How to write lyrics

Where ideas and music collide


You have found an idea that you want to turn into a song. You have written some words that you want to use for a section of your song but they don’t seem to fit the music or sound like lyrics. 


We could write several books on how to write lyrics. This recipe aims to give you the absolute essentials and top tips for quick improvement. There are lots of other recipes on this site dedicated to different aspects of this topic. 


Writing lyrics that sound good and flow correctly requires technical skills. If you can master the three following skills you will see a huge improvement in your lyric writing: 

  • Form – Structures that help listeners learn your song
  • Meter – the rhythm hidden in words
  • Rhyme – similar sounding syllables that help lyrics flow
  • Other lyrical devices – tools and ideas you can use to add colour and interest   


Lyrics have structures in the same way that songs and music do. They help us make sense of what we are hearing. They also set the listeners expectations. If we don’t fulfil them we create tension, which can be useful. Look at the lyric below. You can see it uses an AAB structure. The first two lines have a lot in common. They both have seven syllables and they use an end rhyme (more about that below). The third line is different it has eleven syllables and doesn’t follow the rhyme scheme. If we repeat this structure several times the listener comes to expect it.  

A [7] Listen to the truth untold

A [7] think of what the future holds

B [11] Try and find the meaning in your own sweet time

[7] Look for to the words unsaid

[7] follow them they form a thread

[11] the story teller covers up his own crime


Words have rhythms hidden inside them. We call these rhythms metrical feet. English words and phrases have patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. Stressed syllables are louder, longer, pronounced more clearly and usually higher in pitch. English poetry employs six basic rhythms. I’ll illustrate this idea using “bom” for stressed syllables and “ba” for unstressed.  


An unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. E.g. ba bom ba bom ba bom – “The only news I know Is bulletins all day


A stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable is a trochee

bom ba bom ba bom ba – “Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright”


Two stressed syllables is a spondee. This pattern is usually combined with others. Words like faithful consist of two equally strong beats. Say faithful out loud and you should hear the bom bom pattern.


Consists of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. E.g. ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba bom. “Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green”


Consists of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables

The opposite of an Anapest, bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba.  Just for a handful of silver he left us”


Two unstressed syllables. This is the opposite of a spondee.  

Metrical Feet in other languages

There are other rhythms to be found commonly in other languages. For example the amphibrach consists of a long syllable between two short syllables. It’s commonly found in Latin and Greek. Check out the song mi gente for a contemporary example. 

How to find the beat in your words 

1. For longer words, find which syllable is stressed using a dictionary. I searched google dictionary for the word banana. I get this pronunciation string /bəˈnɑːnə/ as part of the result. This small character ˈ appears before the stressed syllable. So in banana the middle syllable is stressed. 

2. Count how many syllables are in each line. This gives you an idea of the pattern you are dealing with

3. Think about the meaning of what’s being said. The logic of the sentence determines where stress will be placed. e.g.  “I SAID she told the truth.” verses “I said SHE told the truth.”

4. Single-syllable nouns, pronoun, verbs, and adjectives tend to be stressed. This isn’t a hard and fast rule but it’s a good place to start. 

5. Single-syllable articles (a, an, the), and prepositions (by, of, with) tend to be unstressed.

6. Remember that stressed syllables are longer, louder, higher and clearer.

Our example from above looks like this:



Listen to the truth untold



bom ba ba ba bom ba bom



think of what the future holds



bom ba ba ba bom ba bom



Try and find the meaning in your own sweet time



bom ba ba ba bom ba ba ba bom ba bom



Look for all the words unsaid



bom ba ba ba bom ba bom



follow them they form a thread



bom ba ba ba bom ba bom



the storyteller covers up his own crime



ba bom ba ba ba bom ba ba bom ba bom

The last line doesn’t fit the pattern, perhaps it should change.

Rhyme scheme

A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhymes at the end of each line of a song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme. The last word or lines with the same letter all rhyme with each other. In our example we have matched our rhyme scheme to our form. Untold and holds rhyme as do time and crime.

