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Variation In Your Lyrics

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I just wondered what sort of level of variation you have in your lyrics? What sort of mechanisms do you find yourself relying on? Where do you find you struggle introducing variation in certain aspects? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

For example:

Commonly used...

  • structure or song form (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, mid-8, chorus chorus etc.)
  • rhyme schemes (ABAB etc)
  • alliteration (She Sells Sea Shells)
  • imagery (Oh the mountains and the sky oh... :) )
  • rhymes (same rhymes crop up across various lyrics)
  • emotions (What, another sad song?)
  • themes/story line (da bitch gone done it again)
  • message (what you are actually saying with the lyric)
  • type of hook (poignant, flippant etc)

Marks out of ten for each where 0 is no variation and 10 is never repeated :) I've probably missed some, but hey, feel free to add on criteria. Don't restrict yourself to just a score. An explanation is always nice :)



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John, interesting questions. It's good to be forced into self-analysis.

I do worry about being predictable, because I write country music (mostly–I used to say "always," but I just finished my second-ever rock ‘n' roll song), and country music operates out of a limited set of structures and melodies. (Not, however, that I've found where those limits are, yet.)

I think what saves me the most is I'm always trying to emulate the style of a different writer, trying to figure out what they were doing that was good and to adapt it to my own stuff. I've "channeled" Bob Dylan, Buck Owens, Frank Sinatra, and Avril Lavigne, just to name a few. (My daughter was shocked when I adapted Avril Lavigne's rhyming scheme to a country-music song–but it did work out okay, and I still use it.)

STRUCTURE: Mostly different, I think; it really depends on the needs of the song, and how I think it's going to come across performed live. Most of my songs do have choruses, but not all, and not always after every verse; I wrote "When I Jump Off the Cliff I'll Think of You" deliberately *without* any chorus, just to see if I could do it. I mostly eschew bridges, partly because the "experts" are always insisting you have to have a bridge (I maintain a bridge is primarily useful for crossing a body of water you can't ford, or dodge, or chevy)–but the latest song, "The Frog Next Door," has a bridge but no chorus.

RHYME SCHEME: Again, different–but remember, country music is *supposed* to rhyme. I use internal rhymes a lot–saved me when I wrote "Duct Tape," because there is no word in the English language I could find that rhymed with "duct tape." So all the rhymes in that song are internal. I've used the Avril Lavigne trick a lot. Rhymes do extra duty for me–they're mnemonic tricks that remind me of what's supposed to come later.

ALLITERATION: Of course–it's one of those standard writer tricks like onomatopoeia, that you're supposed to know how to use and dig out of the bag periodically to show you can use it. If I abuse it, it's for effect. My songs are going to get performed live by me, however, and something like a massive string of alliterations isn't going to be able to be sung well. I have to keep performability in mind.

IMAGERY: Well, I have become known as The Guy Who Writes the Dead-Animal Songs (hey, it's a small niche, but it's *my* niche). Aside from there being a fair number of dead-animal songs, I try to keep ‘em different; not only are they all different styles, they're all different animals. I've "done" dead dogs, deat cats, dead birds, dead bugs, dead porcupines, dead armadillos, and dinosaurs (which are, of course, dead). A lot of them are love songs–expressing human relationships in terms of roadkill, as it were. Yes, I write about other stuff–the roadkill songs really are less than half the setlist–but they are what people remember: one comment I got in response to "The Frog Next Door" (which is a love song) was "Wait a minute–I thought the frogs were supposed to get hit by a truck, or something."

RHYMES THE SAME: Nope. I try to work on making sure each song is different, because I don't want them confused with each other.

