15 Great Tips for Writing Better Lyrics
When it comes to listening to music, there are two kinds of people: those who listen to the lyrics and those who don’t. No matter what genre of music you make or enjoy listening to, lyrics play an important part in building the mood and telling a story.
For some lyric writing comes naturally, while others may struggle. But even the best of the best can agree that there is always room for improvement.
So if you are looking to sharpen your lyric-writing skills, here are some simple and effective tips to write better.
- 1. Write As Much As Possible
- 2. Learn From Other Songwriters
- 3. Listen to a Lot of Music
- 4. Choose a Theme/Genre
- 5. Experiment With Words
- 6. Have Patience
- 7. Learn/Try New Rhyming Schemes
- 8. Find Inspiration
- 9. Read More
- 10. Less Is More
- 11. Be Yourself
- 12. Be Conversational
- 13. Try Music First
- 14. Don’t Force It
- 15. Don’t Give Up!
- Final Thoughts
1. Write As Much As Possible
Lyrics are a form of poetry. Like any other poet or writer, you have to get into a habit of writing regularly. Think of it as a means of self-discipline. You don’t necessarily have to write lyrics all the time, but make it a point to jot down a few lines regularly.
Many lyric writers maintain journals. Journalling is a great way to practice writing and be creative. You may often be able to build upon ideas when you revisit them at a later time.
Also, even if your lyric drafts or songs remain unfinished, it is still good to continue writing new material.
If you are feeling stuck, you can also write essays and other long-form pieces on varied topics. This will improve your overall writing style.
2. Learn From Other Songwriters
In the song ‘Serve The Servants’ by Nirvana, Kurt Cobain declares, “There is nothing I could say/That I Haven’t Thought Before…” while it is indeed true that it is very difficult to have an original idea, one will be surprised by how the same idea can be expressed in so many varied ways by different people.
As children, we are taught the fundamentals of a language in school, similarly, in songwriting too it is important to learn from the greats. When you listen to albums by your favorite bands or songwriters, start paying attention to the lyrics. You will observe how unique their styles are.
Learn from different songwriters by paying attention to their style, scansion, and approach to rhyme.
3. Listen to a Lot of Music
The more music you expose yourself to, the better. The approach to lyrics varies, depending on the genre. It is good to have a playlist that comprises not just different genres but also music from the different decades.
This will help you create a bank of influences and prevent your lyric writing from becoming monotonous. You will also notice that although certain while certain rhyming schemes may be common, they can be used in many different ways depending on the music that accompanies the lyrics.
As a habit, try and listen to music you do not enjoy as much and give different genres a chance. Actively listen to the lyrics and their relationship with other elements of the song such as melody and rhythm. This will also help you approach your work in more unique ways.
4. Choose a Theme/Genre
Think of your song as a blank canvas. Before you lay down the groundwork in the form of lyrics, ideate on what you want to talk about or what emotion you want to express. This will help you narrow your chain of thought.
It is important to have a theme or an emotion in your lyrics so that others can relate to it as well. This will also help you build your melody and rhythm in the next stages of your song.
If you are having trouble with a specific theme, keep it broad and then narrow it down as inspiration guides you. Identifying what is it that you are trying to say is one of the first steps of writing lyrics.
5. Experiment With Words
Unlike professionals, you can always play around with the order of the words in a line and still make sense. Take advantage of that. You don’t have to write intricate lines to convey an idea.
The song “No Woman No Cry” would perhaps be a lot less appealing if the lyrics were “if you do not have a woman, you will be less likely to cry.” Although ‘no woman no cry’ is not grammatically correct, it is still effective songwriting.
However, be careful to not go overboard when trying this. Without some grammar or structure, your lyrics may end up being gibberish.
No matter what language you write in, try to incorporate devices such as metaphors, idioms, and phrases to add variety.
6. Have Patience
When you are writing or composing, you will often find yourself getting stuck trying to transition from one part to another. During these times, you have to remember to be patient because good things take time.
If you have written a good song, you may want to immediately follow it up with another one because you are in the flow. But things don’t always go as planned and you may experience writer’s block.
The band Tool took 13 years to release the album ‘Fear Inoculum’ after their last release in 2006. Music is not physical labor, it is a creative process. Things take time. Instead of getting frustrated with your lack of progress, learn to let it go and revisit your drafts at a later time when you have a fresh perspective on it.
7. Learn/Try New Rhyming Schemes
As I mentioned earlier, different rhyming schemes can have different effects. If you are used to trying only one or two schemes, shake things up by learning about more of them and trying to implement them in your work.
