60-Second Songwriting: Songwriting Building Blocks—Lyrics

60-Second Songwriting aims to offer quick, concise, song-craft tips, basics and blasts for the time-crunched and attention-challenged 21st-century musician.

In terms of the architecture of a pop song, in its simplest form, a tune can be broken down into a few key elements or building blocks - chord progressions, top-line melodies, lyrics, tempo-rhythm and song structure. As songwriters, we casually discuss these foundational elements all the time — “Why don’t we switch up that top-line on the last chorus? How about adding a bridge to the song structure?” But how often (if ever) do we really stop to think, beginner or advanced writer alike, about the nut-and-bolt concepts behind these everyday fundamentals of our trade?

In this edition of 60-Second Songwriting, we focus on one of songwriting’s building blocks – the lyrics. We’ll take a look at their basic function through the specific lens of the songwriter and explore the lyrics’ purpose in service of the song.

  • The lyrics (or words) are both the heart and mind of your song. They’re the spokesperson for your tune. They tell stories, they paint pictures, whisper or scream and hopefully get both the intellectual and emotional points of the song across to the listener. 
  • The lyrics of a song should, ideally, be at one with your top-line melody. If, say, a section of the melody has 8 notes, then its lyrical counterpart should strive to have an 8 syllable phrase to match.
  • The lyrics’ sentiments should also match and support the mood of the music (chords and melody).
  • Pop song lyrics generally rhyme and loosely follow poetic rules, but that said, they don’t have to do either. It’s important (and probably somewhat confusing) to remember - poetry can sort of be lyrics and lyrics can sort of be poetry, but ultimately poetry and lyrics are two different things.

Mark Bacino is a singer/songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists, composing for television/advertising and teaching songwriting via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark also is the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus, a website dedicated to exploring the art of songwriting. Visit Mark on Facebook, Instagram or follow him on Twitter.