Thread: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

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  1. #1
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    Default What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Just finished reading a critique here that Mixerman did for BIGDOG.

    In it, he excoriates her for essentially being a "one-trick-pony"...heavily relying on a single lyric "tool" to do her work. You know how the saying goes..."if you've only got a hammer, every problem tends to look like a nail".

    So, I thought it would be a useful exercise to talk about some of the various lyrical "tools" that we have at our disposal, that can help add interest and excitement in our lyrics.

    As Mixerman alludes to in his rather excellent analysis of BIGDOG's lyrics, the typical listener doesn't sit there and say, "oh, how interesting...the lyricist accomplished an acceleration by way of an inner rhyme". What they DO do is to subconsciously recognize patterns and relationships, and entirely without thinking about it, they arrange those patterns to extract meaning.

    They do this IN SPITE OF YOU. If you do not "lead them by the hand,” they will go places you don't expect, and that you don't want them to go. They will walk down blind alleys, trying to make sense of the patterns their subconscious is inventing in your lyrics, and come up against a dead end. Then they will abandon you.

    Writing effective lyrics is NOTHING about 'following rules'.... its all about using your tools effectively, and COMPELLING the listener to go where you want them to.

    So, over the next few weeks, I'm going to take a stab at each of these tools, and try to discuss some places you might use them. Please feel free to jump in and contribute, interject, question, challenge!

    dwoz


    Repetitions of words/phrases


    Repetitions of patterns


    Syllabic rhythm and patterns


    Rhyme


    Inner Rhyme


    Non Rhyme or broken rhyme


    Alliteration


    Accelerations and decelerations


    Prosody


    Syllabic Emphasis vs. rythmic emphasis
    (or, em-PHAS-is)


    pauses and stops.
  2. #2
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Crap!!!!


    I usually just let the music drive... almost like the vocals are trying to cry out and escape being trapped inside an instrumental...

    Now I have to think about other stuff???

    Could it be possible to get an idea of some examples where these different tools are used?

    Im a lyric newbie

    Thanks
  3. #3
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    as i usually find lyrics to be the most challenging part of the writing, i am looking forward to more of the theory of the lyrics, i.e why something seems to work.

    the internal filters employed in lyric writing for me depend on the rest of the song, and it seems odd to me that lyrics can be written, divorced from the music itself, since i write things more or less concurrently.

    i understand how it can be written lyrics-first, but the lyrics had better be solidly engaging in many of the above ways. i write lyrics later after the song has presented me with the things it needs from the lyric line.

    this should be a great peek into the minds of the lyricicsts; those same filters are totally dependent upon education, literal background and personal experience.

    what to write about? how to say it? what reason is there for the listener to give one flying fuck about what is being said?

    for my part, i use a lot of repetition of cadence and almost rhyme to help out words that mean something to me, but don't quite match each other so well in a truly rhyming way.

    lyrics 101

    i can't wait...

    rob
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    This looks like it's going to be some fun. I've actually forgotten a lot of this theory, whether that means I've ingrained it or never found a use for it remains to be seen.

    Don't foget about assonance, which only superficially sounds like rhyme but isn't... a lot of lyric poets draw the line at that one.


    Lead on MacDuff.
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Assonance is also referred to as vocalic alliteration if you don't like words that start with ass
    Man! You have GOT to try a hit of this RANGE SUNSHINE!

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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Another tool, if we may look at the forest as well as the trees, is to start a song engaging the listener in a story, build upon the story, and resolve it in such a way that it sticks in the listener's mind. I think the last part may be referred to as "payoff" but it's been a while since I've read about songwriting.
    Man! You have GOT to try a hit of this RANGE SUNSHINE!

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    Beer Thirty Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    I am SO all over this thread...the pleasure and pain of lyrics is a mysterious way.
    _______________________________________

    "You don't make music for immortality, you make music for the moment, capturing the sheer joy of being alive on planet Earth... Everybody should live it that way." Ray Manzarek

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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    I am SO all over this thread...the pleasure and pain of lyrics is a mysterious way.
    Word!

    I swear I'd have another 15 decent tunes in my arsenal if I could just learn to finish them. Seriously 15 second verses all just waiting for a thread like this.

    -mous

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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Installment One...