One of the great ways to discover different rhyming patterns and how they can be used is by reading different kinds of poetry.
Alternatively, if you feel like you depend too much on rhyming schemes, you can also break out of that by not making your words rhyme, and instead, you can use different scansions to trick the ears.
8. Find Inspiration
As I explained in the fourth tip, it is important to have a genre or theme. But sometimes it is difficult to get started. Inspiration is what you need.
Books, art, films, your experiences, and even what you observe around you can be sources of inspiration, not just other music.
It is believed that Robert Plant was inspired by the works of Lewis Spence, to write Led Zepellin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’. All the great songs that we know of have been inspired by people, art, politics, social conditions, etc. So find yours by diving into whatever stimulus is available around you, accessible to you.
9. Read More
Reading all sorts of literature, fiction, non-fiction, and articles will not only increase your vocabulary but also help in the long run. You will be exposed to different ideas, viewpoints, and ways in which a thought can be expressed in the language you generally write in.
Whether it is your native or second language, reading will help you sharpen your skills and greatly help you communicate better through your lyrics.
If you are not a fan of books, try poetry. If you are not a fan of poetry, try prose. There is something out there for everyone. Just like music, reading triggers the imagination and that is something that all songwriters need, no matter what the genre.
10. Less Is More
When you are writing a song, you need to remember that you are trying to express your thoughts and feelings to someone else: the listener. If you use words that are too complicated or too many words in one line, to put it simply, it does not sound good.
The saying “less is more” is very apt when it comes to writing a song. Unless you are trying to write a song like ‘Rap God’ by Eminem, there is no need to clutter the space with too much information.
Just like in melody and rhythm, there is beauty in silence. When you are writing lyrics, you need to keep this in mind so that the listener is not bored or finds it hard to relate to your words.
11. Be Yourself
What separates a good song from a mediocre one is how authentic and vulnerable the artist has allowed themself to be. When you are writing lyrics, you have to be yourself without fearing judgment from the listener.
If you try to emulate another artist or musician, you will end up sounding like a copy and there will be nothing exciting about your music. So if you want to write a good song, you have to let people in.
Whether you are writing a serious or a lighthearted song, don’t be scared to truly express how you feel. In the words of Madonna, “express yourself!”
12. Be Conversational
You don’t have to use fancy words or impeccable grammar in your lyrics as long as they are free-flowing and allow the listener to understand what it is when you’re trying to say.
As we discussed earlier, the rules are not rigid when it comes to lyric writing. Use your own words and be descriptive.
Many well-loved songs become popular due to their conversational nature. They often paint a picture where the singer is talking directly to the listener. Listening to such songs makes it an enjoyable experience.
13. Try Music First
If you compose music on an instrument such as piano or guitar, you can try playing around with different melodies and chord structures before you start writing lyrics for something that you like.
Many musicians first write the melody and then approach lyrics. This is a very common practice, especially among instrument players.
When you find yourself in a situation where you have a melody but no lyrics to progress to the next section. You can scat sing to come up with a tune before you apply lyrics to it. So you can work on the song structure first and then go back to the drawing board later with your lyrics.
14. Don’t Force It
Music is a creative process and unfortunately, you cannot force creativity or inspiration. If you are experiencing writer’s block, it is best to let it go, focus your something else and give your mind a break.
The more you try to force inspiration, the less likely you will be able to come up with something concrete.
If you are experiencing writer’s block, take a break and do something you enjoy to relax. Every creative individual experiences writer’s block and some have even cleverly written songs about it. Listen to ‘Failure By Design’ by Brand New as an example:
15. Don’t Give Up!
Just like anything else, perseverance is key to success. Sometimes you may find yourself filled with self-doubt, completely uninspired, and lacking enthusiasm. It is important to push through these phases.
Whatever you do, do not give up on yourself. If you feel like you’re on a downward spiral, take a break to enjoy some of the other things in life. Many songwriters often take up physical exercise such as running or yoga to keep not just their body, but their mind healthy.
Making music is hard and draining at times. Even the greatest of musicians have felt self-doubt at some point of time in their careers. So take inspiration from them, and keep going. Don’t let setbacks stop you!
Louis Armstrong once said, “music is life itself.” The power of music is such that lyrics have often started revolutions and helped connect people. Although they may feel like mere words in a song, lyrics can inspire and change people.
I hope that this list helps you approach your lyric writing in new ways. Keep all these tips in mind and try and find new approaches to writing, you never know when inspiration will take place.