How to Create Better Song Lyrics

2017-12-08 Essay


by Wendy M. Hamilton

Lyrics are the words to a song. Through lyrics a songwriter conveys feelings, emotions, sets a tone or a mood, conveys truth or opinion, and tells a story to anyone who listens to the song. The words matter. However, for new and seasoned lyricists coming up with fresh ways to present words in a song can be a struggle. New songwriters tend to want to mimic the songs they hear so their songs sound a lot like someone else’s song and have similar words and melodies. Seasoned songwriters have a different problem and find that they tend write what they have written before and their new songs may sound like their old songs and they struggle with saying an old thought in a new way.

There are key methods or processes that songwriters can employ to ensure that their song lyrics are current and relevant, and they present new ideas every time. For lyricists to create better song lyrics they need to develop their ability to write, hon their powers of observation and they need to cultivate their songwriter’s heart.

Develop the Ability to Write

Every lyricist must consider the technical aspect of songwriting, create the habit of writing and, as a songwriter, present songs. From a technical aspect, every song has two parts-the words and the music. A lyricist primarily develops the words to a song. Not every lyricist has the skillset or ability to additionally write the music to a song just as not every musician is able to write the words to the song. If you are a lyricist, then you focus on the words to a song.

Song lyrics are like but not exactly like poetry. Every song follows standard formatting and few songs allow much variation from this formatting. In poetry writing a poet writes lines which combine into stanzas which develop the poem. A poet writes a poem with a rhyme scheme or a free verse poem with no rhyme scheme. In a song, a lyricist writes lines which develop into couplets (two lines next to each other than rhyme) or stanzas of 4 to 6 lines with varying rhyme scheme or rhyme patterns that develop into the parts of a song structure-including verses, chorus and bridge.

Rhyme scheme is the structure of how lines of a song rhyme. When a lyricist rhymes in couplets the rhyme pattern is AABB.

When I write a song to sing,
It’s the words I bring.
I want them to have a say,
In everything, I play.

In this example “sing” and “bring” rhyme and “say” and “play” rhyme.

When lyricists write in triplet then the rhyme scheme is AAABBB

When I write songs to sing,
It’s the words I bring.
Words are powerful things.
I have much to say,
Words are the way,
My heart loves to play.

In that example, “sing”, “bring” and “things” form the AAA rhyme and “say”, “way” and “play” form the BBB rhyme.

An enclosed rhyme scheme is ABBA.

Words are my way,
In the songs I sing,
My thoughts I bring;
With words, I play.

Alternate rhyme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH and so on.

Words are my way,
In the songs I sing,
With words, I play;
My thoughts I bring.

A ballad would be song with multiple stanzas in the rhyme scheme of ABABBCBC followed by final ending of BCBC.

Words are my way,
In the songs I sing,
With words, I play;
My thoughts I bring.

Words are needed things
When right not wrong
To add to what we sing,
To create the song.

Words are needed things,
They’re right, not wrong,
To add to what we sing.
To create the song.

Some popular songs today employ the use of tercets or three-line stanzas to create a Terza Rima rhyme scheme that interlocks from one stanza to the next as ABA BCB CDC DED.

Words are my way
In the songs I sing,
I embrace the play.

Let truth ring
Cast a glance
My emotions bring.

Take the chance
Risk it all
Dance the dance

I won’t fall.
It’s who I am
Words are all.

As a lyricist your best songs stretch you and your skills every time. If you want to write better songs you need to push yourself to be better and embrace the challenge of new and different. If you find that you tend to use the same rhyme scheme every time or be a ABAB or a ABBA or a AABB lyricist, challenge yourself to be creative and try to say the same thing in a different way. Each lyric example above says the same thing but not in the same way. The unique rhyme scheme selected shapes the sound of the song.

The Habit of Writing

As a lyricist you are a writer and writers write. The habit of writing is a muscle that lyricist develop through time and use. When I was 8 years old I wrote my first song about a boy named Kazoo who tried to tie his shoes and tried until his fingers turned blue, but he could not tie his shoes. Imagine if that was the only song I wrote and did not spend time developing my use of words and rhyme schemes. Every lyricist can only get better and we get better by writing, writing and more writing.

As you develop the habit of writing you will need to set time in your daily and weekly schedule to write. You are a writer, you write. This becomes an appointment with yourself that you keep because you value and honor your craft as a writer and you are created to write.

When you keep that writing appointment with yourself you can take several ways to approach the experience of writing.

You can free write. This means you sit and you write what comes to you. In this mode, you let the words flow and then you can shape them later into a rhyme scheme that fits. This approach allows new lyricists to develop the habit of writing and is a popular way that seasoned lyricists warm up to their best writing.

You can parody. In a parody translation, you will write new words to an old song. If you are more of a lyricist or wordsmith and not a musician this may become your favorite way of tapping into your best songs. Lyricists who are not musicians developing their own original songs tend to get stuck in a rhyme scheme rut and every song they write has the same flow, same sound, and same feel. When you write new words to an old song this allows you to let the music move you and create new word pictures. If you are new at this technique, use instrumental versions of songs to write fresh lyrics to. The more you use this method the easier it is for you to listen to the full song (with words and music) and as you are listen to one set of words you write the song within the song or, expressed another way, you write a new set of words.

You can collaborate. Songwriting collaboration is my favorite method of songwriting. In collaboration, you pair with other songwriters and musicians and get-together to write songs. As a lyricist, you are a necessary and needed part of this grouping. Musicians who receive and create unique melodies or riffs and harmonies can write their own lyrics, but I find that often the musical talent in a musician is stronger than their writing talent. As a lyricist, you will find that the music generates the words and the words generate the music. When we collaboratively write songs, each person functions from their place of strength and all of the super powers combine to create, together, a better song than what we could create individually.

