Marriage of Music and Lyric
Words and music both have the ability to convey thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is important to ensure that the lyrics and music of the songs we are writing are in agreement with what they convey. On a basic level, this could mean using minor keys and slow tempos for sad songs versus major keys and fast tempos for happy songs.
In addition, light fun songs will probably use simple chords (triads) and have a slow harmonic rhythm. Harmonic rhythm is the rate at which the chords change, so we can have a fast song that is remaining on a G chord for several measures (slow harmonic rhythm). This usually results in simple and light chord progressions. The converse would be to have a song with a deep lyric and complex chord progressions. It may include more seventh chords and progressions that travel outside of the key.
Word painting is another technique which marries the music to the lyric. For example, a lyric which talks about "going down to somewhere" may be accompanied by a descending bass line. A lyric which suddenly comes upon the word "stop" may be accompanied by a sudden stop in the music.
Rhythm is another musical element that is important to the marriage of music and lyric. Words contain inherit rhythms when they are spoken or sung. Matching the symbolic rhythms of the lyrics to the rhythm of the music (melody line or sometimes background parts) can cause an amazing gel of the overall creation. This causes the music and lyrics to feel as if they were always meant to be combined in this way.
Lyrical quality is an area that is usually lacking in beginning songwriters and singer/songwriters who are more developed in their musical writing ability when compared to their lyrical writing ability. It is difficult to convey a message within the confines of a certain rhythmic flow and possibly even a rhyme scheme. Many rhymes and word patterns have been used so much over the years that they have become cliché and predictable. Overuse of these lyric phrases can cause a song to sound corny and poorly written. It is important to spend time digging for the lyrics that perfectly express our thoughts in a way that is new and fresh. When lyrics feel authentic and original they are much more effective in relating to the audience.
Understanding the form of the song we are writing is extremely important. Different sections of a song perform different musical functions. When these sections are being supported with the proper musical elements they accomplish their function more effectively.
Most songs are written in a verse - chorus format. Although this is not the only form to write songs in, for the sake of time we will focus on it in today's discussion. Within this form, the chorus usually contains the main idea or hook. The function of the chorus is to convey this hook in a way that is memorable since it is the part of the song that is most repeated and most likely to get stuck in the audience's head. For this reason, choruses should contain simpler musical patterns and lyrical content (for the most part). Although there have been some successful songs with complicated choruses, most are easy to remember and sing along with. They are also usually the high point of the song, so they usually contain the highest pitches of the melody and the loudest parts of the song. A song that contains high and powerful line in the verse which leads to a lower and softer line in the chorus usually feels like a balloon that is deflating and losing energy.
The verses are sections of the song that allow us to elaborate on the message we are conveying. They are usually able to contain more lyrical content and more complex musical patterns. It is understood that not everyone will remember the words to every verse of the song. The main focus of the verse is to support the chorus by explaining the main idea and building to the climax in a way that completes the song. They are usually lower in pitch and volume when compared to the chorus. Often this also requires less instrumentation in the production of the verse. This awareness of pitch and volume allows for a proper build to the climax of the song.
Some songs also contain bridges. These are sections that help to transition to a new part or higher climax within the song. They usually occur about 3/4 of the way through the song, after the verses and chorus have been stated and just before the final chorus. Bridges can be used to lead into a modulation, or just to add interest and emphasis to a final chorus that may otherwise feel overstated. They are usually brief (about four lines or so) and act almost like mini songs. In the same way that a verse builds into a chorus, the first line of a bridge should build into the next and the next until it explodes into the final chorus.
The final section that may occur within the verse-chorus song form is a pre-chorus. This is a tiny (one or two) line section found between the verse and chorus. It is used as an aid to lead into the chorus from the verse. Some verses may lack the melodic build necessary to lead well to the chorus. In addition, they may need an additional lyrical punch that helps to bring everything together. A pre-chorus which fills this function can be a great addition to a song.
Although I haven't covered every technical aspect of song writing in this post, I have tried to discuss several important aspects. I hope that this will help you in your pursuit of the art of song writing. Like any skill, the key to increasing our ability is repeated practice. The more time we spent writing songs, the better we will get.