Interested in learning how to write lyrics and songs? Here, New Jersey guitar teacher Matthew H. explains an easy 3-step process to follow…
Songwriting is not easy; just ask any composer or lyricist. While the musical composition is highly important (making sure the melody is catchy without sounding too trite), having a strong, relatable message to go along with a great tune is just as, if not more, important. Here are some tips on how to write lyrics for a good song.
1) What is the story?
Too often, songwriters worry about the rhythmic structure or rhyme of the lyrics when they first should be focused on the whole point of a song: storytelling. It doesn’t matter if you are adding lyrics to existing music, creating music for the lyrics, or doing both simultaneously, you have to have a story to tell. Start small. What do you want the overall point or moral of the song to be? How should a listener feel after hearing it? Common examples include: falling in love, missing someone, feeling liberated, and so on. Once you choose a starting point, expand upon it, but write down the story as if it were prose rather than a song. For example: I miss my brother ever since he moved out of the country. I don’t get to see him as much as I used to and I feel like a part of my life will not be the same as a result. I wish things were the way they used to be when we were younger and living together at home.
2) Make your story musical.
Now that you have an outline of how you want the song’s story to play out, set it to music. Even if you don’t have a solid sense of the entire orchestration or final production elements, play around with different melodic structures and rhythms. Taking our missing brother example from before, figure out which specific words need to be stressed. If you’re working on the hook and you decide that the sensation of “nostalgia” takes precedence over everything else, then be sure to make that clear within the chorus with either a very clever line (avoid clichés like comparing his absence with death) or a sustained syllable within a strategic word (the o in home, for instance). A good rule of thumb is to never marry any idea right off the bat; the best way to write lyrics is to be flexible. In doing so, you’ll avoid any problems you might encounter if you insist on having a specific line a certain way.
3) Don’t be afraid to make some changes!
Test out your song. Does the story make sense? Do the lyrics flow well with the music? Would everything suddenly sound much better if you switch out one word with another? These are the things you need to look for after developing your perspective and making it melodic. If you’ve been working on the song for a long time, take a break. Your ears and mind will need a distraction. After a couple days or a week even, try listening to what you have and make any necessary changes that jump out at you after having taken some time to separate yourself from your creation.
When songwriting, you really are baring your soul for the world to see (and hear) in an extremely vulnerable way. If you follow the advice above on how to write lyrics, you will find the words resonate deeper than the generic pop schlock that typically permeates the radio’s Top 40.
Matthew H. provides tutoring in various subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here!
Photo by Rubin Starset