Rhythm of the Verse

July 29, 2019

Did you know, that the lyrics and the way you arrange them contribute to the rhythm and flow of a song?  I have heard several people who say, "I love this song--I don't ever listen to the words but I love the way it sounds."  As a songwriter who is equally invested in what the words say as much as the melody and rhythm, I became intrigued by the idea that people can like one song over another without even paying attention to the words.  I can think of some catchy tunes that I don't listen to because of the lyrics.  Then, there are other songs where I don't particularly like the lyrics but the message is not harmful or negative, and I listen to them because the music is good and the rhythm of their lyrics is good.  However, there is a magic that happens when you have both good lyrics and good music together.

But instead of getting into personal preferences, let's talk a little about different ways to write lyrics that have an interesting flow and make people want to listen.  For example, these songs have a very useful songwriting method in common:

"We Will Rock You" by Queen, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMLiqEqMQyQ)
"Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lWJXDG2i0A)

Both of these songs use a quicker verse with a slower, powerful chorus.  In "We Will Rock You," you can hear that Queen uses several syllables per beat during the verse.  During the chorus they pull back the number of syllables to basically one syllable per beat.  By minimizing the syllable use on the chorus they can focus on a total of four words and really make them stand out, and frankly, really make them rock!  

In "Free Fallin'," this method is even more exagerated on the chorus during the word "free."  If you think about the word "free" and what it means, you realize that giving one word almost 2 full measures is a wonderful way to illustrate the lyric through the music.
So, while this method seems simple, it is quite effective in creating an interesting sound.  Of course, you can reverse this and have a slow verse and a faster chorus--either way they add something new for your ear to identify as you listen.

Another fantastic tool for giving your lyrics interesting rhythm is through the use of alliteration, assonance, and consonance.  Alliteration is the use of the same sounds at the beginning of two or more words in a phrase.  Assonance is the internal repetition of vowel sounds in words close togeter.  Consonance is the internal repetition of consonants, or the repetition of consonants at the end of words in a phrase. A brilliant example that employs the use of alliteration, assonance, and consonance is "Lose Yourself" by Eminem (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmXumtgwtak).  You can clearly hear how these literary devices aid in making the rhythm of the lyrics interesting, even fascinating.

If you are looking to mix up your songwriting style a little bit, purposefully try some of these techniques and see how they can add to the lure of your lyrics.  Let a friend listen and see if they start to lean in a little.  Most importantly, just keep writing.  Write what you want and continue to love it.  Don't get too hung up on what someone says a good song should be, but learning new things and trying them out only help to make you a better and more knowledgeable songwriter.

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