By Jason Blume
I once read an interview with legendary songwriter Leonard
Cohen ("Suzanne"), in which he said that when he writes a
lyric, he might spend the day filling an entire notebook and
if one line actually makes it into the song, he's had a good
day! At first, that seemed incredible to me, but then I realized
that most songs don't have more than eight lines in each of
two verses (sixteen lines); a maximum of another eight lines
in the chorus, and at the most, another four lines of lyric
in the bridge. That's a total of 28 lines (and many songs
might have less).Taking 28 days to write a song with each
line being an extraordinary line could produce twelve incredible
songs per year. It's easier to get one great song published
and recorded than a hundred pretty good ones.
Exercise: Rewriting A Verse Lyric
In your notebook, rewrite each of the following verse lyrics
three times. For each rewrite, keep the idea the same, but
change the images and the specific words. Feel free to change
the length of the lines and where the rhymes occur. Remember
Keep it conversational
Use fresh imagery
Allow the listener to watch the scene unfold.
I held you close
That first night we danced
And when I took you home
I took a chance.
There's really good music
Where I go on Saturday nights
Everybody has a lot of fun
And they're feelin' alright.
When you said that you were leaving me
The first thing I did was cry
Then I got really angry
And then I told you why.
When you've completed the exercise, answer the following
Did you use detail?
Is the language conversational?
Does it incorporate fresh imagery?
Does the lyric allow the listener to watch the scene
Did the work get stronger with each rewrite?
Exercise: Rewriting The Lyrics To An Existing Song
Copy the lyric to a recent hit song that you love and wish
you had written. Be sure to select one that was written by
an outside writer. In crafting your new lyric, use the same
Basic Idea (positive love song, sad love song, social
Song Structure (A-A-B-A-A-B-A-B-C-B)
Number of Lines In Each Section
Rhyming Scheme (rhyme lines 2 & 4 in verses, 1&2 and
3&4 in chorus)
Approximate Number of Syllables in Each Line
Tone of the Lyric (clever, heartfelt, twists on words)
Create a new title, fresh images, and new ways to express
the essence of the original lyric while using the same set
of tools that led to success for the writer of the existing
Copyright © 1999 by Jason Blume
Excerpted from 6 Steps To Songwriting Success by Jason Blume.
Published by Billboard Books, an imprint of Watson-Guptill
Publications, New York, New York.