A [7] Listen to the truth untold

A [7] think of what the future holds

B [11] Try and find the meaning in your own sweet time

[7] Look for to the words unsaid

[7] follow them they form a thread

[11] the story teller covers up his own crime

There are many rhyme schemes to choose from. This wikipedia pages provides a good list

Internal Rhymes

Rhyming of two words within the same line like this “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore”

Rhyme types

There are several types of rhyme. It’s important to know your options so that you don’t get stuck trying to find a rhyme for a word that has few perfect rhymes and so that you don’t end up endlessly recycling well worn cliché. 

Perfect Rhymes

Perfect rhymes aren’t better than other types of rhyme. It just means they have a syllable that sounds the same. In fact they are often just boring or overused. Other types of rhyme offer interesting opportunities to the songwriter. 

Slant Rhymes

Rhyme in which two words share just a vowel sound like “heart” and “star” or where they  just share a consonant sound (consonance – e.g. “milk” and “walk”). There are actually four families of consonant rhyme. They are grouped by what your mouth has to do to produce the sound. Using consonant rhymes from the same group generally sounds better than mixing them. 

1. plosives, are stop consonants or explosions of sound, like drums if you think of a noise component in music (b d g t);

2. fricatives, which are like shakers (v z);

3. sibilants, which are like cymbals and sound like a hissing noise (f th s); and

4. nasals, which resonate from the nasal cavity (m n ng). 

Rich Rhymes

Rhyme using two different words that happen to sound the same (homonyms) – for example “there” and “their”.

Identical Rhymes

Simply using the same word twice. Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin rhymes “anywhere” with “anywhere” and “night” with “night.” “Lights” rhymes “city” with “city,”

Person and Tense

Who is this song about and when is it happening? 

Person (point of view)

“Love, love me do”, “Girl, you know I want your love, Your love was handmade for somebody like me” these examples use direct voice, you and I. It turns the singer and listener into the people in the story. You can write in third person but it has the effect of distancing you from the action. 


Is the song happening now, in the past or in the future. Choose a tense and stick with it unless there’s a valid creative reason to change. 

Other lyrical devices

There are many literary devices that we can use to make songs interesting and easier. provides a good reference.  The following four however have often been used to great effect in song. 


Often in writing lyrics the verses pose questions in the mind of the listener. This is achieved  by not saying everything and leaving space for the listener to wonder. Think of it as giving the audience two plus two rather than telling them four. When listeners come to a conclusion themselves theres a pay off for them.  


Many songs are simply lists. Once again the wikipedia has our back with a list of List_songs


Lots of songs use a number as a key part of their lyric. Some examples include: 

  • One In Ten – UB40 (1981)
  • It Takes Two – Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston.
  • Three Little Birds – Bob Marley (1977)
  • Seven Wonders – Fleetwood Mac (1987)
  • Eight Days A Week – The Beatles (1964)


In message in a bottle, Sting uses being a castaway as a metaphor for a lonely life “Just a castaway, An island lost at sea”. Watch this space for a recipe on how to use metaphor to generate song ideas and to express the ones you have in a new way. 

Constructive self criticism

Writing lyrics takes some work. Don’t be afraid, just write some. Then you can use the topics in this article to improve them. If you get stuck or frustrated look up the lyrics to one of your  favourite songs. You will likely be shocked by how few words there are and how simple they seem. Most importantly write as much and as often as you can. If you do you will be surprised how quickly they improve. 

As with every aspect of song writing the only “correct” choice is the one that fulfils the creative intent. There are and will always be exceptions to any rule. This makes it hard to be self critical and to improve but great lyrics tend to be:

  • Singable – if they aren’t easy to sing they aren’t easy to remember 
  • Conversational – are the lyrics in normal conversational language? If not why not?
  • Believable – write what you know, we can all spot a fake
  • Easy to understand – if you have to explain it, think about changing it

next up

how to write music

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