|Photo: Peter Griffin|
Writing Song Lyrics
A Guest Post by Charles Pogue
Writers write because they have a passion for it. Writers who quit writing are most unhappy.
If you have a passion for writing, write something every day. You have written poetry, short stories, maybe even tried your hand at writing a novel, but now you say you want to write song lyrics. You can do it if you have a passion for it, and are willing to learn a few basics, and incorporate those with what works for you.
I have been a fan of country music all of my life. It was not the artists that intrigued me as much, though as it was the words, so I tried writing song lyrics and fitting them to three chords on a cheap guitar when I was in my early teens.
Once, I stuffed an envelope with five or six sets of lyrics and sent them to the man who wrote the old country song, “Tripod The Three legged dog.” Although he kindly told me the songs were not up to commercial quality, he gave me two valuable pieces of advice; keep everything I wrote, and that a song must tell a story. He didn’t mean it had to be a ballad, but like a well written sentence, a song must convey a complete thought. It took a long to time to realize that is what he was saying, but eventually it came.
When you decide to write a song, you may sit with pen in hand, and wonder to yourself, what do I write a song about? Write about what you know; at least at first. Little things happen every day that supply ideas for a song.
They come from reality and are combined with imagination. Song ideas are all around, in the newspaper, by the side of the highway, in books you read.
The title is the most important thing. It serves as the “hook” for your song, the idea that is expressed over and over again, especially in the chorus. I try to avoid using the hook in the verses, and it makes for a more gripping chorus.
The number of syllables in each line of the second and following verses must be as close as possible with their corresponding lines in the first verse.
I sometimes divide each line in to two parts, and for instance, if the first half of the first line has words with eight syllables, and the second one has six, I maintain that pattern all the way through. That does not mean that every line has that same number of syllables, just the corresponding lines in the different verses.
Word length also matters a good deal to the melody that you imagine for your song. If you have three syllable words in the first half of the first line of the first verse, it is difficult to make its corresponding line portion in the second verse fit if it has all short words. That is especially important at the end of a phrase. What we are saying is that songs have patterns which repeat. That is true in the lyrics and also in the music.
I look at a song as a poem put to music; a rhyming poem. You may want consecutive lines to rhyme or every other line to rhyme. Maybe only the first and last line of the verse or chorus rhymes. Maybe each half of each line rhymes. That last is harder to do, but usually the song itself will dictate the pattern. Don’t force rhymes for rhyming’s sake. For instance, don’t write, “The sun burned my ears, they both filled up with tears.” Use rhymes that make sense.
Don’t force your song to be longer than it is. As you the gain experience that comes with practice, you will know when the song is finished. When it is, quit.
I have two notebook binders of songs. One contains songs that I wrote as much as forty years ago. It is generous to call some of the old efforts songs at all. But I cherish those old attempts to write lyrics. It was a learning experience, and to have them to compare to the ones I have written in the past two or three years, allows me to see the progress and improvement. You will see the same improvement if you work at it.
So, go back to that piece of advice I received a long time ago, keep everything you write. But, above all else, write!
For more articles on songwriting, visit my site, Charles' Country Songs.