    I think it's time
    to speak of rhyme



    What is "rhyme"? Or, better, what kind of TOOL is rhyme, for a lyricist?

    The answer, is that it is a Pattern.

    What makes lyrics memorable? patterns.
    What makes lyrics flow? patterns.
    What do listeners listen for? patterns.
    What makes me think I know? c-c-c-c-courage.



    ok, what just happened there?

    A-B-A-B.

    there were two main rhymes: memORable-fOR, and flOW-knOW.

    The last rhyme, flow-know, is what is known as a "perfect" rhyme. The first one, is a little more interesting.

    Rhymes happen in various places, but most often, they happen on the EMPHASIZED or STRESSED syllable, or probably better stated, they happen WITHIN THE SAME STRESS PATTERN!


    Look at those two lines again:

    What makes lyrics memor-able?
    What do listeners listen for?

    does that help show the rhyme? its in there! The bold font is the strong stress, the regular font is the weak stress. This is what is known as a "consonance" rhyme

    A rhyme is a pattern. And the purpose of patterns is to set up expectations. The human mind is an insatiably curious and clever thing, and it loves to be teased and challenged by games and tricks. Setting up a pattern is like waving a chocolate bar under your brain's nose. It catches interest, it makes the mind work to guess what you're going to say next...if it guesses right, then it's proud of itself. If it guesses wrong, its intrigued and amused. That's why I did what I did in the final word above...'courage'. what word was your mind aready filling in?

    So, a rhyme in a lyric really is composed of two specific PATTERN TOOLS...there's the language pattern tool...the 'ending the word with the same letters' aspect of a rhyme, and there's also the placement of the rhyme in the same place in the stress pattern..

    The mind discerns both patterns simultaneously, and uses them both to help make it's 'guess'.


    Now, there's many types of rhymes. Most everyone knows about the so-called 'perfect' rhyme:

    It's time for me
    to walk to town
    to meet my fate,
    to face them down.

    But a rhyme doesn't have to be perfect, or be at the end of the line, to be a rhyme:

    I've watched you,
    Years of wonder, now you're grown
    Now I look through
    Tears of joy, how your gown
    Flows like water
    Tears my father's heart down

    Let me try highlighting the rhymes:

    I've watched you,
    Years of wonder, now you're grown
    Now I look through
    Tears of joy, how your gown
    Flows like water
    Tears my father's heart down

    an interesting one here is "tears"-"tears"...its what is known as a "sight" rhyme, where the word spells like a rhyme, but isn't one exactly...and its also an "identical" rhyme, which is the most perfect kind of rhyme you can have.

    'Perfect' meaning, "most exactly fitting the rules for what is considered a rhyme"...NOT that it was the perfect word!

    So, this little stanza sets up no less than SIX rhyme patterns.

    grown - gown really isn't a perfect rhyme. the 'extra R' just manages to kick it over into an "oblique" rhyme.

    the lines "now you're grown" - "how your gown" is an example of a rare bird...a "holo-rhyme", which is when the entire line matches up. Its like hitting three gold bars on the slots in Vegas. Free drinks!

    There's another sort of interesting "hidden" pattern too. Grouping all the words together that DON'T rhyme, I get:

    I've watched...of...Now I look...of joy...flows like...my heart.

    The fact that these words don't rhyme, in the middle of such a MASH of rhyme, makes them stand out, almost like a pattern all by themselves. And interestingly enough, these words convey the core meaning of the stanza.

    Just another interesting PATTERN that gave my mind a little squeeze.


    Perfectly rhymed...perfectly trite country song....enjoy!

    "The Golden Rule" by dwoz for Critique du Soleil.

    Got up in the morning, and thought about you,
    Makin' breakfast in an empty house, made me blue,
    Started thinkin' 'bout how I acted such a fool,
    Just decided that I'll follow that golden rule...


    ohhhh......(*chorus)

    Do unto others as you'd have done
    Give as much pain as you've had some
    She took away my manhood, took my pride
    there's gotta be a way,to even the side

    Its a tooth for a tooth, eye for an eye
    here's a little something hope it makes you cry
    Plenty other women want to have this fool
    just cashing in on that Golden Rule




