Lyrics Generating

How to turn yourself into a lyric machine: the hard ways and the easy ways.

Ultimate Guitar

Got songs with no lyrics? Ideas without the words to describe them? Here are a few helpful tips to consider on your next songwriting venture:

A: Pick up all the books you've got around you and stack them in front of you cause you're about to be thumbing through them all with this tip. Look for words that you dont say on a day to day basis; words you may have forgotten the meanings to or never even heard. Write them down on a piece of paper however you want to. Now this is not a song. This is a reference sheet for times when you don't quite know what to say or when you don't want to use dumbed-down lyrics. You can look up the definitions if you like as well so you know when and where to use these words. Think eve6 or tool/a perfect circle lyrics. Even though you may not not what the meaning to a word is you find the emotion behind it and understand it regardless.

B: Write down stories or ideas you may have or may be inspired to have through other media (movies, TV, other songs, articles, etc.). Try writing through the eyes of a passerby or through the eyes of the people involved in your story or real life experience. Did you know that the song "Breath" by Disturbed is based on the view of the rapist in an actual newspaper article that David Draiman read before writing that song?!? Also, try writing a story down and write sub- ideas along the way, like footnotes to aid you in expressing the feelings you're picturing the song to have. And don't always stick to just one point of view or one specific time period. Take Metallica's Unforgiven for example. It starts off through the eyes of a young boy in the first verse and then goes to hetfields view for the chorus. Then he moves to the boys eyes again but as a man now (different time period), then through the eyes of his oppressors, and finally admitting that the old man here is me, all within the same 2nd verse. Get it? Then go back to the story you've written and form lyrics from the ideas you've written down, remembering to use your footnotes to keep the songs meaning clear.

C: Keep a pen and a piece of scrap paper in your pocket as often as possible. You never know when a song idea or a random lyric will pop into your head. They don't have to be whole rhyming parts, either. Just phrases will suffice until you have the time to sort it out later. I have tons of pieces of paper with what seems to be just random unrelated thoughts but are actually individual verses and verse/song ideas. Write down things people say or things you read or hear that spark your interest. Chances are they will spark someone elses too and make for a great song.

D: Finally, as an artist (as in drawing) I've found myself able to put to use a technique I sometimes use in drawing. Just put the pen to the paper and go full steam at it. Don't get caught up trying to perfectly rhyme your verses like cat and hat or door and more or something like that. That's what leads to writers block. Try rhyming through sound rather than spelling, like the words sad and flag or see and need, etc. Just go. Fix the details later, just let your feelings come out off of the top of your head. Then go back through these steps again until you're happy with it.

E: Don't be afraid to be vague or to take chances with lyrics that might offend people or confuse them. F-ck what everyone else thinks because they aren't the ones who have to express your feelings. You are. Be you no matter what.

Questions or comments are welcome.

