Music

Writing Lyrics: Using Themes & Motifs

John Legend

Lesson time 11:27 min

John shows you how to use lyrical motifs and themes in your songwriting to make an impact on your listener.

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Topics include: Writing Lyrics: Using Themes & Motifs

Preview

[MUSIC PLAYING] - There are a lot of things happening when you're writing a song. So sometimes you're setting up a scene. So you want people to see where you are in this story. You want to describe the club you're in when you meet this girl. You want to give details about the argument that you're having with someone or the moment that you're in so that people understand the perspective that you're writing from. And then sometimes the lyric has a conceit to it. So let's talk about my song "Again" and talk about the lyric writing for that. So for "Again," the simple idea, the simple conceit was about time. So-- [PLAYS CHORD ON PIANO] (SINGING) the first time we ever got a chance to be alone we knew-- Telling the story. But every time I'm talking about a time. (SINGING) --it was wrong to do. I guess that's why I was drawn to you. The second time leads to the third, the fifth, the seven time. So I'm talking about the story as a series of times. The first time the second time leads to the third, the fifth, the seventh time. Why did I skip from three to five to seven? Honestly, because I needed a two-syllable number. And the first one is seven. So (SINGING) the second time leads to the third, the fifth, the seventh time. I didn't want to say the third, the fourth, the fifth time. The seventh sounds better. So you always have to think about how it sounds, in addition to what you're trying to say. So-- (SINGING) The second time leads to the third, the fifth, the seventh time. And someone pointed out my next three numbers after the second were three, five, seven, which is like a gun. But I didn't do that on purpose. But interesting that that ended up happening. (SINGING) The second time leads to the third, the fifth, the seventh time. I feel so alive. It won't last. But it's all right. And then the next part, I'm coming out of "it won't last. But it's all right." So what can I do with the next melding? (SINGING) Fleeting joy and fading ecstasy. So I already say-- I already establish it won't last, but it's all right. I'm just going to enjoy this fleeting moment. (SINGING) Fleeting joy and fading ecstasy. Then (SINGING) Here goes again, oh. Using again. (SINGING) Sneaking fruit from the forbidden tree, sweet taste of sin. Of course forbidden tree-- I'm a church boy. Forbidden tree, it's about Adam and Eve and fruit from the forbidden tree and the sweet taste of sin. (SINGING) And I'm doing it again. Simple. (SINGING) And I'm doing it again. Repetitive. (SINGING) And I'm doing it again. Said it would end. But here it goes again. So you notice the lyric is all about each time, this time, first time, second time, third time, fifth time, seventh time. So it's about doing something again and again. Second verse, I start with-- (SINGING) This time you told me you saw me at the same hotel. Same motel, sorry. So we start with a couple that when they start thei...

About the Instructor

When 12-time Grammy winner John Legend released “Free” in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, he called it a prayer for peace. Now the recipient of the first-ever Recording Academy Global Impact Award teaches you how he wrote and recorded the song—and his process for creating hits like “All of Me” and “Glory.” Layer melodies and lyrics, develop your musical point of view, and make music that makes the moment.

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John Legend

John Legend, the EGOT-winning music icon and coach on “The Voice,” teaches you his process for creating music with impact.

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