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Archive for July, 2007

Lyrics or Music First

Posted by onestoprockstar on July 29, 2007

I have often been asked which I write first, the lyrics or the music. The truth is it doesn’t matter. I often have a short melodic phrase in my head, write the words, and then put the rest of the music to the words. I personally find it easier to create music that shows off the rhythm of the words. The trouble with putting words to music is that I find it difficult forcing the right number of syllables to fit the melody.

On the other hand, some might find setting words to music so challenging that it actually improves their poetry in the lyrics. After all, when faced with a limited supply of syllables, one will resort to using unusual words to convey the message and inadvertently create poetic phrases. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

If you do use my method of starting with a melodic phrase, chances are that phrase will be the last line of the chorus. The “catch phrase,” so to speak. 

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The Parts of Lyrics

Posted by onestoprockstar on July 29, 2007

 

First and foremost, remember that everything stated in these articles are generalizations. So if you can think of exceptions to these rules, good job. There are definitely plenty of exceptions. This information isn’t presented as how every songwriter writes, it’s presented to help you find the easiest way to writing great lyrics.

Also, if you ever get inspired to write lyrics while reading this, go ahead and start writing. This article isn’t going anywhere. Come back to it when your writing ideas calm down. On the other hand, if you’re concerned that you’ll never be able to come up with anything to write, don’t worry. I’ll present you with writing exercises you can do to get your creative juices flowing.

That said, let’s get on with it. Generally, there are at most five parts to the song using words: intro, verse, chorus/hook, bridge, and ending/extension.

Intro

The intro is usually an instrumental lead-in that has no words. But occasionally, the intro is the same as the chorus or the hook. The Beatle song “Lovely Rita” starts of with background vocals singing

Lovely Rita, meter maid.
Lovely Rita, meter maid.
Lovely Rita, meter maid.
Lovely Rita, meter maid. 

Catchy, eh? On the other hand, if the intro has no words, it can be the same music as the chorus.

 

Verse

The verse tells the story or the reason for the singer’s overall emotion. Each verse reveals new information, and each new piece of information should be more powerful and more revealing than the previous verses. There are typically three verses in a song. If there’s a fourth, it’s often a repetition of the first or third verse.

Can’t Buy Me Love

I’ll buy you a diamond ring, my friend,

If it makes you feel all right.

I’ll get you anything, my friend,

If it makes you feel all right.

For I don’t care too much for money,

For money can’t buy me love.


 

When I’m 64

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now,

Will you still be sending me a valentine?

Birthday greetings? Bottle of Wine?

If I’d been out till quarter to three,
Would you lock the door?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

 

 

Chorus

The chorus relays the overall feeling the singer has about the situation. It doesn’t reveal any new information, it simply states up front what the verses imply. This way, it doesn’t matter where in the song the chorus pops up. At every moment in the song, the chorus can deliver the main point and the listener can respond, “Ain’t that the truth!”

Can’t Buy Me Love

Can’t buy me love, love.

Can’t buy me love.

  

The Hook

The hook replaces the chorus whenever a song has no chorus. In the above song “When I’m 64,” the words in italics are the hook. There is no chorus in the song, but the words “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” are repeated at the end of every verse.

Bridge

The bridge tells in detail what’s left out in the chorus and verses to clarify the situation. Since the structure is more loose than the chorus or verse, this is a good place to easily convey the problems or emotions. In other words, since the bridge uses new music, and often a new rhyming scheme, it’s going to be less memorable. It won’t be as catchy as the verse, and not nearly as catchy as the chorus. As a result, it doesn’t matter what the words are. The whole purpose here is not to be easy to sing back, but to explain in simple terms exactly what the whole point of the song is. Put in all the details that couldn’t fit in the verses. For example, “Can’t Buy Me Love” has no bridge, but if it did, it could look like this: 

When you said a diamond ring
Would prove my love for you,

I didn’t understand just

What the heck that had to do

With being in love, so when I refused

You ran away. I got confused.

Don’t you know that money
Has nothing to do with my loving you?

Notice that there’s nothing catchy in this stanza. There are no repeated words and the rhyming scheme is completely different from the rest of the song. But it helps us understand why the singer is singing the song in the first place; something we didn’t know before. Here are samples of other bridges:

I Want Love (By Elton John & Bernie Taupin)
So bring it on. I’ve been bruised.
Don’t give me love that’s clean and smooth.
I’m ready for the rougher stuff.
No sweet romance. I’ve had enough. 

When I’m 64
Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of White if it’s not too dear.
We shall scrimp and save.
Grandchildren on your knee:
Vera, Chuck, and Dave.  

