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The Secret to Writing Great Lyrics

By Rena Justine:

Photo from Pexels

It’s one thing to know how to play an instrument and compose music, but it’s another to master the art of songwriting. In a music industry made all the more saturated by the advent of online streaming, your lyrics can be a powerful tool for connecting and resonating with listeners. While there’s a prevailing notion that songwriting is a skill you either have or you don’t, an article in the music publication Hypebot assures aspiring musicians that this is just a myth. In fact, becoming a better songwriter who crafts creative and impactful lyrics is possible through time, effort, and the following secrets to success.

Harness the Power of Imagery

As with any form of writing, imagery is the weapon you wield to better tap into and stimulate not just the ears but all the senses of the listener. Take, for example, how Grammy-award-winning singer and songwriter Fiona Apple explores lyrical imagery in her latest album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters. While she utilizes vivid and visceral metaphors across all tracks, it is in the title song where she truly harnesses the power of creating a visual world—one where bolt cutters are the only implements required to break free from the prison she finds herself in. You can incorporate imagery in your own songs by practicing sensory writing with the principle of “show, don’t tell.” It also helps to read your lyrics out loud, as though you were in a conversation with yourself, to ensure that the words paint a picture while still being natural and authentic.

Incorporate Storytelling

Storytelling goes hand in hand with the striking imagery you use when writing lyrics. Similar to how novelists follow plot structures from exposition to resolution, think of your song as a narrative where the small moments can be sprinkled throughout the verses while the chorus contains the big message: the climax. Another way to build narrative worlds throughout your songs is to ground the lyrics in a specific setting. Floridian singer and songwriter Bacon James does so in his song "Lost and Found (at the Santa Fe)," centering the Santa Fe River as a place of solace and refuge for a man who is yet to find the way back to himself. Keep in mind, however, that specifying moments and places isn’t meant to alienate the listener; rather, these details add dimension to the story and transport audiences to the scene itself.

Balance Repetitions with Pattern Changes

The last thing to consider is that there are no rules in songwriting, only techniques. So don’t be afraid to break conventions and play around with the verses and the chorus. To illustrate, Max Martin, better known as the pen behind iconic hits such as Britney Spears’ ". . . Baby One More Time" and Backstreet Boys’ "I Want It That Way," uses "melodic math" as his formula for writing hit after hit.

But it's not exactly meant to be followed rigidly. Instead, the key is striking the right balance between hooking listeners with repetitive lines while also redirecting their attention with new song elements and alternating rhythms. In other words, experiment with lyrical repetition and changes in rhythmic patterns until you eventually create sharp contrasts between verses while still making the entire song memorable. As you incorporate these songwriting tips into your daily practice, don't hesitate to ask for feedback from the people around you. Whether it's one of your friends or a fellow musician, you get to open up an entirely new creative avenue when your lyrics and melodies alike are heard through a different ear. Interested in more about art, music, and writing? Check out the rest of our posts on Flapper Press.


Rena Justine

Rena Justine is a teaching consultant who provides guidance to schools across the country. Through her online articles, she hopes to impart her 10 years of experience to help others. She spends most of her free time in the park with her husband and three children.

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