One of the most fun and in-depth ways to express oneself takes place in lyrical form. There is complete freedom to explore and say what you would like, literally however you would like, when writing lyrics. In this article, I’m going to do a walk through of some simple steps on how to write song lyrics for beginners.
The process is not always so cut and dry. We get inspired at different moments for different reasons. In any of these steps, which do not have to be in order, write down your ideas! That’s how it all starts.
To make it even more fun and interesting, as these steps are covered, I will be creating lyrical examples in sync with this lesson as I write it. It’s one thing to tell you, but as you see it happen, it will give you a much better insight of the whole process.
Let’s get to the pen and the pad (or PC screen)!
Emotions are propellants. We have to know, feel, or obtain an idea, from where we’re writing. Then we can decide where we want to go with the song. It’s usually ideal to have the music ready first. It can make this step much easier. Often, listening to music is what will inspire your mood and emotions; igniting lyrical content!
Here, in the first step, if you don’t have the music, you will need to identify with which genre or style of music you would like to write in accord with. For example, if you’re writing rap lyrics or punk, generally the mood has more attitude. Rock songs can have attitude, but also tend to be more emotional. So decide if you want to be upbeat, somber, sarcastic, or whatever mood you feel. There is no rule here. But it is the first step to take. Popular emotions in songs cover:
- Humorous notions
If you don’t have the music, there are no worries. From here, you can still structure a blueprint of your idea and write from there.
In the case that you have no mood ideas on hand, brainstorm. List some present or consistent emotions, personal interests, recent, past, or future desired experiences, and you can build from there. All these topics should stir a memorable feeling. Choose one.
If you know what you want to write about, that is even better. Make sure you do these two things:
- Evaluate and plan on incorporating the mood into your song.
- Find or have an idea for the musical genre.
As of today, October 9th, 2019 I just got a new job. So I am excited! I will use this to inspire a song now. So my mood is happy, excited, and positive. I’ll write some lyrics in a rap format and rock/poetic form. Each will be from the same emotional state.
Figure out the subject
Once you know the mood, it’s time to get to the message. Determine what subject you would like to write about. Suit the emotion to the theme. The subject could be about:
- Success (or lack of)
- Any internal conflict or precarious situation
- A favorite place or time
- Abstract concepts including any emotions
There should be a tale you want to tell. Songs have a message. They narrate a story, explain a lifestyle or social issue, or can wax poetic; left for the audience to interpret the meaning.
Some artists like to write about themselves, a loved one, or someone to spite. If you’re in the mood to vent, brag, or show love, you can also use this information to target in on your subject.
Country singers write about their trucks and cheating spouses. Some rappers write about guns, drugs, or how cool they think they are. Rock artists often mix it up with a blend of direct and poetic lyrics. But any genre can include lyrics in any style or composite form. It really comes down to what you are interested in and how you want to express it.
Once you have a subject, you can write about it and add a title. If you have a title right away, go with it. Sometimes the title comes after some thoughts are put down in verse form. As the process unflolds, elements to your song can change. Be open to this because it will happen.
There is a lot in a title. It’s the 2nd most popular way people remember a song. The title can be:
- A direct representation of the subject
- Socially relevant
- A clever play on words
All these work. And there are always more to consider. Try to keep your title within the relative theme of the emotion or subject. My subject here is success, or a new job.
Rap song title: On Top of the World*
Rock song title: New Horizons
*I actually wrote the rap song verse first, based on my emotion and subject, and then came up with this title from the hook I wrote soon after. Then I applied that theme to everything else.
Write to keep in the rhythm and incorporate rhyme
So, will you be singing, rapping, chanting, or mixing it up? At this point, if you still don’t have the music, you can write in rhythm with a metronome. Another option is to time it out using closely to completely congruent syllable structure in your verses. As long as it flows in the rhythm, and the syllable count on each line is exact or close (especially with rap lyrics), it will work.
Even though words can be of the same syllable count, they will roll off the tongue differently. Learning this will help keep you in sync. In essence, lyrics are a form of poetry and follow some form or pattern. Having a beat or rhythm on hand will be your guide to this word structure.
Rap lyrics include a lot more words which entails longer verses. The acrobatics of this writing skill take a lot more work.
EXAMPLE (rap verse of ‘On Top of the World’):
“Just got a job, can pay my dues to the mob, no more scheming on 7-Elevens to rob-
To make ends meet, by the end of the week, (it’s not my rules). It’s the ways of the street!
So I make my way as I roll through this beat, now planning on winning without having to cheat
Gonna get some new kicks for my sore old feet, drink some wine, and steak and lobster to eat!”
EXAMPLE (rock verse of ‘New Horizons’):
“The time at hand, it sure has changed
The time at hand, life is rearranged…
Up against the mountain… Me, I’m flesh and blood!
Up against the mountain… To the top and won!!
They will forever know, this soul of mine that has come (and someday will go)
All will remember, he who escaped and redirected the vicious undertow!”
Rock music inherently will have more change ups. Often, it will be easier to fit what you want to say using the long to short syllable style. Singing rides the wave of the rhythm like surfing, and tends to be more elongated and easily spread in its flow.
Rap music mostly keeps the same rhythm. Musical change-ups aren’t too complex for the most part. But it’s a bit tougher to mold and be clever with word-use and fitting in what you want to say.
