#1August 4th, 2010 · 10:01 PM
102 threads / 59 songs
204 posts
Lesson 18: Intro to Lyrics and Poetry
So I'm sorry this took a while to get out, I've been trying to think of a good way to approach this subject as the more I probe it the more I find I have to say. Ergo, I will start with an introduction. Lyricism!

The poetic side of lyrics is tricky. The approach I'm going to try and put forth is going to be largely technical, we'll take a look at a lot of examples and try and understand what makes them good lyrics, this is obviously difficult - what are good lyrics? I suggest that "good" lyrics are lyrics that work and make the song better. They don't have to be Shakespeare but they should coherently and effectively express and idea that the audience might find interesting. Good lyrics should support good composition. In the lessons that follow we'll explore lyrics that I feel are "good" and we'll try and examine why. At the end of it all we might just learn how to write "good" lyrics ourselves.

To begin with, I want to discuss some of the basic elements of poetry and get some terms down so that we're all on the same page.

Important concepts (depending on the lyric some or all may apply):

Subject - who or what is the focus of your lyric? Is the it protagonist of a story, an abstract concept or emotion, an event, etc?

Theme - what is the prevalent idea you are trying to express in your lyric?

Motif - a recurring idea that persists throughout the lyric

Thesis - if your lyric is supposed to argue or prove a point, what is it?

Perspective - who is telling the story? who's ideas are we hearing - yours or a characters?

Economy of Language - since your are the author of this work and it is totally original, in theory we have a right to question why you chose one word over another. While this is certainly contestable, we may say that in a good work each element of the lyric is chosen deliberately and contributes to the total success of the work. You get away with a lot more in this department than poets because lyricists also have to make considerations that are purely based on how the lyric will sound. You are accountable though. A good lyric should not include elements that detract from the work and a whole or are extraneous.

Poetry is different from lyricism. Many lyricists fail to realize this and write poems instead of lyrics without knowing. The difference is that lyrics are meant to be sung whereas poems are meant to be read. This makes lyricism a little more constricting, as we discussed earlier, it means that lyrics must conform to certain rhythmic structures and should be singable. Lyrics are not independent of music!

With all that said, lyrics and poems share a lot in terms of composition and form. One of the most important elements of poetry and lyricism is the poetic device.

Poets and lyricists get away with a lot more than writers, the have "poetic license" which qualifies them to write things that would otherwise be silly, incomprehensible, or just wrong. So you have an excuse to be creative.

Here are some poetic devices that will come up often in the lessons that come:

Simile - a comparison that uses the word "like" or "as". Ex. "Love is like oxygen"

Metaphor - a comparison that does not use the word "like" or "as". Ex: "Life is a carnival"

Hyperbole - an exaggeration not meant to be taken literally. Ex: "I ate a horse"

Alliteration - two or more successive words that begin with the same sound. Ex: "Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby". Alliteration is a great way to draw emphasis towards particular words or sounds.

Onomatopoeia - a word that describes a sound. Ex: "Boom!"

Rhyme - you know what rhyme is. The important takeaway here is that rhyme is a poetic device like all the rest. Rhyme is effective at making lyrics easy to sing but don't get suckered into compromising good poetry for rhyme.

Internal rhyme - when a line itself contains a rhyme. Ex: "I say what I think that the company stinks / Yes I'm a union man." Internal rhyme is useful to draw attention to certain parts of your lyric and to ease flow midline. I find it is particularly effective when the words follow each other.

Imagery - This is easily the most important poetic device but it's poorly titled. Imagery is a connection to a sense. Good imagery gives the listener a sensory impression of a scene or feeling. It doesn't have to be an image because it doesn't have to be visual. We'll see a lot of examples of this coming up so rather than leave you with one example of imagery here's a lyric that contains a little of everything and very powerful imagery.

Edith and the Kingpin - Joni Mitchell (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTgGYr-INqc)

The big man arrives
Disco dancers greet him
Plainclothes cops greet him
Small town, big man, fresh lipstick glistening
Sophomore jive
From victims of typewriters
The band sounds like typewriters
The big man he's not listening
His eyes hold Edith
His left hand holds his right
What does that hand desire
That he grips it so tight

Edith in the ring
The passed-over girls are conferring
The man with the diamond ring is purring
All claws for now withdrawn
One by one they bring
His renegade stories to her
His crimes and his glories to her
In challenge they look on
Women he has taken grow old too soon
He tilts their tired faces
Gently to the spoon

Edith in his bed
A plane in the rain is humming
The wires in the walls are humming
Some song-some mysterious song
Bars in her head
Beating frantic and snowblind
Romantic and snowblind
She says-his crime belongs
Edith and the Kingpin
Each with charm to sway
Are staring eye to eye
They dare not look away
You know they dare not look away

Coming up we'll start getting down and looking at specific elements of lyricism as well as different types of lyrics. As always, feel free to post any questions or comments you have. If you've got two cents you feel like throwing in feel free to post it in your own thread, PM, or post it here.
#2August 5th, 2010 · 12:37 PM
371 threads / 187 songs
3,394 posts
United Kingdom
Would be interesting to find out what song lyrics our members like, any song. then have a discussion on them.
I would love for Kings and Fantasy to write their views as to me they are the most consistent quality lyricists we have here.
#3August 5th, 2010 · 06:59 PM
102 threads / 59 songs
204 posts
I was thinking about doing this. I'm hoping to look at a variety of lyrics and I'm going to try and prefer lyrics that people probably haven't seen. If anyone has any suggestions they are more than welcome I just can't promise I'll use them, but I will consider them. If anyone has any lyrics that they want to discuss, go for it and hopefully we can adapt some of the concept we'll explore here. As always feel free to post any comments, suggestions, etc. in this thread, another, or PM. Cheers.
#4April 18th, 2011 · 06:28 PM
5 threads
24 posts
United Kingdom
Mitchell has written a lot of very well crafted songs. Take, for example "both sides now"

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev'ry fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way
But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
  (repeat chorus to fade)

This illustrates something you may be planning on talking about later - lyrical structure. Not all songs have anything as clear cut as this, but when they do, they come across as very tight and cohesive. In this case, each verse centres around a different theme, with the first half positive and the second negative, summed up in the slightly variant choruses. The progression through the verses carries the overall message of taking the rough with the smooth, etc.
#5February 8th, 2012 · 12:22 PM
4 threads
28 posts
There are some great lines...........
I like these all.................

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#6November 25th, 2015 · 09:54 AM
2 threads
1 posts
Could you please teach me how to write lyrics or create chords progression?
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