorus pattern – this is the catchy bit that sticks in your head, typically the lyric is the same each time
  3. A bridge/middle 8 pattern – usually only happens one time and is there to give variety

The 3rd section could be an instrumental solo so not all songs will have a lyric for this but for now let’s assume that yours does.

For variety and interest make the rhythms and rhyme patterns vary from section to section

If you have long lines in your verse (where most of your story telling will be) try shorter ones in the chorus.

Also change the pattern of rhymes (the rhyme scheme)

Look at the examples below.

Verse

X x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x  dress – rhymes with line 3

X x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x  man – rhymes with line 4

X x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x coalesce – rhymes with line 1

X x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x unplanned – rhymes with line 2

 

Chorus

X x x x x x x x x x x face – rhymes with line 2 and 3

X x x x x x x x x x  chase – rhymes with line 1 and 3

X x x x x x x x x x misplaced – rhymes with line 1 and 2

X x x x x x x x x x x  – no rhyme

 

Here you can see that the chorus lines are much shorter. You can also see the in the verse are at the end of lines 1 and 3, and then 2 and 4. In the chorus the rhymes come much faster because of the shorter lines and because there are 3 of them they will be more memorable and obvious. Also the last line has no rhyme. This line will probably be your title. It is certainly possible to make it rhyme, this is just an example. You want your title to stand out so people remember it and this is one way of doing that.

In the verse you are telling your story and you want people to be paying attention to the story rather than focussing on rhymes. In the chorus, you want people to remember it so the faster, stronger rhyming is more likely to stick.

I am not suggesting that you stick to this pattern. The point here is variety. Don’t make the verse and chorus too similar. You want contrast.

Bridge/Middle 8

This contrast is especially important if you have lyrics in your bridge or middle 8. Here you need even greater contrast. Not just in rhythm and rhyme but also in content. Try giving a different perspective.  If your verse and chorus are all “I” try “you” in the bridge. If you’ve been telling a story, maybe focus on feelings here; or maybe the response of other characters to the story; consider reasons for what is happening; or possible different directions the story could move in; it could be a flashback to before the story started or an earlier part of the story, or looking forward to what might happen after the end of the story. Just try to make it different, not more of the same. But obviously keep it relevant.

Pre Chorus

Nowadays it is common to have a small section after the verse that leads into the chorus. This could be the same each time like the chorus, or different each time like the verse; or maybe the same but with small variations. It may or may not rhyme, but ideally it will again contrast in some way from other sections. Most importantly it needs to flow logically into the chorus.

Verses

Verses need to flow logically into your chorus or pre-chorus too. But they also need to link logically between each other. Verse one is the beginning, verse 2 the middle and verse 3 the end of your story. Make sure the story or whatever subject you are tackling flows smoothly between them.

Chorus

This is the part which should really grab the listener. It needs to be repetitive enough to be memorable and catchy. In some cases it is just the song title repeated 4 times. In other songs it is far more intricate and this will depend on the style of the song and the artist. Typically the title will appear in either the first or last line. Sometimes it can be repeated in all odd or even numbered lines with different lines in-between. E.g. lines 1, 3, 5 and 7 are your title, and lines 2, 4, 6 and 8 aren’t. This could be call and response style with the lead singer doing one part and backing vocals doing the other.

  1. Enough from me for today. Next time, I’ll get into more down and dirty details.
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2 comments on “Song Writing – Lyrics part 1

  1. Pingback: Song Writing – Lyrics part 2 | MusicBizHow2

  2. Pingback: Song Writing – Arrangement | MusicBizHow2

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