A basic overview on the craft of lyric writing, such as rhyming patterns and song structure.
If you are like most songwriters, you began lyric writing through the gateway of poetry. After all, a song is just a poem set to music, right? Wrong! Although poetry and lyric writing share similar aspects they each have their own separate and unique style. So, with that in mind let’s take a look at some lyric writing techniques and hopefully gain a basic understanding of the craft.
First, let’s take a look at basic song structure and how a song is written. The first song structure we will look at is the verse/chorus/verse format. This is the easiest and most basic song structure, with both verses played once and the chorus repeated at least three times. The next song structure is the verse/chorus/verse/bridge. This is the same as the verse/ chorus/ format but with a bridge added that is rhythmically and lyrically different to add that extra punch. Although there are other song structures these two dominate today’s popular music.
Now that we have an understanding of the most popular song structures let’s take a look at the internal structure of the verse, chorus and bridge. Many songwriters use a guitar or piano and write the lyrics in conjunction with the music. However, if you are not a musician or you are away from your instrument you can still write rhythmic lyrics. The key is to use the same rhyming and syllable pattern in each verse. The chorus can use a different pattern because it contains the hook. The hook is the part of a song people will remember. Think about it, when you hear a great song for the first time what do you walk away humming? The chorus. Why, because it contains the hook. But we’ll discuss the hook later right now let’s examine the verse.
Every song has approximately three minutes to tell a story, and each line has to be precise and to the point. So, time and space limitations combined with the fact that the lyrics have to be set to music are precisely why most writers use the tried and true formula. There are three popular rhyming patterns. The first one is the easiest. It looks like this: A/A/A/A now what does that mean? Every line rhymes with itself. Example: The big fat dog/ sat on a log/He looked like a slob/ but that’s his job./ O.K., I won’t win a Grammy for these lyrics but you get the idea. This kind of rhyming pattern is boring and predictable, but writers still use it.
The second rhyming pattern is the A/B/A/B this pattern rhymes every other line. Example: /I’ve seen my life/ through the pages of time/and though I’ve had strife/Well it’s truly divine./ The third pattern rhymes the second and fourth lines. It looks like this A/B/C/B Example: / Jessie Franklin was a young man / in the spring of forty one./ He was called to serve his country/through the barrel of a gun./ These rhyming patterns are used throughout all of today’s popular music. Listen to your favorite CD and see if you can identify some of these them.
The next consideration when writing lyrics is the number of syllables you use. Each verse should have the same amount of syllables. For example, if the first line has eight syllables, the second and third line have seven and the fourth eight. Then your second verse should have exactly the same number of syllables in each line as the first. There are no hard and fast rules as to how many syllables you use in each line, but they should be the same in each verse.
Now that we have covered song structure, lyric structure and syllable structure let’s look at the chorus and the bridge. As I stated earlier the chorus contains the hook. The hook is the part of the song that has a catchy phrase and melody. The hook of a chorus should be repeated more than once throughout the chorus and say something other than the ordinary. Listening to your favorite songs on the radio will teach you more about the hook line than any article on the subject. If you choose to use a bridge it should be totally different from the chorus and verse in both rhyme and rhythm.
So there you have it. I have given you a basic overview on songwriting, but like anything else rules are made to be broken. After you have written a song or two experiment within the rules, be creative and have fun. After all, if it isn’t fun why do it? Life is hard enough without adding more to it. But, if you find yourself enjoying the craft of songwriting. Then go to your local library and check out some books on the subject. Learn all you can. Who knows maybe you’ll write the next number one hit?