3 Avoidable Lyric Mistakes
Amateur mistakes you won’t make anymore
Lyrics Don’t Sing
I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to songs… checking out developing song writers and hearing what they have posted on SoundCloud, 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. The spell was broken!
I found 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
Your song is weaker when rhymes are too obvious, too predictable, boring, distracting, awkward….
Rhyme patterns help us predict and remember lines, its 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: tight and loose rhymes (instead of the dozens of actual rhyme classifications, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhyme). A tight rhyme ends with the exact same syllables, a loose rhyme (also called a slant rhyme) uses slightly different but similar sounding syllables, especially similar vowel sounds.
- Tight rhyming is the common default for beginning writers. You will sound like a beginner song writer if that’s all you use.
- If you are too obvious, you are 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
- Don’t change your rhyme schemes in different verses, and don’t change the type of rhymes (use a tight rhyme where there was a tight rhyme, a loose rhyme where there was a loose rhyme in the previous 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)
- Rhymes with different accents can work if you adjust the melody. (“insight” first syllable accented, “delight” usually second syllable accented)
A rookie mistake is trying to fit the song to the rhyme, using grammar wrongness, like inverted sentences (usually caused by forcing a rhyme where it doesn’t want to go). Avoid trying to rhyme words that don’t want to be the last word of the line.
As you gain rhyming confidence, start using Loose rhymes (also called Slant Rhymes), they are awesome unless you stretch them too far and lose the sound of the rhyme (check out B-Rhyme an iphone app that lists rhymes including near rhymes or loose/slant rhymes).
When you mix tight and loose rhymes be deliberate or your rhyming can become confusing and sound random.
Rhyming Example: So Far Down
The loose rhymes for lines 2, 4 & 6: shores/goals/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….
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
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!
The world of the song should be self consistent – it needs to makes 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 similar rhymes types between verses – avoid changing from tight to slant rhymes between verses
- Have 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 the audience is left trying to figure out what you are up to
- 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
- Have final arrangement that makes sense and supports the song – It should follow the intensity of the lyric and the dramatic arc of the story.
Consistency Example: Catch Me When I Fall
The verse rhythms and melodies are virtually interchangeable
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 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”
So the big give away that I’m hearing a weak song usually comes down to:
Lyrics Don’t Sing