Both of these bridges have completely different music and rhythm than the chorus and verses. There are no repeated phrases to make them easy to sing back, so they aren’t designed to be catchy. Also, the bridge can be used to generalize the moral or message of the singer’s experience. For example, in my song “Can’t Say It’s Only Love,” the narration is in first person during the verses and chorus. (First person is from the narrator’s point of view: I do this, I do that). But in the bridge it changes to third person (he does this, he does that) to describe the message of the song. 

Verse 1:
Years ago I knew I would get over you.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, I have to say.
But it’s alright, it’s alright. Doesn’t matter.
Just as long as I make no mistake
In knowing my mistakes. 

Verse 2:
I don’t suppose you know
Just what you do to me.
You cannot understand the man I am.
But it’s alright, it’s alright. Doesn’t matter.
Just as long as you understand
That you don’t understand.
 

Chorus:
So don’t believe you’re just a passing phase
I’m going through.
And don’t believe I’ll find a girl
Who’s more for me than you.
After all those years when it’s you
I’ve been thinking of.
You just can’t say it’s only love. 

Verse 3:
It’s so easy to misjudge my feelings for you.
It’s so easy to believe they’re like your own.
But it’s alright, it’s alright. Doesn’t matter.
Just as long as you know that what it’s like
Is nothing like you know. 

Chorus 

Bridge:
A man’s very existence is
Defined by the dreams he has.
It’s no exaggeration to say,
“I dream therefore I am.”
And all his hopes and motivations,
His passions and his needs,
All of them determined by his dreams. 

Verse 4: 
Now, not a dream goes by that I don’t kiss you,
Caress your face and tell you I’m your man.
But it’s alright, it’s alright, doesn’t matter.
Just as long as I know that I am.
By dreams of you I am.
 

Chorus + Lyrical Extension:
So don’t believe you’re just a passing phase
I’m going through.
And don’t believe I’ll find a girl
Who’s more for me than you.
After all those years when it’s you
I’ve been thinking of.
You just can’t say it. I won’t let you say it.
You just can’t say it’s only love.
It’s more than love. 

Ending/Extension

The ending is typically instrumental music that ends the song, and there is often an instrumental extension tagged on. The instrumental extension is the music that sounds like it’s slowing down when really, all that’s happening is that the length of the last melodic notes are doubled and extra measures (often two) are added. I’ll address that more in the article on how to write a melody. A lyrical extension is similar in that there are added words at the very end, but they’re mostly the same words repeated. Its purpose is to give the effect of slowing down, even if you’re not.


Those are the parts of lyrics. Don’t worry if you haven’t grasped all that was presented here. You can always come back to it later. It’s time to cover the different form structures of songs, where you’ll learn how to order the verses, chorus, and bridge, and you’ll learn how to put in appropriate rhyming schemes. You’re on your way to writing killer lyrics!

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Song Form

Posted by onestoprockstar on July 29, 2007

Just like the parts of lyrics, there are so many exceptions to the rules of song form that it is better to call these structures tendencies, not rules. This is only to help you if you’re not sure how to structure your song. If you’ve already written lyrics that don’t match these forms and you’re certain your lyrics are good as they are, excellent. If you have a whole bunch of verses and a chorus and bridge written out, but you’re not sure how to lay them out, then these structures can help you. 

Form structure can be simplified into three main structures: one with a chorus and bridge, one with just a chorus, one with a hook.  

With Chorus and Bridge:
Intro or Chorus
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
(Instrumental)
Chorus
Bridge
(Verse 1, 3, or 4 or Instrumental)
Chorus + Extension 

With Chorus Only:
Intro or Chorus
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
(Instrumental or Verse 4)
Chorus
Verse 1, 3, or 4
Chorus + Extension

With Hook:
Verse 1 with Hook
Verse 2 with Hook
Bridge
Verse 3 with Hook
(Verse 4 with Hook or Instrumental)
Bridge
Verse 1, 3, or 4 with Hook
Ending or Extension

A song with a chorus starts out with either an instrumental intro or with the chorus. If it does start out with an instrumental intro, then the music is usually the last four measures from the music of the chorus.  That way, it naturally leads into the verse just as the chorus normally leads into the verse later in the song. 

After two verses is the chorus, and then Verse 3. That’s the most common aspect of songs. If there’s a chorus in the song, you’ll hear two verses, then the chorus, then Verse 3. From there, you have the choice of playing or not playing another verse before the next chorus.  

Rule of thumb: If your verses are long or slow, do verse 3 and then the chorus. If your verses are short or fast, do a third and fourth verse, and then the chorus. If you’re still not sure, trust your ear. Do what sounds right in terms of pacing.  

