Using Structure to Write Your Lyrics

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Lyrical Structure & Style

Using Structure to Write Your Lyrics

Focusing on Structure

One way to start your lyric writing session is with the structure, focusing on how the lyrics in each section will function and how different structures might influence the song’s plot, organise your ideas, and help you to tell your story.

There are a handful of well-known structural patterns used time and time again in lyric writing, each with a different purpose and effect. Over time and through trial and error, songwriters have found these structures work well for conventional 3-4 minute songs in most contemporary genres. So, it’s a good idea to use these tried and true structures as a starting point, adapting if necessary. We can invent our own structures too, of course, which is more original — but also much more challenging.

Writing Activity

Make a Song Roadmap

Start with a clear song idea that has an outline story/situation and a clear message.

  • Are there any songs that are similar to this idea?
  • How are those songs structured

Choose a structure that would make the most sense for this song idea and write it down.

  • What are some of the defining lyrical features of that song structure? Keep these in mind.

Under each section of the structure, write 2-5 bullet points of lyrical ideas you’d like to explore and consider how these fit into the section’s purpose. You might include notes on:

  • Characters
  • Plot developments
  • Refrain lines
  • Emotions
  • Imagery

Once you’ve done this for all sections, you’ll have a detailed roadmap setting out the journey of your song.

Like the roadmap you see? Great — start writing!

Try one of the creative writing strategies we explored earlier in the module, such as free writing or the 3-step technique, to get your lyrics down on paper. Next, add some chords and melodies to bring the lyrics to life.

Once you’re done, reflect on how it went. Do you find the lyrical journey is more concise than some of the other songs you have written? 

Considering structure after writing

When we’ve fully developed draft lyrics for a song within a structure, we can start to redraft and develop it in, along with the musical material, until we’re happy. You’ll likely have to cut out some material — first drafts are almost always too long — and you might want to rethink parts of the structure or some of the sections once it’s all down on paper. As famous American composer Stephen Sondheim once said, ‘content dictates form.’

For example, at this stage you might decide that the AABA song actually needs a chorus, or you might decide to cut the chorus because it works fine without. 

Later on in this songwriting session, you’ll need to review your lyrical content and settle on the finalised structure.