A Guest Post by Gary Fearon
Lyrics are often thought of as poetry that’s been set to music, and there’s truth to that. But writing lyrics for a song involves a unique structure very similar to writing a novel. Like chapters in a book, each section of the song (verse/chorus/bridge) tells a specific part of the story and ends on its own unique note.
The first verse establishes the premise and introduces the protagonist; that is, who the song is about:
“I was born a coal miner’s daughter…” (Coal Miner’s Daughter)
“We’re caught in a trap, I can’t walk out…” (Suspicious Minds)
“You think you lost your love, well I saw her yesterday…” (She Loves You)
Having set the stage, each verse section that follows expands further into the story, as in these second verses. They are more informative than introductory in nature:
“For forty days and for forty nights, law was on her side…” (Billie Jean)
“I know a man ain’t supposed to cry…” (I Heard It through the Grapevine)
“Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis, pumped a lot of ‘pane down in New Orleans…” (Proud Mary)
It’s not by accident that the most memorable part of a song is usually the chorus. The chorus delivers the main message and is so important that it’s repeated multiple times:
“Welcome to the Hotel California…” (Hotel California)
“I fell into a burnin’ ring of fire…” (Ring of Fire)
“I’m pickin’ up good vibrations…” (Good Vibrations)
While not present in every song, the bridge (that variation that occurs at roughly the 2/3 point) is an exposition. It digs deeper to reveal a perspective that offers new insight into the entire situation.
“Other arms reach out to me, other eyes smile tenderly…” (Georgia on My Mind)
“Oh, can’t you see, you belong to me…” (Every Breath You Take)
“On the day that you were born the angels got together…” (Close to You)
Once the whole story has been told, the chorus will reappear as a final chapter to hammer home the main point.
Listen to your favorites with an ear toward what specific message each section conveys and you’ll see that every effective song resembles the classic storytelling technique of beginning, middle and end.
Better yet, come to my presentation at the Mid-South Writers Conference on March 17th and I’ll show you how you can put your own words to music.
Gary Fearon is a songwriter, musicologist, writer, and Creative Director for Southern Writers Magazine. He has written over 300 songs and jingles for advertisers such as Polaroid and created countless song parodies for national radio shows including The Rush Limbaugh Show. A former Billboard Air Personality of the Year, his broadcast work has also been recognized by the Associated Press, Radio and Production, and over two dozen MARS awards for commercial production. His voice is heard daily on radio and TV stations across the USA and Canada.
An avid analyst of entertainment, he has studied thousands of hit songs from the perspectives of music theory, lyrical content and production value. His instructional book, A Guide to Songwriting Structure, is scheduled for publication in 2018. Visit Gary’s website at www.garyfearon.com.
Songwriting Shortcuts for the Writer
Finding the perfect music for your lyrics is easy with a few secret tricks geared especially to wordsmiths. Whether you’re a newcomer or an experienced songwriter, you’ll discover new and intuitive approaches to crafting memorable melodies in this entertaining, enlightening session.