If there’s a bridge in your song, and you choose to do a third and fourth verse, let the fourth verse be an instrumental version of the verse music as the above example shows. If there is no bridge in your song, your fourth verse can either be an instrumental or with lyrics.

Let your final verse be either the same as the first or last verse. Or let it be a new verse entirely. In the example of a song with a chorus but no bridge, you can have the verse order be any of the possible options shown above. But if Verse 4 comes straight after Verse 3, don’t let your fourth verse be a repeat of Verse 3.  

I know this sounds confusing, but the whole point is to do one of the following: If you want to let the first verse be seen in a new light, let your final verse be the same as Verse 1. For example, in my song “In This Room,” notice how the first verse has more meaning when it’s repeated at the end of the song. 

I’m sitting in this room. I’m playing this piano.
And you’re listening to these words
As I sing you this song.
And there’s an empty space in this room. 

You know how my heart feels
While you are in this room.
But I can’t reveal my love,
‘Cause it will not be returned.
So we just act the same in this room. 

Chorus: You’re just across the room
You’re just a few feet away
And you know what’s in my heart.
But you won’t hold my hand,
And you won’t say you love me.
Yeah, what am I supposed to do?
Whenever I’m near you we’re miles apart. 

You’re in my every song.
You’re in my every thought.
But you will still pretend
That you don’t know how I feel.
You’ll say that you like this tune in this room. 

Chorus 

I’m sitting in this room. I’m playing this piano.
And you’re listening to these words
As I sing you this song.
And there’s an empty space…in this room. 

One can argue that this song is actually a song with a hook instead of a chorus. After all, what I labeled as “chorus” could actually be seen as a repeated bridge. Notice the words aren’t too repetitive in the “chorus” so it’s not exactly catchy. It does repeat the words, “You’re just” and “you won’t,” but other than that, the real catch phrase is in the verses: “in this room.”

So there is a blur here between a song with a chorus and a song with a hook. This blurred form is the same as the form used in the Beatle’s song “Yesterday.” The point is, repeating the first verse is good when shedding new emotions on the first verse. If, however, you want to emphasize your final feelings, let the final verse be the same as the previous verse. Such was done in “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

Verse 3:
Say you don’t need no diamond ring
And I’ll be satisfied.
Tell me that you want those kind of things
That money just can’t buy.
For I don’t care too much for money,
For money can’t buy me love.

Instrumental 

Chorus:
Can’t buy me love. Everybody tells me so.
Can’t buy me love. No, no, no. No. 

Verse 3:
Say you don’t need no diamond ring
And I’ll be satisfied.
Tell me that you want those kind of things
That money just can’t buy.
For I don’t care too much for money,
For money can’t buy me love.

Chorus:
Can’t buy me love. Love.
Can’t buy me love. 

Notice that the chorus before the repeated verse 3 is different from the final/regular chorus. This is because if all the choruses were exactly the same, it would’ve sounded too repetitive. (Yes, it is possible to be too repetitive in a song.) So by altering the chorus a bit, there’s fresh music, fresh lyrics, and the song doesn’t get monotonous. If there’s a good deal of time between choruses, you don’t have to worry about sounding too repetitive. Also, there are melodic and harmonic ways of making the chorus sound fresh and new without changing the lyrics. More on how to use melodic and harmonic changes for making the chorus sound new will come later. 

So repeating the previous verse is good for emphasis. But if you don’t need to restate or emphasize anything, let your final verse be a new verse. That is, use new lyrics. Below are some examples of forms.    

Can’t Buy Me Love          
Chorus
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
Chorus
Instrumental
Chorus
Verse 3
Chorus + Extension

When I’m 64 / Yesterday
Verse 1 with hook
Verse 2 with hook
Bridge
Verse 3 with hook
Bridge
Verse 4 with hook
Ending/ Ext.

Strawberry Fields
Chorus
Verse
Chorus
Verse
Chorus
Verse
Chorus + Extension

I Want Love  (Elton John/Bernie Taupin)
Intro
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
Chorus
Bridge
Instrumental finishes with Verse 3 words
Chorus
Chorus
Ending (Intro music)

Your Song  (Elton John/Bernie Taupin)
Intro
Verse
Verse
Chorus
Instrumental (Intro music)
Verse
Verse
Chorus + Extension
Ending

Crocodile Rock (Elton John/Bernie Taupin)
Intro
Verse 1
Verse 2
Chorus
Verse 3
Verse 4
Chorus
Verse 5
Verse 6
Chorus + Ext 

Great! We’ve covered song form, now it’s time for the good stuff: tips and tricks on how to make the lyrics sound incredible.

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