Mastering the Elements of Lyric Writing

Studying and understanding the tools that go into making a song can help anyone learn how to write a song more effectively. I hope these conversations give you ideas for your own songs and songwriting.

We were lucky enough to have a long conversation with Berklee Professor Pat Pattison. But was my teacher and mentor at Berklee, and eventually my colleague and friend. Studying Pat’s material transformed my songwriting practice – it gave me a tools and techniques to draw on to develop ideas into full songs, to understand the relationship of sections, and most importantly, to understand how structure can amplify meaning.

In this video series, Pat takes us through the elements of lyric writing – and demonstrates how making decisions about the structure and placement of lyrics can amplify the meaning and emotions we are trying to convey. Motion creates emotion.

Enjoy!

The Best Songwriting Books, Websites, and Channels

I’m compiling here a list of my favourite books, websites, blogs, and other resources for those pursuing study, growth, upskilling, and knowledge in songwriting. This list might change over time, but represents a curated list of some of the most useful content that I have collected over the past 15 years, songwriting, and teaching songwriting. Enjoy! Let me know if there are others that you would recommend as well!

BOOKS

The “Must-Haves”

Writing Better Lyrics, Pat Pattison

Songwriting Without Boundaries, Pat Pattison

Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure, Pat Pattison

Harmony, Jimmy Kachulis (the best place to start with chords and chord theory)

Great Songwriting Techniques, Jack Perricone (a totally comprehensive book encompassing lyric-writing, melody, chords, song form, and more. Really amazing).

The “Must-Have-Nexts”

The Craft of Songwriting, Scarlet Keys

Songwriters on Songwriting, Paul Zollo

Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film and TV, Robin Frederick

The Songwriter’s Idea Book, Sheila Davis

Books on Creativity and Creative Process (that have changed my life…)

Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon

Keep Going, Austin Kleon

Show Your Work, Austin Kleon

Art and Fear, Bayles and Orland

Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

[Note: By buying any of these through the links here, you’ll be supporting my work and website, since I earn a small commission through these links. With that said, I never promote something I haven’t tried and loved myself!]

Websites

Top40Theory.com (top notch pop-music based music theory articles)

RobinFrederick.com (Robin does great analyses of contemporary songs, with prompts to engage the concepts in your own songwriting immediately).

YouTube Channels

How To Write Songs (of course…!)

Adam Neely (music theory and more)

Rick Beato (also very music theory and composition oriented)

Jack Lizzio (music theory with more of a songwriter/guitar-player angle)

Holistic Songwriting (geared towards commercial songwriting techniques)

The 3 Things I Did This Year to Write Over 20 Songs

In this video, I share the three pillars of my creative practice that ensure I write even when not inspired, and have given me the structure to write over 20 songs this year.

Producing lots of creative work is more often about the habits, practices, and environments that we build, rather than about inspiration alone. These three practices give me the structures to stay connected to my ideas and projects, to know EXACTLY what I need to do if I am stuck on an idea or need to generate new ideas, and to ensure I have some accountability to get the work done.

More videos on my YouTube Channel, here.

120 Sense Writing Prompts

If you’re already familiar with Sense Writing (aka Object Writing), feel free to skip ahead to the prompts below. If Sense Writing is new to you, here’s a little primer.

What is Sense Writing?

Sense Writing is a timed 10-minute writing exercise, in which you take a prompt, and use that prompt as a gateway into whatever association arises for you based on the prompt. It is like free-writing, in the sense that you write continuously for 10 minutes, without editing yourself, and without ‘writing lyrics’. So no rhyme, no rhythm. Just sentences. The difference between Sense Writing and free writing is that in Sense Writing, you stay focused on using the senses to describe the scene, situation, or moment that arises in response to the prompt.

Sense Writing is based on lyric writing teacher Pat Pattison’s ‘Object Writing’. You can explore it in more detail here:

Why Sense Writing?

Sense Writing is the single most useful writing exercise that I have ever come across in my life as a songwriter. I use it on days when I have no idea what to write about. I use it when I’m in the middle of a song, and I’m looking for lyrics to furnish a particular idea. Sense Writing has the beauty of being a tool you can always default to when looking for ideas, as well as being a tool that strengthens your ability to convert ideas into specific, sensory imagery. And, it only takes 10 minutes or less.