    This RHYME SCHEME is "AABB". Meaning that the first two lines rhyme, then the second two rhyme.
    (by the way, switching the "tooth-eye" saying backwards wasn't a mistake or done for the sake of rhyming...though that was pretty convenient...because the song is all about payback, the OPPOSITE of the golden rule. )



    Let's mix it up and make the 2nd verse an "ABAB" form:

    Got up in the morning, and thought about you,
    every day of my life following all your rules,
    just sitting in an empty house without the slightest clue,
    Guess its time to find a use for these family jewels...


    and so on. you can do ABBA too:

    Saw you 'cross the bar with your brand new beau
    it's good to see you picking up a brand new life
    Though my time away from you has been free from strife
    I'm feelin' kinda sad to see you sinking so low

    ...let's try AABA

    My new girl gives me kisses by the dozen
    and no-one can complain about her brand of lovin'
    But somewhere deep inside, I'm still your fool
    Is the Golden Rule applyin' if she's your younger cousin?

    (final chorus, coda, out)


    As you can hopefully see, the ABBA form is a little bit harder on you...you have to remember that first line across a lot of interceding material, before the 'closure' of the rhyme.

    AABA can be fun, because it seems like a DECEPTIVE pattern. you set up an expectation to rhyme line 4 with the line previous, and create suprise and interest by instead rhyming farther back.

    This is a wonderfully cheesy country tune. I used to HATE country. Really HATE it. but I've come to embrace it as a great exercise in working with lyrics...If it doesn't rhyme, it AIN'T COUNTRY! (and of course, if it isn't country, it isn't rhyming) :-)

    Now, none of these are truly "tired" rhymes. There's NOTHING good about a tired rhyme.


    The thought that comes to mind is, "if you're going to do a trite, tired rhyme, just don't bother unless there's a gun to your head and a deadline in front of you. The mind loves rhyme because it loves patterns. When that pattern is "too easily solved", it looses its "sparkle".

    The very worst kind of rhyme in lyrics, is the Forced Rhyme. This means a rhyming word that just obviously is there on line 4 because of it's family relation to the word above it on line 3. It has little to no relevance to the story or anything, as something that someone might actually SAY, and very often its "shoe-horned" in, wrapped in some kind of freakish frankenstein sentence structure, ONLY JUST TO FIT A RHYME.

    This, is bad. nothing screams "amateur" quite in the same way.

    Also...rhyming on gerunds. Just say no.

    Everybody was kung-foo fighting
    those cats were fast as lightning
    in fact it was a little bit frightening

    I would type the last line, but bile was rising into my throat and I had to find a bowl or vase or something to...

    anyway, that's enough for now..Perhaps as "homework" someone find a perfect example of a "forced rhyme"?

    thank you for your valuable time,

    hope this helps.

    dwoz
  10. #10
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    ..Perhaps as "homework" someone find a perfect example of a "forced rhyme"?
    Tongue in cheek example would be Arlo Guthrie's Motorcycle song:

    "And I don't wanna die,
    just wanna ride on my motorcy...

    ...cle"

    Funny, clever boy that one.


    Cheers,
    Jean-Luc PicardVark
    I actually almost arranged a successful tree incident that should have killed Slipperman. I can do it again.
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Tongue in cheek example would be Arlo Guthrie's Motorcycle song:

    "And I don't wanna die,
    just wanna ride on my motorcy...

    ...cle"

    Funny, clever boy that one.


    Cheers,
    Jean-Luc PicardVark

    ...and this I would call a "meta-self-aware" rhyme...one that KNOWS its being shoehorned in, and yet feels no remorse or embarrasment. A rhyme that blows a raspberry at rhyming rules.

    dwoz
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Waitaminnit, no one I know pronounces it mem-OR-able.

    Yeah, it sounds remotely like "for" and alludes to that phoneme in what is ultimately a positive reinforcement, but I think you're stretching it here in calling it a rhyme. The word simply doesn't scan that way-- I don't care where in the Anglosphere you happen to be pronouncing it. If I actually sang it like that, with that stress and an accompanying melody, I'd be pilloried by anyone listening. Talk about shoe-horned.

    As regards the gerund thing, which you illustrate with the excerpt from Kung Fu Fighting, those are imperfect rhymes on the first syllable of the word, each of which are strong syllables and occur in the same point in the phrase. The fact that they're gerunds is beside the point here, methinks.
    Last edited by Fulcrum; January 21st, 2007 at 05:10 AM.
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Waitaminnit, no one I know pronounces it mem-OR-able.

