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Lyric/Song-Writing Don'ts?

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Chris C
Famed Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 3454

What I am saying is that it's the minutiae of songwriting that keeps getting discussed - over and over and over again.
While the actual structure of the song gets completely ignored.

I would just like to see a shift towards discussing that/those aspects a bit more.

Ken, I'm 100% with ya there mate. :)

We probably overdo examining some of the details, partly because they are they are the simplest ones to describe, and - as you say - they often tend to be the rhymes and other easily explainable 'rules'. But often the real magic - the voodoo of it all - is very tough to pin down (especially when the all-important music is absent). For instance, right now I'm upstairs, but floating up through the floor is a KD Lang CD that I bought today. I can't even hear the lyrics, but the effect is still brilliantly beautiful. Opera can at times move me to tears, despite being in a language that I can't speak or read..... 8)

I completely agree that there's so much more to songs than just the words themselves, but it's a tough one to discuss on a flat page. It's one reason why I'm now trying to only post songs that I have written music for. Without the musical accompaniment and the singer's phrasing it seems somehow two dimensional and incomplete.

Mmmmmm... I can hear the sound of a fish dinner beginning to arrive at the table......



Nick Torres
Illustrious Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 5381

Why are you assigning my comment of twisting sentence structure to force a rhyme as an amateur mistake to everything else you discuss? Please don't. By the way, that isn't just my opinion. Pick up any good lyric book, DVD, seminar, class, course of study and you'll find they say the same thing.


If you can't find a rhyme you know
to your thesaurus, you should go


If we want our audience to adore us
we should pick up our Roget's thesaurus.

I don't see any problems with the verse you posted. Can you tell me where the first half of a sentence is moved to the end in order to make the rhyme? What is it that you think that I think is an amateur mistake? The structure is fine, the rhymes are near, the order is right and the story is understandable. Read it out loud and it sounds like natural speech.

Perfect rhyme is okay, although it hasn't been used strictly since Cole Porter days. There are at least four or five different types of rhyme and I don't care which you use. But, if you have perfect 90% of the way through, don't leave one line as near rhyme. It will stick out like a sore thumb. You could certainly leave one as not rhyming at all for effect. Pick something, be consistent.

When you teach a child to play piano, do you encourage the artistic first? Maybe....."Here you go, just bang away" After paying for 1 or 2 of those lessons, I can tell you I'm looking for someone who will start teaching a song or a scale.

What's wrong with your lyric? From what perspective? From the perspective of someone who teaches songwriting? Do you really want to know? If I told you would you just say that you aren't interested in the rules? What's the point? Go write and be happy.

New writers tend to have trouble with structure. Once they get that they hang on to it and forget the story.
The best writers take a story and tell it in lyric format so naturally it almost sounds like they are talking. You go back and look at the Dylan verse. You see bad structure and mistakes? I see an almost perfect verse.

Regarding story telling, I wrote in Songwriting for Beginners "Content dictates form, not the other way around" and this:

11. Even if your lyric doesn't tell a story, it takes the form of a story. It has a beginning, middle and end.

Number 11 is the subject of much confusion. There is a big difference between a story song, like old folk songs, and a story line. I think we decided to call this the “Song Agenda” or “Song Progression”, but the more I think of it, the more I like plain old “Story”. You may write a silly story with no point, a clever story, fable, parable, that it obvious fiction, a review or description of some thing, or an old fashioned folk tale, or even a true story, but they all have a timeline or agenda or progression from start to finish.

Even if a lyric has no story, it has a beginning, middle and end. Heck, even if a song is an instrumental it develops from beginning to middle to end.

Make sure you know what your story/agenda/progression is.

If you get lost while writing, take a couple of minutes to write a paragraph describing how your song develops from beginning to end. Best of all, go to number 12.

12. Write down the story you want to tell in a couple of sentences before you start the lyric. You can revisit this later if you get stuck.

Usually I do this after the initial burst of writing subsides. Then I organize my thoughts into a progression.

13. Make sure your lyric pulls the listener through from beginning to end.

Number 13 is the reason for 11 and 12. The listener should want to hear what comes next. They should be waiting for the exciting, (or not) conclusion. If you give it all away in the first verse, what is the reason the listener won't just tune out?

Noble Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 1247

Sorry Nick....
It was a diatribe against the minutiae, and perhaps I wrongly made you out to be the poster boy.

Anyway - Now we're getting somewhere! :twisted:

****I must stress, that I am not saying that we should drop the rules of songwriting and go all free-form;
quite the contrary.... I'm trying to introduce more structure and more rules.
Nor am I making myself out to be a know-it-all when it comes to songwriting.... nor do I think anybody else here is either.
I am just ready to reach furthur.... If that is unobtainable here and I'm asking too much, just let me know....
I will go away.

Anyway - I was mulling things over on the road today, and I thought perhaps I was going about this all the wrong way.
Maybe I should introduce a question (inspired by what Chris posted).
What is it that makes a song lyric great?

Saying that you thought the Dylan verse was near perfect because it was close to real speech was a good start.

What about this:

Look up, what do you see?
All of you and all of me
Fluorescent and starry
Some of them, they surprise

The bus ride, I went to write this, 4:00 a.m.
This letter
Fields of poppies, little pearls
All the boys and all the girls sweet-toothed
Each and every one a little scary
I said your name

I wore it like a badge of teenage film stars
Hash bars, cherry mash and tinfoil tiaras
Dreaming of Maria Callas
Whoever she is
This fame thing, I don't get it
I wrap my hand in plastic to try to look through it
Maybelline eyes and girl-as-boy moves
It can take you far
This star thing, I don't get it

Maybe it's obvious, maybe it's not, but this is the kinda of stuff that inspires me and I wish I could write more like that.

Sorry I don't have time to write more.... have to get going again.


ps - please feel free to critique my lyric Nick.
It doesn't bother me that you probably don't like it.... Most people don't care for my lyrics and I'm fine with that.
You're right, I probably wont change anything in the song.... that doesn't mean that
what you have to say about it won't have an influence on my lyrics in the future though.

"The man who has begun to live more seriously within
begins to live more simply without"
-Ernest Hemingway

"A genuine individual is an outright nuisance in a factory"
-Orson Welles

New Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 2

Don't write about the fact that you will die for someone you love. Hell, if you would die, what will you gain anyhow ? Your love will surely find some other.

I think you are missing the whole point of subject. Not that I advocate writing about dying for someone, but the saying has merit. If you truly love someone you will die for them because you are putting their life above your own. If you are thinking selfishly about what you will get from it then what is that really saying about your actual love for the person? Maybe you're thinking in terms of stupid kids hurting themselves because they can't be with the one they like, but think of a situation where someone would sacrifice themselves to save someone they love. Or like most people think of it as just a symbolic gesture. It may be cliche but it does have merit.

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