#1January 1st, 2011 · 01:50 PM
102 threads / 59 songs
204 posts
Lesson 22: Writing Methods
So it's been a while since my last post but I thought I'd try and wrap up the lyrics discussion with a few words on writing methods and some final tips.

There are, in general, two approaches to songwriting - you can write the music first and fit the lyrics in afterwards or write the lyrics first and music second. You obviously don't need to write all the music or lyrics before filling in the other half and a good approach is often to work piece by piece writing a verse/bridge/chorus as needed either music or lyrics first. There are advantages and drawbacks to both methods.

By writing the music first you constrain your lyrics to fit the meter. This means you probably won't have to tweak your lyrics all that much since they will already be written to match your music. The drawback is that by constraining your lyrics you limit what you can write since it must fit your meter. Remember: it's easier to make small changes to lyrics than it is to music. Music must make "sense", lyrics don't always have to so there is more freedom in lyric writing than music writing.

I find fitting music to lyrics is often easier than doing the reverse and so I generally prefer this approach. However, writing lyrics without singing them can be challenging and will usually mean a good deal of tweaking once the lyrics and music are written and need to fit together.

One of the easiest and most effective way to write lyrics is to build them off a motif. As we discussed in the motifs lesson, a motif is a repeating phrase that comes up often and usually expresses the main idea of a lyric. A good motif is something that is memorable and hopefully somewhat clever. One easy suggestion is to build a motif off of a pun or idiom. I won't go on about this check out the motif lesson if you missed it - what you should gather is that motifs are very important and very useful.

I like to write lyrics by starting with a few questions:

What genre am I writing for?
    Is this going to be a Christmas song? a blues song? a folk song? a rock song?

Will I use a motif and what will it be?
    Sometimes I start here and then ask what genre the motif would fit with.

What will the structure look like?
    Shorter songs can get away with more repetitive chords and fewer changes. Usually I start by writing a chorus that is based on the motif and then develop the verse. I play through that a bunch of times until I'm satisfied and then decide whether or not I need a bridge. We'll look deeper into structure another time but this is a very important consideration.

Is there a story?
    If so what is it about? how does the motif support it?
    Sometimes lyrics begin with a story and then develop a motif but the reverse is also doable.

Finally lyric writing starts. It finishes and editing begins.

So that's about it. With that I'll close by giving a few final tips:

Practice writing many different kind of lyrics. Challenge yourself to write a song in every genre. Doing this will give you an appreciation for different lyrical forms and give you a chance to see what styles really interest you. Musically try and use a new chord in each new song. Force yourself to write in different time signatures and keys. Keep challenging yourself.

Keep lyrics light. "Dying is easy, comedy is hard". One of the greatest challenges to lyricists (especially in their teens) is that they tend to write very general, very melodramatic lyrics. Keep things lighthearted - you want people to want to listen to your music not just groan. Try writing kids' songs as an exercise.

Pick something specific and write about it. Don't try and tackle big general subjects. You'll write much better and far more interesting lyrics if you pick something you actually know about as a subject.

Avoid using cliched phrases that don't really mean anything like "we'll make it if we try"

Never force rhyme. Don't invert sentences or write unnatural sounding lines just to make them rhyme. Not everything has to rhyme, personally I prefer when lyrics don't.

Listen to a lot of different music and do your research before writing songs. If you're writing in a new genre look at some lyrics in that genre and see if there are any particular traits that persist. For example, blues lyrics almost always repeat the first line.

That's all for me. I'd be curious to know what other people's writing methods are so if you're up to it post how you like to write lyrics or songs. Toodleloo.
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