There are many ways to write good lyrics to a song (or a poem). This article will present some different ideas, hopefully to help you consider some new avenues for your songwriting that you may not have thought of before.
When you look at successful song lyrics, in order to sound original, they tend to avoid trite phrases and often embrace tension, dissonance, or unexpected directions. The following are some strategies to consider for writing your own song lyrics:
Some songs are distinct because they contain plays on words. For example:
- “You are my greatest mistake.” (Sheryl Crow)
- “The only thing that looks good on me is you.” (Bryan Adams)
Some songs seem compelling because of ambiguity (what does the singer actually mean?) or what the songs leave out. It leaves a person guessing. For example:
- “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that…” (Meatloaf)
- “Because the night”
- “Don’t call me daughter, not fair to me.” (Pearl Jam)
Surprising people with a phrase that is totally unexpected can deliver a big effect. For example:
- “I may not always love you…” in God Only Knows
Some songs tell a story or a tale of some interesting experience or encounter.
- “A long, long time ago…” in Don McLean’s American Pie
- “The Story of my Life” by Deana Carter
Many songs pose questions, some of which may not have answers. For example,
- “Why do birds suddenly appear?” by the Carpenters
- “What’s my name?”, “Who wants to know?”, “Who am I?”
Many songs use a repeated word or phrase. For instance, count the number of repeated words in the following songs:
- “I Believe” by Blessid Union of Souls
- “Every Breath You Take” by the Police
Some songs have lurid, descriptive words that paint a scene:
- “The screen door slams; Mary’s dress waves…’
- “I see Maryanne walking away…”
Avoid cliches.. Unless you can add a new twist!
You should steer clear of the following cliches, unless you can add an unexpected, refreshing twist to them:
- heartbeat like a drum
- all night long
- you are my fire.. desire
- stood in the rain.. pain.. insane
- cold as ice
- fire in your eyes
- catch me when I fall
There are endless other ways to write a good song lyric. Some approaches that have worked for others:
- Geography (e.g. songs like California Dreamin, Kansas City, Living in America, Carolina on my Mind)
- Names (e.g. “Amanda”, “Eileen”, “Mandy”, “Virginia”, and countless others)
- Telephone numbers and letters
- Memories and time (songs centered around past, present, or future, e.g. “In my Life”, “Summer Holiday”, “Rock Around the Clock”, “Monday Monday”, etc.)
(e.g. songs like “Jenny”, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”)
What’s Important to You?
Another idea is to consider the themes that are important in your own life (what you have passion about, whether it’s the environment, religion, politics, a hobby) and to write songs related to those themes. Sometimes a heartfelt song can be the best ones.
Remember to have fun!