56 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Brilliant article! Lyric writing is something i've always wanted to try (I usualy stick with the actual music) but i've never known where to start. This is gonna help me a lot, cheers man!!
    my one problem in writing is lyrics. this will help. the one technique i use, is writing a story about something youe passionate about. once you got the gist of the story, it just comes to you. blink 182's story of a lonely guy is an example of this. great articl though
    this is the first chance i've gotten to check your comments since i posted this. thanx for the positive feedback(i know im not crazy now!). i also did some lessons on soloing with modes and i dont think they got posted so im sorry. whoever said that following tip A. would lead to a lyrics lacking feel should realize that this tip is simply a vocabulary builder and you should find a way to put feel into them yourself. also, it's not for you to find big words either. i said to look for words you dont always use. they dont necessarily have to be medical lingo or something like that. big words dont always make a song. but some groups do use big words to express themselves well; case in point-a perfect circle/tool. thanx readers!
    Nice article overall. Some of the stuff I didn't think was all that great. It's like you're trying to make other peoples' lyrics the same as other peoples' lyrics . . . if you get what I'm saying. I think C, D, and E were the best tips on there!!!! E is a tip lots of people need to learn. Nice stuff.
    John Alexander
    I happen to think looking for words that you don't often use is a good thing for lyrics. However, it's how you use that counts. I'd have to say 99.9% of the time I find a word like that it's used as an adjective.. just something that can help describe the feel of a line of verse better. I think these words should almost always be adjectives.
    pretty good man. I actually liked the much-maligned suggestion "A". I HATE dumb lyrics.
    finally an article i really like.. thanx for the tips man.. this realle helps me; keep up the good work n' rock on
    OK... Point A sucked Tool and all those other bands dont use them wordz cos they sound sa-mart. Dumbass, Dumbass, Dumbass. Point B also sucked I'm guessing you never understood the idea of a paragraph. That points thesis statement was totally irrelevent to the rest of the point. Point C... Who will pull out a notebook when they are in the lunch line and write down their great new song idea about a hamburger. Oh and Point D D: Finally, as an artist (as in drawing) I've found myself able to put to use a technique I sometimes use in drawing. that sounds like one of those questions you prolly got wrong on the english portion of your ACT. No one that I know tries to rhyme door with floor in their lyrics. I don't know what kind of music you listen to. and point E... F-ck what everyone else thinks because they aren't the ones who have to express your feelings. That sounds like a propaganda technique, glittering generalities. It sounds nice, but does it really mean anything. Obviously not because it was a stupid thing to say. And people that try too hard to be themselves often become punk-emo (whatever they're all the same) weird kids...
    I thought this article was great. Point A is really just for people who have a limited vocabulary, however the rest was gold.
    Good Article bro! I'm too lazy to do some of this like the book thing, but other than that this could help. I have plenty of cool guitar riffs that I could use some lyrics for. Most of the time, the words come naturally, but this was still helpful!
    loserchild, since you're the expert here and you're obviously too good for this lesson that helped everyone else who read it, why dont you write an article on generating lyrics and be sure that it doesnt include any of my stupid ideas. lets see how well your lessons come out and how much benefit they are for the rest of us lowly peons. and while you're doing that you can end world hunger, win the nobel peace prize,save the rainforests, and *** off.
    big words hahah thats retarded. you dont need big words to have a good song. the rest is good though.
    I'm sorry I can't sit by and let this guy actually think that he makes any sense. Dear, Fender Rocker16: Please write me a song. While writing this song I would like you to stop and reread your writing. Now, compare yourself to Avril LaVigne and her grotesque usage of the word 'Stuff' in her latest radio cut. Now, come to the realization of how similar you sound next to her. The point is this: You don't need big words to make a great song. However you need, I mean as an artist you should already know this, but you need to have as large a vocabulary as posible for the simple fact that knowing more words allows you to more precisely deliver to the music fans the feeling you intend to. Though you may think big words don't make a good song - music isn't about making good songs, or making cool music, or this or that, it's about artistic expression - something very many of today's "bands" seem to have forgotten, and as much as it is about artistic expression through music, the artist needs to be able to express themselves with little misconception. You need to be able to get the message to your listeners clearly so that they can understand you with no difficulty, and just having an extensive collection of words to employ makes accurately incorporating your feelings into your music much, much easier. There may be many different words that are similar in meaning - but trust me, each one has it's tiny nuances that makes it more fitting in different situations, and being able to convey your feeling to exponentially accurate extent allows the listener to understand and relate - which is what draws people to your music - the feeling you project that makes them feel like they aren't alone, that there are other people out there that have gone through what they have, and APPRECIATE you as a musician, instead of rather just liking how catchy your drummer can be. Please understand, I'm not harrasing you - I'm just saying... words are a lyricists weapons, and you won't be able to win the battle without keeping your weapons in tip top shape. Besides, being able to USE a large vocabulary is something worth bragging about - being able to understand a vast majority of people from the ghetto ass kids on the corner, to the legal jargon comming to you for copyright infringement - you'll be able to understand it none-the-less, thus making you a better person and more talented a lyricist.
