A song will usually capture your attention for one of two reasons: a catchy tune, or lyrics that really resonate with you. This is why, when writing a song, you need to pay attention not just to the melody line, but also the words that you use.
If you are a beginning songwriter, you can actually practice creating melody by using placeholder lyrics. This can be any existing set of lyrics, such as other songs or poems. But if you want to write a song that really speaks your heart, you will need to learn how to write song lyrics yourself.
How to Write Song Lyrics
These steps will help you write great song lyrics:
1. Decide what you want to write about.
When choosing a topic to write about, think about what’s important to you. Make a list of all the things that resonate deeply with you, and start jotting down your feelings on those topics.
2. Practice writing about different topics.
In order to become a good songwriter, you need to keep practicing. This might mean writing even when you’re not feeling particularly inspired.
Try writing about your day, a memory, a photograph, or even your surroundings. You don’t have to aspire to Lennon-McCartney greatness; the important thing is that you exercise your creative muscles.
Next time inspiration strikes, you will have some practice under your belt, so you will be able to write lyrics more easily.
3. Write down short lines with your feelings about the subject.
Song lyrics can be written like poems, but this is not always the case, so don’t worry about writing poetry if that idea intimidates you. Song lyrics come in verses or stanzas, so practice writing down your thoughts and feelings in short phrases or sentences.
If you are writing the lyrics before the melody, you will have more freedom. But make sure you write them in short lines, because songs that are too wordy are very difficult to memorize, or even sing along to.
If you want to get more technical, you can go so far as checking the rhythm of the words you write by noting down which syllables are stressed and which ones are unstressed. This can help when you start to put your lyrics into a melody.
On the other hand, if you already have the melody, write down words to fit the number of notes in the melody. This takes a lot of practice.
For example, if you are writing lyrics, say, about leaving a home you’ve loved, and set it to the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” you will likely need each line to have 7 syllables. It might go:
Down the lane I see the home
Where I’ve lived—all alone
Mem’ries battle in my mind
Tears and laughter left behind
One thing to remember is that in songs, you have creative license to stretch out or reduce syllables, giving you even more freedom. In our example above, the second line is only six syllables, but you can add a pause after the word “lived.”
In the third line, the word “memories” can be taken as a two-syllable word.
Sometimes you will find that it seems impossible to fit words into melodies. Some strategies for getting around this include:
- Replacing some of your words with synonyms, or words that have the same meaning;
- Letting your sentence run through two lines of melody instead of one;
- Stretching out some of the syllables or adding humming sounds where possible.
4. Decide if you want your lyrics to rhyme.
If you already know how to write poems, you can actually convert them into songs. But if not, you you can decide whether you want your lyrics to rhyme or not. Some of them do, but others don’t, so it’s up to you.
Bear in mind, though, that rhymes in songs help people to remember the lyrics better, so it may be a good idea to practice writing in rhyme.
5. Choose a rhyming pattern.
A rhyming pattern refers to the way that the last words of each line in a song rhyme with each other. So if you want your lyrics to rhyme, you’ll need to choose a rhyme scheme.
A common pattern is A-A-B-B, which means that the first line rhymes with the second, while the third line rhymes with the fourth.
Another pattern is A-B-A-B, which means the first and third line rhyme with each other, while the second and fourth also rhyme with each other.
If you want to write a song that rhymes, practice by listing down words that rhyme. You may use a rhyming dictionary to help you.
Take a look at these song samples and the different ways the lyrics rhyme, noting that lines with the same letters assigned are those that rhyme with one another:
|“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston|
|If I should stay||A|
|I would only be in your way||A|
|So I’ll go, but I know||B|
|I’ll think of you every step of the way||A|
In this excerpt from “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, the first, second, and fourth lines rhyme, creating the pattern AABA.
|Let It Be by The Beatles|
|When I find myself in times of trouble|
|Mother Mary comes to me||B|
|Speaking words of wisdom|
|Let it be, let it be||B|
In this famous ballad by The Beatles, the second and fourth lines rhyme.
|“The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel|
|Hello, darkness, my old friend||A|
|I’ve come to talk with you again||A|
|Because a vision softly creeping||B|
|Left its seeds while I was sleeping||B|
|And the vision that was planted in my brain||C|
|Within the sound of silence|
In this stanza from “The Sound of Silence,” lines 1 and 2 rhyme, while 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 form their own pairs, respectively.
When you choose a rhyming pattern for your first stanza or verse, you will generally stick to the same pattern for the other stanzas or verses. You can choose a different pattern for the chorus and bridge.
6. Test your lyrics against your melody.
Sometimes, counting syllables may make you confident that your lyrics match the melody. But, try singing out the lyrics, as other factors come into play, like the natural rhythm of the words. If you find that some of the words don’t sound well in the melody, consider changing either the lyrics or the melody.
Is Writing a Song Hard?
The good news is, writing a song is not as difficult as it looks. One way of looking at it is that songwriting is both a science and an art: the scientific side deals with the technicalities of chords, chord patterns, and rhythm of your lyrics, while the artistic side is where your choice of words and melody comes in.
If you are a beginner, though, it may take lots of practice before you can write a song spontaneously—so be prepared to put in a lot of time crafting the lyrics and melody before you can consider your song completed. It definitely gets better over time, though, because the more you get used to it, the more it can become almost intuitive.
Writing Song Lyrics
Writing song lyrics is a great way of expressing some of the thoughts and feelings that you have. In order to improve your skill of songwriting, keep practicing writing lyrics.
Challenge yourself to do it two ways: some of the time, write the lyrics first. Other times, create the melody first. This way, you will exercise your creative juices and be better able to write good lyrics.
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