Three amateur lyric writing mistakes you can stop making today!
How to identify these 3 mistakes in your lyrics and stop making them so your lyrics sound more professional and your audience listens until the end of your song!
1. Lame Rhyming
2. Lyrics Don’t Sing
I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to songs… checking out developing songwriters and hearing what they have posted on YouTube and in FaceBook groups. I’m interested in learning what other song writers are doing. I heard some awesome songs and made new friends….
I’ve also listened to some less polished songs, including some… bad songs.
I’m not being mean, the lyrics were weak… they kept distracting me out of the song, breaking the spell the songwriter was trying to weave.
These were the three common problems (with a few variations)
Lame Rhyming – weak rhyming makes a song weak
Lyrics don’t sing – melody of the lyrics is awkward
Inconsistency – starting a pattern but not finishing it, or not establishing patterns and sounding random
Avoidable Lyric Mistake #1: Lame Rhyming
Your lyrics are weakened when rhymes are too obvious, too predictable, boring, distracting, awkward….
Rhyme patterns help us predict and remember lines, it’s how we hear and figure out the song structure. We have listened to rhyming patterns since Nursery Rhymes. Don’t write nursery rhymes anymore. Rhymes are fun, but don’t sound dumb.
For this discussion, I simplify rhymes into: perfect rhymes and slant rhymes (instead of these numerous rhyme classifications). A perfect rhyme ends with the exact same syllables, a slant rhyme (also called an imperfect rhyme or partial rhyme) uses similar sounding but not identical syllables.
- Perfect rhyming is the common default for beginning writers. You will sound like a beginner songwriter if that’s all you ever use.
- Too obvious is boring. Songs are more fun when you play with interesting patterns so change your rhyme schemes in different sections. The rhyme schemes and rhyming words should be different between verse and chorus (and pre-chorus and bridge) AABB is a classic pattern, but use others too
- Keep rhyme schemes consistent in every verse.
- Unrhyme: rhyming word with synonym, it’s repeating a word even if it looks different on paper (soul/sole, no/know).
- Paper Rhyme (also called Eye Rhyme) looks like the same sounds, but they are pronounced or inflected differently (love/move, laughter/daughter)
- Misaccented Rhymes are rhymes with different accent patterns. They are weak and often sound forced or amateur. For example: “insight” has the first syllable accented, but in “delight” the second syllable is accented.
A rookie mistake is trying to force the lyrics to fit a rhyme. Don’t twist the grammar to force a word to the end of a line!
As you gain rhyming confidence, start using slant rhymes, they are awesome unless you stretch them too far and lose the sound of the rhyme.
When mixing perfect and slant rhymes be deliberate so your rhyming doesn’t become confusing and sound random.
My favourite rhyming dictionary is B-Rhymes: http://www.b-rhymes.com/
It provides 100 rhymes for every word.
Rhyming Example: So Far Down
The loose rhymes for lines 2, 4, 5 & 6: shores / goals / soul / torn are held together by the similar vowels.
Crumbling ashes of my soul
Washed up on desperate shores.
Blessed by no one… ever haunted
My wasted life, wasted goals.
Shattered heart, broken soul
Fell from grace, my wings were torn….
Avoidable Lyric Mistake #2: Lyrics Don’t Sing
When the lyrics don’t fit the melody and/or the music doesn’t fit the lyrics… or the lyrics are hard to sing….
Your lyrics should sound natural, be easy to say, easy to sing, easy to remember… and flow with the music, the melodies and the rhythms of the song.
- Write the melody to follow the lyrics, using the accent patterns from speech. The melody notes follow accents and inflections (higher/lower). Say the words and listen to the ways you can change the accents and inflections in your speech. Write the melodies so they flow like speech, then sing them!
- Rhythms – use regular patterns (without being boring) to balance predictable with surprise.
- Use word sounds that fit together. Don’t write tongue twisters, you have to be comfortable singing the lyrics.
Lyrics Sing, Example: Tremble
Verse 1 (0:14) first verse rhythms and melody, dissonances in vocal
Feel I’ve got a tremble,/See I’ve got a shake.
Sweat the coming jitters off with/Just a little taste.
Squint eyes sore and tired,/Tongue is tied and dry.
Troubles move so far away when/I’m a little high!
Avoidable Lyric Mistake #3: Inconsistency
The world of the song should be self consistent – it needs to make sense. The story unfolds through the song, dramatic arc, plot development, character development/description. Leave room for the audience to fill in personal interpretations, their own details and imaginings.
- Use vivid imagery so your audience can paint their own picture from your lyrics
- Use similar rhymes types between verses – avoid changing from tight to slant rhymes between verses
- Write verses that are consistent, each verse has similar rhythms & melodies, and use the same rhyme scheme
- Verb tenses should be consistent in each section, all the past or present or future, don’t mix them or you confuse your audience. They don’t have time to figure out the lyrics while they’re listening
- Use similar or identical rhythms in each verse – I write verse 2+ (especially before writing any verse melodies) with conscious attention to the feel of the accents and rhythms of the original verse
- The final arrangement needs to make sense and support the song – It should follow the intensity of the lyric and the dramatic arc of the story.
Consistency Musical Example: Catch Me When I Fall
Create a self contained world and draw your audience in to capture their attention for the entire song…
Help me paint my wings, I choose golden sunset red.
Tie them on when they are dry, put the helmet on my head.
I know the story of Icarus, that’s why I have some doubt.
Fly or fall, swim or sink, only one way to find out.
Lead me to the edge, looking down on the sky.
Push me off if I hesitate, ‘cus you know I can fly.
Dancing with the clouds, soaring through the air.
Only way to conquer fear, is to think that I don’t care!
Gorgeous Señorita, smiling just for me.
Wondering what’s in store for you, when I’m more than you see.
Normal is as normal does, but I never learned the way,
Of blending in or hoping small, that’s not how I play.
Supernatural, super human, both those labels fit,
Harder, longer, faster, farther, I do all of it!
Under every constellation, is a dream from afar.
Steal a thought, make a wish, I’m your lucky star.
Consistency Musical Example: Tremble
The tension in lyric and vocal line is matched by the intensity in other instruments, especially the saxophone. The gradual addition of instruments supports the lyrics, shaker on the chorus and djembe midway through the song which becomes a heartbeat in the ending. I broke an unwritten rule by writing the chorus melody lower than the verse, to reflect the ambivalent meaning of “tremble” that changes during the chorus from I need a fix to “tremble in anticipation”
Avoidable Lyric Mistakes: Summary
Watch out for these 3 lyric writing mistakes and you’ll instantly level up your lyric writing:
- Lame Rhyming
- Lyrics Don’t Sing