Rapping tends to manipulate the beat more like striking, dodging and weaving with the flow with it’s complex syllable and word count structure. At any moment, a lackadaisical lyric can switch to a machine-gun-like word spray. (Have in mind writing and voice implements are key in the instrumentation of a song.)
Keeping lines in syllable symmetry is key to fitting them smoothly in each verse of any genre. Know you can explore, and dance with the tempo; short, fast syllables to long, slow ones (make sure it stays within or can be made to fit the rhythm).
If you’re having trouble keeping tempo, adjust the sentence structure. This includes omitting or adding words. Understand a single syllable is not always equal to the next in time length. YOU and YOUR are one syllable, yet YOUR will spend more time saying.
Create your style
Use similes and metaphors to mask or enhance personal situations or points of view. Or straight up, get to the point and write matter-of-fact. Mix it all up. It’s your song. It can be specific to your or a person’s real life trials, like Eminem. Or it could be poetic and spacey at times, like Jim Morrison of The Doors. Kendrick Lamar is known for incorporating both styles in his writing craft.
If you don’t have natural rhyming abilities suggested above, use a rhyming dictionary. It will help stir up ideas and help with making connections with your thoughts. Even the most skilled song writers need to work through finding ways to creatively express their thoughts and in keeping relevant.
Look to artists you admire. If you know your genre, then take lessons from those who’ve inspired you or you’ve enjoyed listening to. Never try to copy exactly how others sound. Be inspired, but also creative and unique!
Have a hook
This is essentially the catch phrase of the song. And the number one way people remember a song! Commercials use jingles because they know it will stay in your head. A good song can have a fun, captivating, catchy, memorable hook.
This helps in identifying the song and in delivering the message of the overall theme. This is also known as the chorus. It can take place at the beginning, after a verse, and/or at the end as well. I personally like to wait til after the first verse.
EXAMPLE (rap hook of On ‘Top of the World’):
“On top of the world, gonna call my girl/ Hook her up with diamonds and pearls
She’ll get her hair done, I’ll give up my gun. Head into the city gonna have some fun!”
(repeat 2 to 4x)
EXAMPLE (rock chorus of ‘New Horizons’):
“New Horizons, a shining rising sun!….
New Horizons, The journey’s just begun!
Blazing through with a smoking gun…
Blood sweat and tears was how the west was won!
Sometimes you will have the hook/chorus ready, other times it presents itself after the first verse (or entire song). There isn’t a necessity to have it first, but it will help in directing the writing process if it comes sooner.
Sometimes a rap song won’t repeat the hook. It depends on beat length and also hook length. The repeat is essentially optional in all cases.
Write an average of 2 to 3 verses
It is protocol to have at least two verses in a song on top of the hook or chorus. This is where you have free-range to really express yourself. Make sure to keep in theme and that the content is relative to your message.
You wouldn’t want to be writing about tractors on a farm and have a verse about soccer. A great song makes sense (well, not all the time). The artist Beck, for example, is known to blend zany nonsensical lyrics in his music. Remember, it’s your song; and if you want to get crazy with the cheese-whiz, go for it!!
If you have the music structure, then you will know how much ‘word fill’ it will take to layer the music. This includes the verse count. Once again, keep with the theme. In alternate verses, you can play with perspective; expressing the same theme in a different character, situational point of view, progressions, or any relative subject of the theme.
If you write out an entire song without music, then you’ll of course need to dress it up with music that has the matching rhythm and emotional feel.
Let’s continue with my real time examples to show, in verse, different perspectives.
Top of The World Verse 2:
“Cream of the crop, Got to the top all on my own, started with a pager UPGRADE! flagship phone
No extra cost cellular roam, Calling mama from the plane halfway ’round the world reaching home!
Touchdown in Paris, Horse and carriage, But your boy’s a player and there’s no time for marriage.
Don’t disparage, There’s no time to settle down. I’m forming and army; spreading roots in every town!”
New Horizons Verse 2:
Onward bound!… Never fear your threats, I conquer NOW!
Onward bound! Marching forward, through the next town!
I was born for this, it really doesn’t have an end!
I was born for this, it’s the time I chose to spend!
Stay out of my way, I’m a warrior on a mission! I have yet to be defeated.
I won’t stop til I reach the after world, and for their sake, BETTER BE GREETED!! (scream in rocker high voice tone)
Writing a song is a fun, creative, even venting, process. Keep in mind that it doesn’t always happen right away. A song can be written in an hour(s), a couple days, weeks, or months (hopefully not months). The fresher you keep it in mind, the faster you can complete it.
Take your time in the process. It’s okay to write all that comes to mind if you’re not in the flow. Bleed it out. It gives you more material to use and help refine your song. Use what works now. There’s a great possibility you’ll gain ideas and have additional ammo for your next project.
These steps will be a great guideline if you are a beginner and have never written a song.
The more you practice, the stronger this skill will become. The brain is a like a muscle that needs exercise. Creative writing is the work-out session. Reading (more) is/can be a supplement. It exposes you to new words, relative-to-new ideas, and gets the mind gears moving and pumped up! It upgrades your brain.
Remember, there is no specific order to this process. The most important part is writing down ideas. People find their own personal structure. These steps cover the general process to get you started and find your direction!
So go and make the next top 40 hit. I’d like to hear Casey Kasem tell a story, make a dedication, and play your song! He is still alive, right?