To know how to write a song lyrics – good ones – is an essential skill to get if you plan on producing your own music.
For some people, it’s innate. For others, it’s something that needs to be learned. Are you one of them? Then you’ve come to the right place. But know that in the end, a good lyricist is someone who writes a lot. Are you ready for that?
1. What’s a lyricist?
It’s actually a job. A lot of lyricists are composers and interprets at the same time.
Getting acquainted with musical writing and playing actually helps to become a good lyricist. But it’s not necessary, and there are exceptional music writers who are bad lyricists and vice versa.
If you only want to learn how to write song lyrics, that’s fine, but you need to know some music theory first.
2. How a song works
How to write song lyrics when you never wrote any? Well, it’s actually not that hard. You just have to know a few things.
A song needs to be remembered. That’s why it is rare to see one with no rhyme at all. That means: it’s the most important rule to maintain when you write lyrics for a song.
It’s not the only one though. Lyrics must fit well in a song. Better have a short line than a long line you cannot pronounce because the tempo is too fast.
Does the meaning of the lyrics have to match the emotion rendered by the song? Not necessarily. Take Pumped Up Kicks, for example. The lyrics are dark, but the melody quite happy. So in that case, it’s the choice of the songwriter.
You must know that a song is a form of poetry. You don’t have to use everything about poetry, but knowing a few figures of speech will certainly make your lyrics better.
3. Let’s rhyme
You can use different schemes of rhymes. Here’s a couple of ideas:
- Couplet (AABBCC…): this one is certainly the most popular. You’ll find in a lot of song and it’s really simple to use.
Every time we lie awake
After every hit we take
Every feeling that I get
But I haven’t missed you yet
(Three Days Grace, “I Hate Everything About You”)
- The monorhyme (AAAA): it makes the end of the lines very predictable but also easy to remember. Here’s an example:
Oh, Jenny you are crazy!
First I’m perfect, then I’m lazy
And I was calling you my baby
Now it sounds like you just left me.
And it kills me!
(Paolo Nutini , “Jenny Don’t Be Hasty”)
- Alternate rhyme (ABAB, CDCD…): a little more complex than the previous pattern, but still easy to use. Plus, it adds more style to the song and makes it breathe.
If you’re traveling the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine.
(Bob Dylan, “Girl Of The North Country”)
- ABCB, ABCA, ABAC…: it’s quite often we’ve got to hear only one rhyme every four lines in a modern song. Don’t hesitate to use these structures.
- ABB, AAB, ABC-DEC, etc.: three-lines (or sometimes 6) structures with (at least) one rhyme are also common in music.
Never cared for what they do
Never cared for what they know
But I know
(Metallica, “Nothing Else Matters”)
How you write a song is up to you, and the rhyme schemes you’re going to use as well. You can try and experiment. Generally, if it fits well in a song, then it’s a good rhyme.
4. How to write song lyrics – beautiful ones…
Now we’re going to see how you can embellish your text and make it sound great. Adding some figures of speech will do the job. Do you remember the poetry lessons at school? This is when it’s going to be useful. If you don’t remember, don’t worry, we’re going to tackle them now.
- Alliteration: it’s a really powerful figure of speech in a song and used a lot in hip/hop. What is it exactly? It’s actually the stressed consonant repeated on one or several words in a row. Like this: a rabbit rolling rapidly.
- Epistrophe (or antitrophe): it’s the repetition of the same word or group of words at the end of the line. Often employed in a chorus. Example:
I walk alone
I am alone
I think alone
I’ll die alone
(Staind – “Break”)
- Anaphora: the opposite of the epistrophe. The words are repeated at the very beginning of lines. Example:
I see the stars come out tonight
I see the bright and hollow sky
(Iggy Pop, “The Passenger”)
- Consonance: we’ve seen the alliteration already which is a form of consonance. This term embraces assonances and alliterations. And also repetitions of consonants of non-stressed syllable.
- Assonance: just as alliteration, this figure of speech is about repetition. But here it’s the vowels that are echoed. Really popular in hip/hop. Often used with consonance or alliteration, like this:
With rock, shock rap with Doc
(Eminem, “Rap God”)
- Epanados (or repetition): it’s a common thing to repeat words in order to stress out important ideas, or to make the song easy to remember, especially for the chorus (like “With or Without You”, by U2, among a large number of songs)
- Half-rhyme: although it’s more a type of rhyme than a figure of speech, I judged it important to appear in this section, because it’s employed on a regular basis in songwriting. It can also be classified as slant-rhyme, or lazy rhyme. It’s often used when you don’t find the right rhyming word, or when you judge another word – sounding approximately like the previous one – better than any other. Like in this example:
And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”
- Internal rhyme: again, it’s a type of rhyme, and a very essential one. It can also be associated as a consonance or assonance, though some words rhyme without ending the same way. It’s basically two or more rhyming words in the same line. Take “Hey Jude” as an example:
Hey Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better
And a fun one to finish:
- Onomatopoeia: when you’re out of words, you can use some words that imitates the sound of a specific source. BOOM!
4. On the road…
Now imagine you want to write a song about… About what exactly? That’s precisely it. Having a clear idea of the subject you want to write on will help. A lot. If you don’t have any idea, you can pick some trending stuff that you saw in the newspapers this morning, or maybe something that occurred recently or way back in the past in your life.
The list goes on and on. You can basically write about anything you want. But remember not to go too large on a subject, it makes the song impersonal, and feels like you really don’t have a clue about what you’re talking about.
How to write song lyrics when you’ve got your idea in mind? You can start anywhere. If you’ve never written a song before, I’d recommend you to begin with the chorus, it’s what will lay the foundations of the song. But that’s a matter of choice and it can vary from a song to another.
Still no idea where to start? Okay. Just write. Anything. It might not be the best lyrics in the world but maybe some great lines will come out of your mind after a while. This is how you get the ball rolling. And remember, the more you write, the better you become.
5. Some ideas on how to write song lyrics
Learning how to write song lyrics can take some time. And if you are running out of subjects to write on, or you’re sick of writing on the same topic over and over again, here are some leads:
- Love: the most popular topic ever. People love to talk about love, and love to hear about love. It seems to never dry out.
- Hate: love and hate go along though they’re opposite. You can even write on both subjects in the same song.
- Friendship: do you have a best buddy? Or do you want to have one? That’s clearly something you can write on.
- War: depending on what position you’re on, you can write a lot about war. Remember that it’s a sensitive topic, but well turned, it can become a really powerful song.
- Scary things (ghosts, supernatural, death…): if you’re soul turns black like Amy Winehouse, that’s a topic made for you.
- Adventure: going on the road, walking through a desert, going to another country or city… The list is endless and feels really personal, if you write about your life.
- Meaning of life: what are we? Where do we go? What’s your future plans? These are some topics you can write on, and I’m sure you have some ideas on them.
6. Getting better
In the path of learning how to write song lyrics, you’ll probably reach at some point a plateau where you feel your lyrics are not getting any better. If that happens, the way of improving is to keep writing… and searching to apply new techniques to your writing.
- Figure of speech: as there are so many figures of speech you can use, I did not tackle them all in this article. This Wikipedia article will surely give you some advice on what you can use for your songs.
- Rhyme schemes: the same applies to the rhyme structures. You will find a lot more on this Wiki page.