    Yeah, it sounds remotely like "for" and alludes to that phoneme in what is ultimately a positive reinforcement, but I think you're stretching it here in calling it a rhyme. The word simply doesn't scan that way-- I don't care where in the Anglosphere you happen to be pronouncing it. If I actually sang it like that, with that stress and an accompanying melody, I'd be pilloried by anyone listening. Talk about shoe-horned.

    As regards the gerund thing, which you illustrate with the excerpt from Kung Fu Fighting, those are imperfect rhymes on the first syllable of the word, each of which are strong syllables and occur in the same point in the phrase. The fact that they're gerunds is beside the point here, methinks.

    Well...there's often a lot of "resistance" to the idea of imperfect rhymes. they're, well....not perfect. The important "take-away" is that a rhyme doesn't have to be completely straight-up to WORK. Often, you're faced with selecting a word that really works, MEANING-WISE, or a word that is sub-optimal but is a perfect rhyme. I submit that the typical "user's ear" is more forgiving of the imperfect rhyme than of the imperfect word.

    And you're right, the "gerund-icity" of Kung-fu-fighting is not necessarily the 'crutch' example that i was searching for. But, you have to admit, YOU ARE DOOMED TO HEAR THAT SONG IN YOUR HEAD for the rest of the day. DOOMED, I SAY.

    In that example, "fight", "light", and "fright" rhyme without regard to the gerund. (a gerund is the 'ing' word). But take a better example, such as 'working', 'loving', 'dreaming'.

    oh....


    dwoz
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Well...there's often a lot of "resistance" to the idea of imperfect rhymes. they're, well....not perfect. The important "take-away" is that a rhyme doesn't have to be completely straight-up to WORK. Often, you're faced with selecting a word that really works, MEANING-WISE, or a word that is sub-optimal but is a perfect rhyme. I submit that the typical "user's ear" is more forgiving of the imperfect rhyme than of the imperfect word.
    True, but much hinges on the word pronounced with the familiar stress applied to each syllable. I am perhaps making too much of that one example.

    But, you have to admit, YOU ARE DOOMED TO HEAR THAT SONG IN YOUR HEAD for the rest of the day. DOOMED, I SAY.
    Neeehhhh, not bloody likely. I'm going to bed to sleep this off now, and hope I wake up for church in the morning. Now, if our choir director decides on Carl Douglas instead of the Handel she has scheduled for the offertory (or the Haydn she has us doing for the anthem), well.....

    But take a better example, such as 'working', 'loving', 'dreaming'.
    Exactly.
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    You guys are all so dang serious. Can't you just have a little fun???
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?


    anyway, that's enough for now..Perhaps as "homework" someone find a perfect example of a "forced rhyme"?
    She took away my manhood, took my pride
    there's gotta be a way,to even the side
    Shouldn't that be "even the sides"?

    Hey, you asked.
    Man! You have GOT to try a hit of this RANGE SUNSHINE!

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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Shouldn't that be "even the sides"?

    Hey, you asked.

    Just use an AKG C1000 or C3000 to record the vocals. Then it will have the 'ess' on it whether you pronounce it or not.

    dwoz
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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    Just use an AKG C1000 or C3000 to record the vocals. Then it will have the 'ess' on it whether you pronounce it or not.

    dwoz
    LMFBO

    Good point!
    Man! You have GOT to try a hit of this RANGE SUNSHINE!

    IMTBO = In My Thoroughly Biased Opinion
    CMIIW = Correct Me If I'm Wrong
    Never underestimate the amount of contempt a failed musician has for those of us who are still trying.
    If the party's good enough, you can actually suck to a remarkable degree.

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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?

    anyway, the point I'm making is that one has to weigh the meaning of the lyrics, weigh in the imperfect rhymes, the assonance and alliteration, and whether it's a verse or a chorus before determining whether a perfect rhyme is necessary, or even desirable.

    As an example, I'll use a song from one of my all time favorite songwriters.

    I don't wanna live a life of quiet desperation
    And I don't want to die the death of a salesman
    Got to find some other arrangement
    I can live without the aggravation
    of a catch twenty-two situation.