MUSIC THE SAME: This wasn't on your list. I do occasionally fall into this trap, because I don't *write* the music, I *hear* the music (the Soundtrack From God, remember), and occasionally a particular melody will get stuck on continuous-play, as it were. What I try to do in those cases is make sure the music is *expressed* differently enough so people won't realize it's the same as something else. I used the same music three different times once, as the music for Marge McKinnis' "About Love" (where I did music to her lyrics), "Santa's Fallen and He Can't Get Up," and "Eatin' Cornflakes from a Hubcap Blues"–but I could play those three songs back to back and you'd never know. I'm about to do it again–I used the same music in "The Six-Legged Polka" (which I wrote for a friend in Sweden, for St. Leif's Day), "Prehistoric Roadkill" (which is bluegrass), and will use it again in "Tugga Paw," written by the abovementioned friend in Sweden, which I'm setting to music (country music, in this case).

MUSIC IN CHORUS SAME AS THE VERSES: You didn't mention this one, either. I'm regularly called on this one by the critics (and I just as regularly ignore them). The Rules for Congregational Worship Music (does anybody besides me read this stuff?) say your chorus *should* be the same as the verses, to make it easy for the congregation to follow. In my case, the "congregation" I'm concerned about is a *band* (our Friday Night Group) that may be hearing the song for the first time, but expected to follow it. Yes, I'll try to be predictable. (That's another reason I avoid bridges. Bridges are *not* predictable.) If I want to encourage people to sing along with the chorus, I will at least try to have the chorus *start* a little different, like on the IV or V instead of the I, so I can "signal" it with a little transition. And of course, there are exceptions. The chorus for "I'm Giving Mom a Dead Dog for Christmas," for example, is *completely* different from the verses–but I allowed just enough of a breathing space to remind people what note it's supposed to start on.

EMOTIONS: Well, yes–but I have fun with it. The imagery in the majority of my songs is very dark–death, lost love, and the like–but the music is always uptempo, in kedeping with my favorite definition of country music: Pain You Can Dance To. I've only written a couple of waltzes, and even those are pretty fast-moving. And I will break down occasionally and write something that's just plain fun, like "Naked Space Hamsters in Love."

MESSAGE: I hope all songs aren't required to have a Message, because I'm pretty sure not all of mine do. Where I do have a Message, it's not the same except in a really broad sense–I want people to *think*, and one of the ways I try to get ‘em to think is by looking at things a little sideways, as it were, and encouraging ‘em to see the humor in it. I do torpedo Icons (yep, with deft rapierlike thrusts of my trusty sledgehammer)–I've taken on the Bible ("The Abomination Two-Step"), the media ("The World Enquirer"), organized religion ("Can I Have Your Car When the Rapture Comes?"), even (horrors!) Barbie ("Born Again Barbie"). I mentioned Santa above. Really, I consider very little to be sacred.

HOOK: Nope, all different, and no particular rhyme or reason. The hook is what it is–it's what people are going to remember the song by (and you're going to help them by repeating it, and referring to it, and maybe even putting it in the title). It might be in the chorus, and it might not. Flippant? Poignant? I'm not sure it applies; I swing either way–and I have one serious song ("Oil in the Cornfield") with a pretty flippant hook (not that anybody seems to notice), and plenty of vice versas.

Points? No, I won't assign myself points, here–not only does the score not mean a lot, it'll probably change when I write the next song. Hard to assign a value to a moving target. But thanks for the opportunity to analyze what I'm doing.


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  • structure or song form (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, mid-8, chorus chorus etc.) 8
  • rhyme schemes (ABAB etc) 4
  • alliteration (She Sells Sea Shells) 5
  • imagery (Oh the mountains and the sky oh... :) ) 7
  • rhymes (same rhymes crop up across various lyrics) 4
  • emotions (What, another sad song?) 8
  • themes/story line (da bitch gone done it again) 7
  • message (what you are actually saying with the lyric) 9
  • type of hook (poignant, flippant etc) 5

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I sometimes record myself improvising. I might have a few chord sequences and I just sing along using random words or even sounds. Then I listen to them and see if anything grabs my attention; you can usually find a few ideas that you can then try to develop into songs. I enjoy trying to find lyrics that will fit with what I've improvised. Using this I came up with the rhyming scheme (ABBAA) which didn't work that when read out but worked with the melody I had.


