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Kelisms

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#7 Working With Pronouns


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How often have you read through the lyrics of a song, and when you get to the chorus had to go back to the start again because it wasn't making any sense? I have, and quite often. And the culprits are all in the little words: I, me, us, we, you, them, they!

While it might be quite poetic to have a story told from different viewpoints in a poem, or interesting in a novel, it just confuses us when we are listening to a song. I often see people posting lyrics for critique that fall into this trap and maybe it's because they don't quite understand a vital part of the human physiology that we, as songwriters need to understand: that our ears and brains are incapable of deciphering both lyrics and melody, and when push comes to shove they will defer to the melody every time, according to Nashville songwriting legend Ralph Murphy.

The answer is simple, keep it easy for the listener to understand.

Far too often, complexity comes from either accidental or deliberate misuse of pronouns.

I often read lyrics that say something like:

Love hit me like a battering ram

I didn't know what to do.

You should just enjoy it

Before it fades away.

Okay, not much doing in the quality but can you see the twist in the pronoun? I've used "me" and "I" in the first two lines, and then switched to "you" in the third line, but it's obvious I'm giving myself advice, and not talking to somebody else. In this example, "you" is the wrong pronoun, and "I" would have been correct.

We had it easy when we had each other

They didn't know it at the time.

This is a little easier to see. Two uses of "we" in the first line indicates to us that the singer is either talking to or about another, but by using "they" in the second line takes themself out of the story as if it was being told in the third person. In other words it's confusing. It's also simply poor writing.

Another pit I've seen lyricists fall into is having the verse from one perspective and the chorus from another:

V

John and Mary were in love

They knew it from the start

The minute they looked into each other's eyes

They could never be apart

C

I said I love you Mary

You said you love me too

I could never ever leave you

I could never make you blue.

Okay, again, not much in the way of lyrics, but an example of what I was saying nonetheless. The verse is told in third person, about John and Mary, yet the chorus is from John's first person viewpoint. While it's not too hard to see what is happening here imagine another verse or two, another chorus and a bridge. Sure if the melody is good people might whistle along but will they remember the words?

I won't go on and on about this. Enough to say, at least check your pronoun use is consistent. Remember, you know the story, when the listener hears it the first time, they wont. Don't make it hard for them to remember.

Till next time,

Cheers,

Kel

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I enjoyed this stuff you spoke about that they read also, and we hear so often.  Errrrrr....actually a great post Kel !!!

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