Tutorial for writing lyrics, full of inspiring ideas and details of common techniques.
This tutorial is aimed at song-writers, but there’s plenty for complete beginners as well.
There’s nothing scarier than a blank sheet of paper, (except perhaps cancer and the inevitable heat-death of the universe)
If you have music track or chord sequence ready, but no idea on how to write lyrics, try to put into words how those chords make you feel. Like, emotionally and stuff.
Writing lyrics is hard for men and the English who’ve been taught to repress everything from a young age, but I promise you’ll get used to it. There’s no wrong answers here: come up with phrase or single word, and that can be your working title or maybe a hook or part of the chorus.
From here, develop it into a single descriptive sentence – kinda like an elevator pitch in marketing – then, everything in this song should relate to that theme or subject.
Now that you have a title / theme you’re ready to write lyrics. The first technique we’re going to look at is stream of conscious.
Stream of conscious
When you start writing lyrics, think about your title or your theme and write down everything you can think of related to it. In fact try not to think, just write words and see where that takes you. If you have a backing track try to listen to that on repeat while you do this.
Once written, sift through it and find any particular terms or phrases that you’d like to incorporate into your song.
A similar idea, which may work better for you, is a mind map. Write out your title in the middle of some paper, then write out sections or separate but related ideas around it, and add details around them. If you have 2 or 3 ideas which are equally detailed those could each be your verses.
Humming It Out
Listen to chords, come up with rhythm (something you can tap out that isn’t in the song already), then hum a tune in that rhythm. Turn the hum into noises and then words. Try to use words from the title or stream of conscious but don’t worry about it making sense for now, no one has to watch you do this.
After a while these will turn into individual ideas which can actually be used – when that happens write them down.
I find it easy to get to the point where a set of lyrics is nearly complete, but contains gaps here and there. The hard part for me now is filling in the gaps and completing the lyrics. You might find you have parts of rhymes but the next line is really tricky because of that rhyme. Don’t be afraid to Google “rhyming dictionary” for ideas – if you don’t have the internet for whatever ungodly reason you can go through the alphabet replacing the first letter of the word you want to rhyme: Apple, Bapple, Capple, Dapple, Eapple, Fapple, and so forth. Or, change the original rhyme to a different word of a similar meaning – in which case you want to Google “synonyms” or “thesaurus”. If, however, you can’t get the meaning out that you want just write what you want to say, regardless of rhyme scheme or rhythm, then come back to it later.
- Here are some more experimental ideas you might want to try.
- Once you’ve finished or drafted your lyrics, try swapping the tense. Does the meaning change? Is it cooler from a future perspective, looking back, for example?
- Or, if your song is about an individual person or group, try writing as a direct address to that person.
- David Bowie used to switch perspectives in a song – one verse could be from the perspective of someone nearly hit buy a car; the next verse could be from the driver; and the final verse could be from an onlooker who saw something the previous characters missed.
Final thoughts on writing lyrics
- When writing lyrics, be aware of how the words will sound when sung or performed. Make sure you can actually perform these words in that order.
- Don’t be afraid to reuse tired themes – the reason there’s a lot of songs about love and relationships is because it’s one of the most fundamental human experiences. Everyone has experienced or will experience it.
- Some people tell you you have to write lyrics before music, others tell you the exact opposite. Try either, one way might work better for you.
- Lyric writing, as with everything in music, is a skill, you must practice. Don’t be afraid to re-work and alter lyrics, or completely remove sections which aren’t very strong in retrospect.
- If you find that you simply can’t write try changing your environment. Sit in a park; ask if you can hang out with a friend who’s on their X-Box while you write lyrics; or just go sit in the kitchen for a bit. I quite often move furniture in here to avoid writer’s block.
- Timeline. Make sure your song makes sense from start to finish. Is it a coherent narrative
- In previous episodes of Pro Tips we’ve said that you need to work to suit your fan-base, (including the clothes you wear or the style of music you play). You are providing a service so it’s important to bear in mind the opinions and desires of the people paying for your service, (your fans). However, with lyrics it’s going to be really obvious if you’re talking about a subject you’re not familiar with. Whether it’s your specific phrasing or the delivery of these words people will be able to see through it. So don’t write about things you don’t know, that’s something you can’t fake. Even better, write about the things you know well, or experience regularly.
That’s all from this tutorial on writing lyrics, and thanks for checking out Pro Tips for Independent Bands. If you found this useful and value what we do, please check out our Patreon Creator Profile and consider contributing.