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Excellent reply Roxhythe.

Lee, if you look across your song portfolio has this been effective at creating diversity for you across the range of mechanisms, or do you feel it applies to only one or two of them? Add to that, we can easily intend something, but in hindsight or review it isn't quite as expected. Just wondered :)

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I have done this a number of times and its produced 1 song and 1 idea that I used in a song; so no, it hasn’t created a lot of diversity. I actually did it looking for inspiration by trying to introduce some random factor into my writing. I used to tune my guitar to some strange tunings and then play around to see if I could find any new riffs. Again this was to introduce some randomness that may not have happened with the standard tuning.

I have only written a handful of songs so I don’t have a lot of material with which I can make comparisons.

Most songs start with verse-chorus (6), verse-bridge-chorus (1) and one song has no chorus at all. At this point I usually think about what the song might need, middle 8, an instrumental, or something different. 3 of my songs have middle 8’s with vocals, 3 songs have instrumentals and 2 have different end parts after the second chorus.

The rhyming schemes I have used are ABAB (2), AABB (3), AABCCB (2), and ABBC ADDC (1). I spent a lot of time trying to find words to fit the last scheme, and I have never been particularly happy with the results.

My songs appear (to me) to have quite a bit of diversity although none of this was intentional. As I am relatively new to this, my priority has been to write the best song I could and I haven’t really focused on being diverse.

Which do you think has more value, being more original or writing better songs?

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Which do you think has more value, being more original or writing better songs?

I don't think it has to be one or the other. You can have both. :)

It's a balancing act. Too similar and not only can your writing get stuck in a rut, but you can end up sounding very samey. To diverse and you may struggle to appeal to any set audience, or have a poorly defined individuality which is recognisable as you.

Artists that are a around a while and are consistently successful try to get cohesion within an album, with enough variety in the styles that they use in the album so that the album works, but then change what styles they target for the next album. Think Madonna, or David Bowie. David Bowie in particular of the two has really experimented with different songwriting techniques over the years, as well as styles and sounds.

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  • 1 month later...
David Bowie in particular of the two has really experimented with different songwriting techniques over the years, as well as styles and sounds.

Not to mention playing the part of Tesla in the movie "The Prestige"


sorry that was dumb

It's a balancing act. Too similar and not only can your writing get stuck in a rut, but you can end up sounding very samey.

look how crappy that turned out for Aerosmith


dammit, oops again

Excellent thread folks, please don't let me derail it. :thumb23:

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  • 1 month later...

[*]structure or song form (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, mid-8, chorus chorus etc.) 7

[*]rhyme schemes (ABAB etc) 3

[*]alliteration (She Sells Sea Shells) 5

[*]imagery (Oh the mountains and the sky oh... ) 3

[*]rhymes (same rhymes crop up across various lyrics) 3

[*]emotions (What, another sad song?) 6

[*]themes/story line (da bitch gone done it again) 2

[*]message (what you are actually saying with the lyric) 7

[*]type of hook (poignant, flippant etc) 4

I like to make the form fit the spontaneity of the idea(s). Sometimes it fits like a glove, other times its like a brick in a bowler hat. The former can sound a little twee if not done well. The later can sound great if you dont mind the hat going out of shape.

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  • 2 months later...

This is a great topic. My main weakness, and the only glaring one I am aware of (but I'm open to finding out that I have more) is in structure. I get very stuck in the old iambic pentameter, and have difficulty changing it up to add variety and texture within a song. I'm getting better at it as I am learning to write for music, but for example when I try to go back and add a chorus or bridge to an existing piece, I have a hard time coming up with a complimenary change of pace that makes it work.

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Mon Capitaine,

Having a hard time understanding the quetion...is this an analysis query? As in, look at your lyric sheets, one by one, to find the commonalities and etc;?

I guess it is an analysis of your overall writing, be it either sitting down and doing it (where I think the most benefit is to be gained) or just a guesstimate.

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