    It's a verse. As such, it's not as important for the listener to memorize it. No perfect rhymes except for "aggravation" and "situation".

    The meaning trumps the perfect rhyme. The "everyman" listener gets that the writer knows the feeling of being the underdog, a feeling he knows all to well. An important connection is established.

    I don't wanna live a life of quiet desperation
    And Idon't want to die the death

    The average tow truck driver might not get it, but there are also references within the verse:

    Most men lead lives of quiet desperation
    and go to the grave with the song still in them.

    ~Henry David Thoreau

    <GASP> was that an imperfect rhyme?!
    Death of a Salesman --
    One of the most famous plays of the 20th century (made into 2 moves, the latter starring Dustin Hoffman)

    Catch-22 --
    One of the most famous books of the 20th century, made into a blockbuster move, and turned into one of the most quote phrases ever.

    For the chorus, the author uses perfect rhymes. Well, 3 out of four aint bad!

    You know that life can be so fine
    Pretty soon, it will be our time
    Find a way out of the shale mine
    Into the warmth of the sunshine
    Man! You have GOT to try a hit of this RANGE SUNSHINE!

    IMTBO = In My Thoroughly Biased Opinion
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    Never underestimate the amount of contempt a failed musician has for those of us who are still trying.
    If the party's good enough, you can actually suck to a remarkable degree.

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    Default Re: What's in YOUR lyrical toolbox?


    As an example, I'll use a song from one of my all time favorite songwriters.

    I don't wanna live a life of quiet desperation
    And I don't want to die the death of a salesman
    Got to find some other arrangement
    I can live without the aggravation
    of a catch twenty-two situation.

    It's a verse. As such, it's not as important for the listener to memorize it. No perfect rhymes except for "aggravation" and "situation".
    The rhyme scheme here is A-B-B-A-A.

    That's right. ABBAA. No question whatsoever.

    "salesman" and "arrangement" are actually "somewhat close rhymes". They're PERCEIVED as rhyme. Definitely not strong, but DEFINITELY rhyme. And, the first line certainly rhymes with the fourth and fifth! Enunciation would of course also help the listener identify the imperfect rhyme.

    The rhyme scheme of ABBAA is interesting. Here is a five-line stanza verse, which is a bit of a long distance. My thought here is that the initial "A" rhyme, bridging the interceding "BB" couplet, and finally paying back with the last "AA" couplet, does two things. First, it holds the whole thing together as a unit. If it was AABBC, or something similar to that, then with more than four lines, you'd perceive it as being not one long thought, but more as several joined couplets. It might even play out as two verses jammed together, or as a verse with a transition line into the chorus! The rhyme scheme helps to hold it together as a unit.

    Also, the rhyme scheme ABBAA does one other thing...it PROVIDES ACCELERATION into whatever comes next! If the rhyme scheme was AABBA, I'd suggest (depending on LOTS of other factors) that the rhyme scheme would be helping to HOLD THINGS BACK, and PREVENT acceleration.

    Rhymes set up TENSION/RELEASE, or perhaps EXPECTATION/CLOSURE events. That's their purpose as a tool in your lyrics.

    I have an exercise that I do when looking for rhymes. This harkens back to the point that nobby and fulcrum were making earlier, that the LYRIC STORY is the key to the whole thing. This is true. One valid exercise (out of many) is to do what I do...write down a paragraph of prose, that conveys the thought you're trying to put across. (prose being simple, straight text). Often this little mini-paragraph of text includes some kind of "key phrase" or "hook" or "interesting turn of words" that you like, that FEELS like the basis of a lyric. You take this short paragraph, and just read it naturally, and identify the "strong" words...the ones that are important. You re-write the paragraph to put those words into STRONG STRESS positions within the form, perhaps making these words the end of lines. Next, you identify the line that will most likely rhyme, and see if there's a logical natural choice to replace the word you've got in there. Often there is.

    So...START with strong story... FIND the words of strength...ARRANGE the prose into a verse form, with those strong words in key spots...and REPLACE words around them to accomplish a rhyme.

    Obviously, there are MANY MORE THINGS going on here, but for this moment, this post, I'm just concentrating on the rhyme aspect.

    hope that helped.

    dwoz

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