Songwriting Tip: It’s a Conversation!

When writing most lyrics it’s a good idea to keep them conversational. Ask yourself if the lines and words you write are the way you would say them if you were talking to a friend. Or at least the way someone would. Someone average, not a rocket scientist.

The problems that occur when you don’t do that are numerous. There are exceptions but forced rhyme, writing over people’s head, reversing the natural order of words, and misuse of adjectives by trying too hard to be descriptive, to the point of getting freaky, are bad things most of the time.

If you have a rhyming dictionary or even if you’re offered access to a free rhyming dictionary online I wouldn’t recommend using it much, if at all. In general, if a rhyme word doesn’t come to mind easily, looking for obscure ways to force the rhyme by using unusual rhyming words or phrases is usually a dead end. Forced rhyme (imperfect rhyme words that hopefully are close to truly rhyming) is okay and lots of hits have forced rhymes but force a rhyme too much and it sounds like it. It takes the listener out of the word spell you’ve been weaving successfully to that point as they ponder the oddness of the line.

Using a regular dictionary is fine. You may need to verify what a word means and that’s okay, but don’t start looking for synonyms so you can exchange two syllables for four. You won’t appear “smart” so much as you’ll lose listeners who won’t know what you’re talking about. You didn’t until you looked it up, why would they? For the most part, choose words you’d use in everyday conversation.

Probably the most common mistake I see is reversing the natural order of words. “To the park went we” may rhyme with “bee” but no one says it that way unless they’re trying to get their William Shakespeare on. The average person would say, “We went to the park.”

Reversing the natural order of words in a sentence usually hits the ear funny and breaks the spell instead of pulling listeners further into your story.

It’s weird. It’s not “unusual but in an artistic way” weird; man, it’s just plain weird. Write a different line. If you can’t find one you’ll need to fix the “bee” line first to give yourself a new rhyme choice.

And I guess that’s the bottom line for all these points: Does this word or phrase add to the song or detract? Does it pull the listener in further or momentarily push them out? The amateur considers neither, the pro considers both and lets the answers make the decision for them.

One exception that comes to mind because I’m working on it now is “Beautiful, the mess we are” in Better Than A Hallelujah. Obviously intentional and obviously awesome, it makes the song!

Anyway, for the most part, keep your lyric natural, conversational, and all will be well. Or maybe all well will be…hmmm, let me think about that, lol- b.e.