it has been a while since we last talked songwriting hacks. I feel it is about time that I share some of my most precious lyric-writing tips with you all.
For those of you, who are new to lyric writing altogether, I highly recommend Pat Pattinsons book “Writing better lyrics“. It is a standard piece to be on every songwriter´s book shelf. Or even better, put it on your night stand. A bad song can improve enormously if you add compelling lyrics. Needless to say that a good song with good lyrics is what we call a hit.
Alright, let´s look at 5 instant tips and tricks to help bring your lyrics to the next level. Here we go:
1) Going past the obvious
Let´s face it, in music, art and in any other creative arena, things have been said and done. It would be foolish to think our ideas are all that original. However, knowing that, we can at least add little twists and flavors to our songs, so that they still come with little surprises to the listener. A good strategy to surprise listeners in pleasant ways, is to say the opposite of what they might expect. Mind this though: It´s all about the right dose of “surprise”. You won´t want to use this trick in each verse and chorus and throughout the entire song. Look for a spot that calls for a surprise. Maybe, as you end a chorus and go to a very obvious root note…you may play with surprising lyrics in order to contradict that melodic predictability. This could be a rather imperfect rhyme instead of a perfect rhyme or something that doesn´t rhyme at all, or it might be humor at the end of a very serious chorus topic. You get the idea. Say something that grabs the listener´s attention, just as they were about to drift away. This brings me to tip number two:
2) Before you rhyme, play with the groove
As we are talking about the listener drifting away, make sure to use the power of groove. Rhythm is a powerful tool for keeping a listener drawn in and engaged. An intriguing rhythm adresses our dopamine and endorphine circuits in the brain which makes us want more of it. However, we do like a bit of variety here and there to keep us engaged. This could be an interesting fill or a fun off-beat section. But in addition to a cool drum/percussion pattern, incorporating a cool groove into your rhyme scheme will take things to the next level. It is totally worth studying different metres and rhyme patterns for that matter. Again, I am referring to Pat Pattinson´s book “Writing better lyrics”.
If you can incorporate perfect rhymes within a line instead of at the end of a line or you play with imperfect rhymes within a songline and then add one perfect rhyme somewhere cool, that can totally grab the listener´s attention.
3) Pronunciation/ Enunciation. Think Alanis!
Another tool to make your lyrics more interesting is the way you stress certain sillables within the melody. You can stretch short sillables long, or stress things in unusual ways. Alanis Morrisette is one to play with that a lot. These “weird” enunciations can feel ackward at times but also very unique. Play with it and see if this could fit your style. Do not let a certain metre dictate which words to use or not use. If a word doesn´t fit in, make it fit, if you like it.
4) Don´t become too poetic, try staying real instead
Tip number four is all about authenticity. A lot of times we get all too ambitious about writing something that is unique and sophisticated and displays our excellent writing. However, sometimes, less is more. At the end of the day, you want to engage a listener and connect with them. Sometimes, more straight forward lyric will do the trick. That is especially true for country and folk. In Jazz or Pop you can go more creative, but I wouldn´t use only loanwords or over the top paraphrases. You can use simple words to create something just as poetic. It is an art to be practised, but you can learn from contemporary poets like Rubi Kaur and others. The magic often lies in the simplicity.
5) Understanding vowels and what they evoke
One last tip concerns the sound of your lyrics. It´s usually the vowels that shape the color and tonality of a song lyric. Singers will often modify vowels that are difficult to sing in a certain pitch or they may modify them in order to add more warms or a specific vibe.
I think it is smart to consider the “warmth” and “energy” of the vowels in the writing process already.
Think about how a long “oh” sounds, compared to a short one. How does the energy change if you use a word with a long “a” versus a short one?
Playing with the lenght and intonation of vowels can be a powerful tool that a lot of writers do not even consider. This is called “attention to detail” I guess;)
I myself do not do it enough, but we can always progress. Also check out our blogpost “Writing lyrics for singers“.
Maybe for the sake of studying, why don´t you listen to three of your current favorite songs and analyze them word by word. Which vowels are in those songs the most and which the least? Where are they placed and how are they stressed? Maybe you´ll find a formula that works for you!
With that said, all that´s left for me to do is to wish you all a nice day and happy lyric writing!
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