Every week I sit down one-on-one with a couple of Songwriting majors from Belmont University, in Nashville. I’ve done this for almost 2 years now and each semester I get to work with a new songwriter or two.
This week I noticed a pattern with one of the young writers. She seemed to be having trouble with meter. A quick look at Wikipedia defines “meter” as follows:
Meter or metre is a term that music has inherited from the rhythmic element of poetry (Scholes 1977; Latham 2002) where it means the number of lines in a verse, the number of syllables in each line and the arrangement of those syllables as long or short, accented or unaccented (Scholes 1977; Latham 2002).
What this student was doing, is actually very common among beginning songwriters. I see it at almost every songwriter training event I go to. At times this writer was stretching words to fit the meter in ways that were not comfortable to sing; often placing a one syllable word where a two or three syllable word should go. At other times she was cramming too many words or too many syllables into a phrase, making it sound rushed or “crowded”. The end result was a song that was somewhat uncomfortable to the listener’s ear.
After discussing this at length, I asked if she came up with the music first, or the lyric, or both at the same time. As I suspected, she revealed that she came up with the melody first. Then she tried to fit what she wanted to say to the rhythm that she had already established for her melody. Not always a good idea. I personally believe that it’s much easier to “sing a lyric” than to “lyric a song”.
A song lyric should sing naturally, comfortably and beautifully. I don’t mean that it has to say something beautiful, but it should flow beautifully in the way it sings. It should fit together nicely, naturally and cleverly with the musical rhythm of the song.
Writing lyrics is truly an art from. Listeners can always tell when little attention is given to shaping the structure of a lyric (as well as to the way things are said in a lyric), and professionals know that it is almost always songs with well crafted lyrics, that become the real hits.
Note: Wikipedia has a great page on song meter that I believe songwriters will find extremely helpful.
Check it out here.