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Music

Simple Songwriting Guide: How to Write Song Lyrics in 7 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 28, 2020 • 2 min read

The art of songwriting combines many skills. In terms of music, a songwriter or a songwriting team must tackle song structure, melody, harmony, rhythm, and instrumentation. Beyond these musical components, songwriters must also tackle lyric writing. While there's no unifying secret to writing great lyrics, developing a writing process can keep you focused from the first line to the last.

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How to Write Song Lyrics in 7 Steps

Writing song lyrics tends to be a deeply personal creative process. Whether you're a singer-songwriter or a professional composer, you'll benefit from a reliable songwriting process. If you can learn to push past writer's block, you’ll be able to focus on writing the best lyrics for your song.

  1. Write your musical melodies first. While some singer-songwriters start with lyrics, a music-first method is more common. Try writing your melodies before you turn your focus to themes, subjects, and specific words. Establish a distinct melody for the verses, then move on to the pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge. Make time to work out an interesting chord progression under each of these melodies.
  2. Let your stream of consciousness guide you. After you've laid down your basic melodies—or perhaps even while you're writing them—allow yourself to improvise "dummy lyrics." These nonsense lyrics may not make it into the final draft, and they may not make sense, but a stream-of-consciousness style can help you understand what kind of lyrics your song "wants" to have. As you get a feel for the musical vibe you've created, begin improvising phrases and rhyming couplets that may later evolve into legitimately good lyrics.
  3. Identify phrases and vowel sounds you like. As you rework your dummy lyrics, find phrases and sounds that can serve as the foundation for your lyrics. Then, build better lyrics on top of that foundation. Since you’ll repeat chorus lyrics more than any other lines in your song, start by writing full lines for your chorus. Once your chorus is set, work on your first verse and proceed chronologically through the song.
  4. Settle on a theme and subject. Sometimes if you start by writing lyrics with a subject and a point of view, you might produce a song that's too literal. If you start writing lyrics with intuition and then refine with a specific theme, you can create a song that is more poetic.
  5. Finish the song. Once you've laid out the core phrases, lines, subject matter, and themes for your song, it's time to fill in the blanks. Work your way step-by-step through the whole song form. Keep working until you have an entire rough draft.
  6. Polish your work. Look at your rhyme schemes and determine if any of them seem forced. Use a rhyming dictionary if you’re struggling, and remember that not every couplet has to rhyme; some great songs contain no rhymes at all. Look for words and phrases you can punch up, but do so prudently. Good song lyrics flow naturally. You'll probably end up tweaking your lyrics quite a bit before you consider the song finished, and that's perfectly normal.
  7. Pick a song title. If you begin with a melody and stream-of-consciousness dummy lyrics, your musical composition will tell you what it naturally "wants" to be about. Therefore, there's no need to pick a title until the song fully presents itself to you. The title should service the song, not the other way around.

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