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How to Write: Song Lyrics

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I've never thought about song writing as a weapon. I've only thought about it as a way to help me get through love and loss and sadness and loneliness and growing up. --- Taylor Swift

So you listen to music all day, every day and you want to try your hand at writing a song too. But that sounds so difficult, you think. “How could I possibly write something that is even remotely comparable to The Beatles, All Time Low or Justin Bieber?”

There is no need, however, for you to fret, dear reader. In the true writing of a song, it only really matters if the meaning and the words mean something special to you. Try to write for yourself, or if not, write for someone close to you.

In the words of Irving Berlin, “You can't write a song out of thin air. You have to feel and know what you are writing about.”

With those words of wisdom in mind, before you start writing your lyrics, think about your life. What is meaningful to you? What do you hold close to your heart? Spend a few minutes to list these thoughts. Think about anything and everything that you hold even remotely close to your heart. If you’re stuck for ideas, consider:

  • your family and/or friends
  • memories/significant events
  • emotions and feelings
  • dreams/ambitions

Once you feel you have a comprehensive list, go through your ideas and choose one or two that are related, and that you can relate strongly to. These will be used as your theme and the subject of your song.

Now that you have your definitive theme, you are almost ready to start writing your lyrics. In writing your song, you should consider the structure that you wish to use. A frequently used song structure of today is: intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. It’s not necessary to use this exact structure. Your song can have as many verses as you like, or if you prefer a different music style, don’t hesitate to Google the general structure of those songs. Knowing the overall meaning and use of these terms may help you in your writing:

  • Intro:
    • The opening section to your composition, the intro often sets the tone and pace of your song
  • Verse:
    • A group of lines that forms a section of your song. They usually have the same melody.
    • Each has different lyrics that provide more information about your meaning/theme.
  • Chorus:
    • The chorus is the main refrain that is usually repeated after each verse
    • The lyrics in this part tend to summarise the message of your song, and often contains the title
  • Bridge:
    • A singular verse that differs in lyrics, melody and sometimes chord progression from the rest of the song
    • It often acts as a pre-chorus to build anticipation or tension

Once you have decided on your song structure, you are now definitely ready to write your lyrics. If you’re having trouble starting, feel free to listen to others’ music or look to your surroundings for creative inspiration. By no means do your lyrics need to be written in one sitting, however there are a few guidelines and tips to keep in mind:

  • As long as the song genuinely expresses your feelings then it’s a good song.

When you write, the first and foremost point to remember is that you are writing for yourself, to express yourself. Don’t try to adjust your words or your ideas to suit the industry or the market. Although it’s a wonderful thing if your lyrics and song touches others’ hearts or makes them want to dance, it’s not nearly as satisfying if it means nothing to you. In contrast, many songs today are popular because they’re so relatable and this is because the artists themselves can personally relate to the songs they’re performing.

  • You’ve chosen your path so don’t stray too far!

At the beginning of this process, you spent some time thinking of a theme or a message that you want to base your song around. Do your best to stick to your chosen topic because if you stray too far, your song will be a tad hectic and nonsensical. If you’re stuck for words, adjectives and imagery are often a good way to go. They can help to paint a fuller picture of what you’re trying to convey. However, don’t use too many, or else you may lose the meaning in your words. Some great examples of imagery used in songs include:

  • Katy Perry’s Firework: “Baby, you’re a firework.  Come on, let your colours burst. Make them go, ‘Oh!  Oh! Oh!’ As you shoot across the sky”
  • The Beatles’s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: “A girl with kaleidoscope eyes”
  • Wicked the Musical’s For Good: “You’ll be with me Like a handprint on my heart”

As you write your lyrics, turn back and run through them. Does it sound like you want it to? If not, do you want to change it or are you happy with what you have? Continue to revise and rewrite until you’re completely happy with your product.

Once you’ve finished your song, the final piece to add is a title. You may have thought of a ground-breaking title while you were writing but if not, never fear. When deciding on your title, consider the length and the relevance of it to your song. Try not to make your title too long, maybe just a small phrase, so that it’s more memorable.

Often times you can find it within the verses or chorus of your song. Titles are generally the lines that are repeated within the chorus and sometimes even within the verses. If you’re really stuck, you can always go around and ask friends or family for their opinions.

With the discovery of your title, you are done! You’ve accomplished a great feat! Overtime, don’t forget about the song or songs you write. Look back at them and you can revise and rewrite them or even record them. And don’t stop at just one song! If you found this first one particularly difficult, then keep practicing! Nobody is perfect the first time around. Maybe one day you’ll be a famous lyricist or songwriter, you never know.

Tip: If you would like to add music to your lyrics, you can use an instrumental or classical track of a premade song (make sure to put up a disclaimer). Alternatively, if you’re confident in your music skills, you can create your own chord progression. Try to get your chords match your melody (the tune that your lyrics are sung/rapped/etc. in).  For a relatively simple backing track, you can use the same set of chords throughout the entirety of your song. If you want to challenge yourself, try thinking of different progressions for each part of the song (e.g. verse, chorus, bridge). Remember that minor chords are typically used in sad songs while major chords are for more upbeat ones.