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  • Kourtni Tucker

13 Ways To Turn Your Poetic Skillsets Into Lyricism

Lyricism and poetry are heavily entwined. In fact, I tend to think of lyrics as a form of poetry set to musical accompaniment. In honor of my two personal favorite lyricists (Amanda Lee/AmaLee and Taylor Swift) having birthdays on the 13th of a month, here are 13 tips and tricks to get started or improve your songwriting process. While these are by no means universal, as all brains work differently, I hope this helps.

1. Remember that, because music has structure, so do lyrics.

For our freeform poets out there, this will be a hurdle to jump. There is a lot more to consider with lyricism in terms of intentional repetition, syllable usage, and rhythm than you’d normally have to with freeform.

2. You want to have a solid concept in mind, just as you would with poetry.

A big aspect that professional analysts look at when reviewing an artist’s album is its sonic and thematic cohesiveness. Poetry books traditionally have similar facets as their own bodies of work. While you’re free to explore the full range of what you’re communicating, you still want to ensure that you’re communicating something effectively. Look at albums as a unit, not just a collection of individual works. This will actually help you feel less confined and more effective in telling your story, because you are not limited to sharing all of it in one piece!

3. Sometimes, it is better to actually start with the lyrics before adding the melody in order to get a better feel for a piece/body of work conceptually.

In my experience creating lyrics and producing, I’ve found that writing for music rather than to music helps a lot when you’re just starting out. It helps you gain more clarity in regards to your story or message, because you’re essentially starting with a blank canvas. You get to create the entire structure of the song this way, as opposed to having many elements decided for you. Adding onto a piece someone’s placed in front of you is a skillset that certainly takes time to practice! While I’m not saying to avoid doing so, as that skillset is vital to being an efficient and knowledgeable lyricist, show yourself some grace. Which brings us to…

4. Do small exercises to practice writing to a melody, like taking a portion of one of your favorite tracks by another artist and reimagining the lyrics.

For both green and seasoned songwriters alike, this can be helpful. It helps you get more in touch with the technical aspects of music that tie into poetry, such as: mood, tone, rhythm, etc. If you find trying to start from scratch to be too overwhelming, this is another brilliant place of reference.

5. Take from the melody as much as you are pouring into it.

When writing to a melody, true synergy comes the moment you let the melody itself fuel your words. Pull from what the melody is communicating and work with it, not next to it. What does it make you think of? How can you connect that sensation to what has been written so far and the body of work as a whole? Ask yourself those types of questions.

6. Use what you already know from writing poetry to craft your lyrics.

Like we mentioned earlier, poems and lyrics have a lot in common from a technical standpoint! You’re already a master of articulation and when to use/not use rhyme schemes, as well as the other areas mentioned in #4. If anything, this allows you to be very intentional and deliberate with your words as a lyricist compared to lyricists without a poetic background.

7. Utilize. Your. Bridges.

If there is one thing Miss Swift has taught me through her writing, it is that bridges tend to be where you get to play around the most. Not only does the bridge essentially serve as the climax of your story, but it tends to branch out from the melodies of verses and choruses. You can do almost anything with a bridge from a writing standpoint.

8. Don’t be afraid to play around with your chorus a bit, too.

It’s a common misconception that choruses have to be predictable and always utilize the exact same words. Sometimes, an impactful choral shift can actually be the most memorable piece of a song and display story progression. While you still want it to be identifiable as the centerpiece of your song, you don’t have to completely restrict yourself either.

9. Remember that the verses, choruses, and bridge are all part of the same piece.

This seems like a given, but sometimes getting too caught up in the structure that comes with making music can cause you to inadvertently view them as separate. Think of them more as parts of a whole. Consider how the chorus reads coming after each verse. Think of how the bridge reads coming in between choruses. Think of how the verses relate to each other. You want them to blend well communication-wise.

10. Don’t be afraid to share your work.

Once again, a given in any creative field. However, it can still be intimidating when you’re first tackling a new form of writing. Even so, engaging with others is really the only way you will be able to find the appropriate audience for your work and see which parts of your music resonate with others. Where did you succeed? What could be improved? Your audience’s reactions will give you extremely valuable information. (Of course, please remember that your worth as a writer is not inherently tied to how others perceive your work. Just like in real life, people get misinterpreted. People have different tastes. As long as you enjoyed and learned from the process, that is what matters!)

11. Sound Is King.

Admittedly, I am borrowing the above phrase from AmaLee herself. However, it is so true. It applies to both poetry and lyrics. You could use all the flowery and intricate language in the world, but if it doesn’t flow properly it won’t have the impact you’re looking for. Sometimes, simplicity is just as impactful. Try to focus on how your words actually sound together rather than solely focusing on the individual words you’re using.

12. Find other lyricists whose work you can appreciate.

While we’re all for originality here and don’t want to simply imitate, I think this is crucial in discovering who you want to become as a lyricist. Which facets of your favorite artists’ lyrics are you fond of? Which facets would you change? Learn from others. It is so important. That being said, you should…

13. STUDY!

I cannot stress this enough. Consume all types of literature, not just poems or books. Listen to a wide scope of music, not just your preferred genre(s). For instance: I will admit that I was not a huge fan of rap music until I became a lyricist. However, I have a newfound respect for rap artists now after gaining clarity on and paying more attention to their mastery of intentional syllabic placement and rhythm. It truly is an art form. Aside from this, seeing language utilized in various ways will in turn help you to utilize it.

Bonus Challenge:

One lyricist I follow closely actually built her following by studying other people’s works. She covers music with lyrics that were originally written in Japanese and markets them towards an English-speaking audience through adaptation. This, to me, is its own set of skills…and a very advanced skillset at that. Not only has she had to keep in mind everything a more “conventional” lyricist would, but she is entrusted with the job of articulating somebody else’s sentiments in her own words. That is the key difference between adaptation and mere translation. A translation takes someone else’s words and directly communicates them in another language, whereas an adaptation actually completely reformulates the verbage while retaining the message.

Try adapting a song yourself sometime! It isn’t as easy as it seems, but will certainly make you understand and appreciate songwriting more. You will grow exponentially as a lyricist through trial and error at this.

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