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Writing Song Lyrics Is Not a Musical Talent

Updated on June 2, 2017
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Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

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I don't know how many musicians I have met over the years that have only used the lyrics written by other musicians as a learning resource for writing their own. Many of them would only look at the works of the musicians that they admire for inspiration. However, writing song lyrics is not a musical talent. It is a literary one and the best resources or examples one could use are literary ones.

Now, obviously, the words to a song have to be something that would fit with the timing of the music. So there is a certain rhythmic pattern to it. But poetry has a rhythmic pattern to it as well. If I were to take lyrics that someone else wrote and just tried to force them to go with just any music, it probably wouldn't work unless I got lucky. So the rhythmic pattern of the lyrics need to match the music.

Given the fact that writing song lyrics is more of a literary talent than musical, the best sources of inspiration should be literary as well. In this internet age, you could find a lot of those sources online in a simple search but I could give you a few ideas as well.

Anything having to do with poetry would be a great source. I know a lot of people may believe that poetry is sappy and overly sentimental but there are a variety of subjects used in poetry. It's not all sappy love poetry, there are other subjects from which you may derive inspiration.

Newspaper headlines have actually been the source of song lyrics used in some pretty famous songs over the years. When John Lennon wrote "A Day in the Life", he got his inspiration from reading the newspaper. The song starts out with the line "I read the news today, oh boy" and he took it from there.

Some song lyrics are just word play. That was something else John Lennon toyed around with. A lot of rap lyrics have word play but may often place a lot of emphasis on rhyming. A rhyming dictionary could be a valuable tool used in the writing of song lyrics. A thesaurus could be very helpful as well. Every song writer should probably have both.

The main point I am trying to convey here is that the song lyrics written by other musicians should not be your only inspiration for writing your own. They are great to use as examples of certain writing techniques but there are so many other sources you could use for inspiration. You could even rely upon chance. One thing I have done in the past was open a book to a random page, closed my eyes and pointed to a spot on the page. Then I would open my eyes to see what sentence it may have landed on. On a few occasions, I had actually stumbled upon a good opening line. Then I would just elaborate from there and use my creativity to finish it up.

A lot of song lyrics from the beginning of the rock and roll era to present day are pretty lame. Certain groups have had the tendency to write song lyrics that only pertain to subjects and themes that lack substance, like partying, drinking, committing acts of violence and so forth. Sure, I like to have a good time as much as the next guy and it's okay to have some songs here and there that are just meant to be fun or humorous. After a while, though, it may become tiresome for some people to listen to.

One thing you can do before setting out to write lyrics is to compile a list of subjects you would like to write about. Then, when you get an idea pertaining to any of those subjects, you could write the idea down directly under the subject it pertains to. Over time, you could compile a number of ideas pertaining to each of the subjects on your list. Eventually, you may have enough under one of those subjects to really start working on the lyrics for one of your songs.

No song has to be written all in one sitting. I think that is a common misconception on the part of a lot of musicians. I have written a number of songs piece by piece. I had some parts that had been created years before pieced together with new ideas to become a newly completed song. Always keep your old ideas around. Don't throw anything away. If it's a piece of music, record it. If it's song lyrics, type them up and save them on your computer somewhere. You never know when you might come up with new ideas that may fit well with the old ones.

You could be the best musician on the face of the planet but you could also be the worst lyricist on the face of the planet as well. That is why it is so important to look at song lyrics more from a literary standpoint than a musical one. Even when you look at the lyrics written by other musicians, you still need to analyze them from a literary point of view. After all, writing song lyrics is not a musical talent.


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