How to Craft Song Lyrics

TakeLessons has purchased the right to use an edited version of this post in their blog.

So you’ve learned to play a musical instrument and you’ve created some original sounds. Maybe you’d like to write songs with great words, and you’re stumped. You’re not alone. Before one of the most famous song writers of the 20th century came up with lyrics, one of his beautiful love songs was stuck with the abysmal rhyme “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs”.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Don’t worry if everything doesn’t come together quickly, or even if some inane phrase is stuck in your head. See what you have to begin with. Is it a few chords? Perhaps a melody line? Or is there a nice rhythm you’d like to build upon? Maybe you have a story to tell, about love or dancing or something you just want to sing about.

Take a good listen to what you like the most about your starting point, and what needs a little help? Notice those parts where words and music come together easily, even if it’s only a short phrase and melody. Jot it down on a piece of paper so you will remember later, and keep a pen and paper where you can reach it quickly at night. Often the perfect rhyme is in your subconscious dreams, so don’t be surprised if you wake up with the answer.

What if you have music and no ideas at all for words? Many successful songs are the result of two-person collaborations, where one person writes the music, and the other crafts the lyrics. Consider taking on a partner for this task, particularly if you know someone who’s good at writing poetry.

How about if you don’t have the music for a song yet, and you’re looking for poetry or other songs for inspiration to get things started? Unless the song lyrics or poem are in the public domain, it’s a good idea to get permission from the writer, even if you don’t plan to “go public” with your song.

On the other hand, public domain poetry is a marvelous and largely untapped resource, usually with no permission required, to use for lyrics. I like Public Domain Poems, where I found this great potential song lyric from the poem Love’s Philosophy by Percy Shelley:

The fountains mingle with the rivers, and the rivers with the oceans.
The winds of heaven mix forever with a sweet emotion.

Decide what you want the style and speed of your song to be, and also the message you wish to deliver. Is yours a love song to be sung slowly atop beautiful harmonies? Or is it a fast-paced dance song, with punchy chords, a deft bass riff , and strong percussion? Is your preference a simple country ballad combined with a surprising or humorous observation of life? Or, maybe, is it that you secretly enjoy hip hop, crazy rhymes and persuasive rhythmic motifs?

Whichever style and message you choose, create a diagram for your song. A typical diagram is A-B-A-B. This type of song has two parts:

The A part, or the story line is known as the verse. The words of the verse change each time the A-B pattern is repeated, usually as a rhyme that tells a story. The story continues and progresses throughout the song.

The B part, or the message, is known as the chorus. The words of the chorus are usually easy to remember and stay the same with each A-B repetition. A “hook” is a combination of words and melody that gets stuck in your mind. In some songs a chorus rhymes, and in other songs the message simply repeats a strong non-rhyming statement like “I Love You”, or a call to action like “Celebrate” or “Dance”. Deciding whether or not to rhyme is called “poetic license”.

In addition to parts A and B, some songs are more complicated; with a C part, or bridge, tossed in the song’s midst for interest.

Now that you have a few parts of your song working well, and you have a diagram to map out the road, it’s time to start writing the rest of the lyrics.

Love songs and country ballads can generally have simpler rhymes and more complicated story lines or flowery descriptions. In contrast, dance songs and hip hop often have complicated rhymes with a simple message. Whether you want to tell a story or show off poetic prowess, a rhyming dictionary is very helpful. I like Rhyme Zone.

Great songs are not always about interesting story lines or amazing rhymes. Sometimes the rhythm of the words, a simple message and melody, along with some very basic original poetry can create a winning combination.

As for that unknown love song about breakfast food, according to Beatlese Books, the final lyrics were magically transformed from mundane to memorable by these everyday words: “yesterday, faraway, here to stay, yesterday”.