Prompts

Starting with objects is a good strategy, as it keeps you grounded in the physical world. As you progress, dip into the prompts in other categories, understanding that the goal is ALWAYS to use the prompt as a springboard into a specific scene, situation, or moment, and to use vivid, descriptive sense-bound language to explore that moment in writing.

Enjoy!

OBJECTS:

COFFEE CUP, OLD T-SHIRT, FIRE PIT, MILKSHAKE, WALLET, PAINTING, MARBLE, SANDWICH, ANKLE, CABINET, BITUMEN, SUMMER RAIN, DUCT TAPE, FUTON, MOON, WEED, SKETCH, FINGERNAIL, TICKET, TOOTH

PEOPLE:

FARMER, DANCER, OLYMPIC BOXER, GRANDFATHER, SURGEON, TEACHER, FIRST LOVE, QUEEN, RETIREE, MIDDLE CHILD, MAGICIAN, CLEANER, PATIENT, LIBRARIAN, ACTOR, WAITER, ROCK CLIMBER, NEIGHBOUR, LAST PERSON TO LEAVE, BULLY

PLACES:

MALL, COUCH, KITCHEN, CLASSROOM, ALLEYWAY, TRAIN STATION, AIRPORT, GRANDMA'S HOUSE, UNDER THE BED, SUPERMARKET, GRAVEYARD, HOTEL, TUNNEL, HOSPITAL, FRONT PORCH, CAMPSITE, CANYON, OUTER SPACE, FRONTLINE

TIMES/EVENTS:

WEDDING, FUNERAL, 7TH BIRTHDAY PARTY, GRADUATION, FIRST KISS, NEW YEAR'S EVE, 3A.M., AUTUMN, SCHOOL BELL, LUNCH BREAK, CONCERT, MOVING OUT, FIRST DAY, SUNRISE, FAMILY HOLIDAY, SWIMMING, MIDNIGHT, SAYING SORRY, PROTEST, WILDFIRE

EMOTIONS:

DELIGHT, BOREDOM, HUMILITY, NOSTALGIA, ENVY, DEFENSIVENESS, CONFUSION, UNCERTAINTY, CONTENT, SCHADENFREUDE, LOVE, RELIEF, SURPRISE, IMPATIENCE, DENIAL, ANXIETY, ANTICIPATION, NERVOUSNESS, REMORSE, SATISFACTION

CONCEPTS:

STUCK, CONNECTION, IMPRESSION, RESPONSE, CHEMISTRY, AFFAIR, COLD, CELEBRATION, FORGIVENESS, GROWING OLDER, ELECTION, TRADITION, PRIORITY, DEPARTURE, ECONOMY, OPINION, COUNTRY, NEWS, REPUTATION, OPPORTUNITY

Our first online course — The Songwriting Process Start to Finish — is the highest rated course on Udemy, among over 300 songwriting courses!

It’s just $26.99, and we hope you’ll love it as much as other songwriters are!

Lyric Writing Masterclass March 16 2020

Can songwriting actually be taught? Can your lyrics actually improve, or are you just born Bob Dylan?

Author Ann Patchett beautifully writes: “Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?” Great writers know that while we must always “leave room for the acts of the spirit” (as Ursula K. Le Guin puts it), that there are a set of tools, techniques, strategies, methods and ways of understanding language that can systematically improve how we express whatever we want to express.

Screen Shot 2020-03-11 at 9.45.43 amIn my lyric-writing life, there are a handful of very simply and incredibly effective techniques, that once learned, made my songwriting drastically improve. Within a few years of using them, I could count John Mayer and Pat Pattison as two of my mentors, and was on the Songwriting faculty at the Berklee College of Music. It has been my life mission since learning these to pass them on to others. I hope you’ll join me on Monday as I go deeply into the first of these transformative principles of great lyric writing.

Lyric Writing Masterclass—Monday March 16 6pm (Sydney AEDT)

Sign up here.

More info here.