As a lyricist the technical aspect or rhyme scheme matters, and the habit of writing needs to be developed but at some point, if you are a songwriter you need to present your songs.

Presenting your songs is the scariest part of being a songwriter. As lyricists, our songs often come from a deep place. We are putting ourselves into the song, expressing our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Sharing our songs-our words/our lyrics-opens the possibility that we may be rejected.

There is no other way to say this than to say, your work-your words and lyrics-will be rejected more times than your work will be excepted. If you know that going in to the process of presenting your songs, then you can be pleasantly surprised when your work is accepted and incorporated or produced into a song.

Knowing that no lyricist has their work produced every time should give you hope. You want your lyrics to find the best home and the right musician and the right artist to display your work. This takes time and patience. As you are waiting, keep writing. Keep developing your habit of songwriting. Exercise the creative muscle of songwriting. You are a writer, you write. Work on your technical skills. Learn music theory. Try out some new and creative rhyme schemes. Play around with song structure. Not every song needs to be verse, chorus, bridge.

Push the boundary and experiment with introduction (coda), verse, pre-chorus, bridge, and conclusion. Imagine what a free spoken or ad lib part would sound like in your song and write it. Add a second bridge. Wrap up your song with one key spoken phrase after the music fades.

Your best songs may not fit the standard structure and formatting. Your best songs come from you being the best you.

Hon Your Powers of Observation

Your ability to see life will influence your songwriting. The best songwriters connect to the thoughts and emotions that people feel, they understand what is going on in the world and they know who they are.

You may write songs to pay the bills but if you are good at what you do you will write songs because you are a songwriter and songwriters write. True lyricists process the world around them through song. They translate the emotions they feel about their relationships, what is happening in the economy and what is happening on local, national, or global stages through words.

When the words of a song resonate then the listener to that song knows that you, as the lyricist, said what they wanted to say or felt what they wanted to feel. To be able to speak for other using the lyrics to songs you need study people.

You need to study relationships between father and son, dad and daughter, a mom and her mom, a new mom with her new baby. You need to know the interplay in a romantic relationship at the fiery, passionate beginnings and how couples must dig deep when the relationship is a shadow of what they once knew. You need to see what happens in a person’s heart, mind, and soul when they lose someone they love. If you cannot draw from your own journey, you need to vicariously live the experience of someone else and walk that path of celebration, success, joy, the wins in life and then the losses, the sadness, the hard goodbyes.

Great lyricists are experts of thought and emotions. We find many ways to describe love. We use words and songs to mark milestones and transitions incorporated within personal, local, national, or global events. Lyricists connect to a collective story.

When you understand what is going on in the world around you, you can write songs, for example, that talk about the fear that people feel when governmental power changes hands or during the implementation of a new economy structure. We can give people the words to grieve a loss of what once was but as lyricists our words have power and we can shape cultural belief and acceptance with a song.

Through the words of a song we can shape thoughts, feelings, and emotions. We can give to people something they may not have before. Our words can give hope, answers, and an outlet for tough emotions.

You, as a lyricist, have a super power.

As lyricists, who hon our ability to see the world around us, we accept a stewardship of the stories of others. A hundred years from now the people or events that inspire a song may not be alive or the historical record may be lost, but songs can stand the test of time. Songs allow people to feel and connect to a deeper part of themselves and to others. With a song, we remember.

To write our best songs, we need to cultivate our songwriter’s heart.

The Songwriter’s Heart

Our developed ability to see the world around us and feel emotions (ours and the emotions of others) combined with our drive to improve our songs technically and structurally are strengths that can turn to weaknesses if we do not cultivate or care for our songwriter’s heart. When we observe all that we observe, and we feel all that we open ourselves up to feel in order to generate our best songs, this place of vulnerability can overwhelm even the most seasoned songwriter. Even the most logical songwriter steeped in technique and theory cannot stay in the posture of getting things just right or perfect all the time. Lyricists need breaks from writing lyrics. Lyricists have to take breaks from development in order to develop the person they are, not only the products they create.

Because we receive more than what we can turn into songs, we need to take the time to rest and download what we will not use. Said another way, we must let go and find ways to relax, play and not work.

Those that can rest, reset, and have other outlets and venues to cultivate the songwriting or lyric writing abilities are happier. They cope better. Whether you are processing your own emotions or the emotions of others through songs, feeling is tough. We must take a break from the work or the difficult emotions and play. Taking necessary time to laugh and experience joy especially when working on songs with an opposite feeling or emotion is beneficial to the songwriter’s heart.

When we are well-rested, and our bodies are not sleep-deprived, we are better able to generate ideas, connect thoughts and phrases throughout the song and come up with better words to describe an old topic in a new way.

When we reset, we are rebooting our system, so we can work more efficiently and effectively. In a reset we can let go of disappointments or setbacks and celebrate who we are as a lyricist in this stage of our journey.

When we experience other enjoyable outlets, and connect with other forms of art (i.e. plays, movies, art, sculpture, wood working) or activities (hiking, swimming, taking a vacation or holiday), then that experience will fuel our creativity.

We do not take away from our work by cultivating and caring for our songwriter’s heart. When we care for our songwriter’s heart we add to the depth of who we are which will only improve our ability to connect to the world around us and write better songs and enjoy our own unique, amazing journey as lyricists.

Wendy M. Hamilton is a teacher of writing and songwriting at Inspired Life Ministries, a creative arts ministry, located in Dallas, Texas (USA), and partners with multiple organizations to equip and encourage writers and songwriters. She is the published author of many songs, books and devotionals including her one-month devotional for moms, 30 Verses to Heal a Mama’s Heart, available on and Amazon Europe.