How to Write Colorful Lyrics

Did you ever have to read a textbook in school? Remember how hard it was at times to keep your mind from wandering every five or ten minutes? On the other hand, do you remember reading novels or stories as a kid that you just couldn’t put down? Maybe you’d even stay up late at night turning pages under a blanket with a flashlight so your parents didn’t find out that you were still awake.

How can we make sense of the difference between these two types of reading experiences? The answer lies in using your common sense, or your common senses I should say.

It was the Images, Sounds, Tastes, Smells, and Touch that kept you reading that great book. And it was the lack of examples that made it so difficult to read the textbook. Don’t allow your lyric writing to become textbook style abstractions; you will have a very hard time captivating listeners with a style that is lacking in concrete images.

The more you can paint a picture with your lyrics using the senses, the more it will draw listeners in, so that they will almost instinctually be compelled to listen deeply to the whole song.

A great technique to help you achieve this is to write all your lyrics twice. Write them the first time in whatever way they emerge from that burning volcano of creativity within. Then go back and check your lyrics line-by-line and replace any abstract phrases with concrete examples that you can See, Hear, Touch, Taste, or Smell.

Additionally, there are two other senses that are important. They are: the Organic Sense, which includes the internal body feelings, like an ache in the back or butterflies in the stomach; and the Kinesthetic Sense, which has to do with the feeling of body motion in relation to the world, like your stomach dropping when jumping off a high step, or feeling the motion on an accelerating subway train.

Here are two short examples to demonstrate these different styles of lyric writing:

1: Abstract Lyrics

It’s so lonely without you here
My mind’s confused and my thoughts unclear

2: Rewritten in a Poetic, Sensuous, or Picturesque style

I float through the dark on an iceberg bed
Sea sick as waves of perfume haunt my head

It could easily be argued that these two sections make exactly the same statement. However, the second example, due to its use of sensual rather than abstract ideas, contains many more layers of meaning. A symbol often has dozens of connotations, and multiple meanings, whereas an abstract statement usually only contains one denotation, which may be precise and clear, but usually lacks the depth needed to touch a heart, set a mood, or inspire passion. The manner in which we weave the sensory information of symbols and images together will often determine the unique character, personality, and depth of our lyric writing.

This is really the BIGGEST SECRET to Great Lyric Writing. So I Hope this tip helps you to literally – Come to Your Senses!

Please
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  • Bindi Papadum February 19, 2011, 12:33 am

    This, I agree is a good idea… to use original metaphor rather than banal language. Although the example wasn’t great poetry, it makes a the point, and I want to give it a try.

    But unwelcome thoughts burn through my brain; a hot white light then mental strain.
    The waves subside, but it’s my Jekyll Hyde.

    Reply
  • noa October 3, 2013, 11:28 pm

    i would also suggest http://www.prime-rhyme.com

    Reply
  • wlambo April 25, 2014, 6:31 pm

    Thank you,Kevin.
    It’s so helpful!

    Reply

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