    Ok, here's my review/rant/rave: Point A: "Pick up all the books you've got around you and..." I agree with the majority of this point. However I just want to speculate for a moment about what I disagree with or am not too particular about. I'm all in support of self-education for the purpose of writing better lyrics, however it just seems like jetman_james suggests learning or reimplementing words into your vocabulary just for the sake of lyric writing - I mean to say, to have more words that rhyme or more words to be used synonomously. My opinion is that it is optimal for a lyricist to have as broad a vocabulary as possible, if only to more accurately express their feeling within their lyric as opposed to have more "words to use" in their lyric. I believe it to be imperitive not only to know *of* such words, but to educate one's self on their meaning(s) and applicable context such as to leave as little uncertainty as possible with the listener, so that there is as little misconception as possible on the part of the artist - however not to push it, intentionally using an array of unnecessarily large words thus creating more of a confusion among the artist's target crowd. Point B: "Write down stories or ideas you may have or may be inspired to have through other media..." Juxtaposed to my thoughts about jetman_james' first point, I entirely agree with this point. Any kind of artistic insight you have is best put on paper, whatever it may be. I have many great ideas that just randomly constitute in my thoughts that I usually write down just in case I could use one idea in conjuction with another and those two with another to concoct some work of brilliance in my storywriting, I'm without a doubt quite positive that the same archiving of ideas and thoughts could be easily employed and utilized to compose many a great lyric. Not to mention it's a commonly known fact that everything is derived from something - meaning that most things that come to be created aren't so much a work of complete originality, but a compilation of improvements and reworks of something already in existance. Taking that idea to the next level, one might agree that some of the most brilliant lyrical composures may have been inspired not from within the writer, but perhaps from an external source be it a live event or witnessing of such event, a book or a movie, or even another song. Always write down any idea of artistic nature - be it part of a story or movie, or perhaps a catchy phrase, a sentimental quote from one dear to you, hell even a drawing you drew might inspire that touch of complete brilliance and act as that finishing agent for your piece. You never know, and that's why I believe you should always write that stuff down - you never know when it's going to completely compliment something in the future.
    Point C: "Keep a pen and a piece of scrap paper in your pocket as often as possible..." This may be the most crucial point if one were to exist above the others as such. I'm actually a good friend of jetman_james and I can assure you that it is a rare occurance for us to be without some median to write on and some device to mark upon it with. I shit you not when I say that your most brilliant ideas will come when you least expect them if only because you aren't expecting them. It's a great investment to purchase a small pocket notepad and a mechanichal pencil and just keep them in your back pocket or in your backpack, purse, what have you - trust me there will be a time that you will smack yourself for not having these tools when sheer musical genious comes over you simply because you saw the way a waitress dropped her pencil, picked it up, and the look she gave the man across the room. "Wtf?" right? But trust me, the words will enter your brain like you were born to think up that line or verse and you will seriously be wanting a way to log that line or verse when the time comes. The pen and paper will never prove to be as strong as when you desperately need to record the ingeneuity that breifly captivated you. Very good point.
    Point D: "Just put the pen to the paper and go full steam at it..." Yet another perfectly complimentary point here. This is actually my biggest problem as a writer is being overcritical of my own work, reworking things until I forget the passion I had for writing about whatever it was I was so caught up with only moments before. This is the most easily overlooked yet so critically helpful to the creation process. Many people brainstorm their work, and then brainstorm some more and some more until their blue in the face and then they attempt to systematically and carefully outline their ideas and fill them in with premeditated ideas, and then they go and revise it over and over because no one is more picky about someone's work than themself. No one will ever find as much "wrong" with your works of art as you will simply because it's yours and you want to do better. Ok, trust me on this if ever I could advise an artist, especially a musician - you make things hard on yourself simply by feeling out a certain chord and constructing a song and then assigning lyric to it. The easiest way to go about any form of artistic expression is to express, that's it. Artistic beings generally don't analyze, simulate or otherwise preordain the way their art will go, it comes to them naturally - however when you get a good idea about something you want to expand on it, why wouldn't you? Problem is, one's actual activity of creating, that is - doing it with creative intent, is more like trying to force that which is natural about you, out of yourself, effectively preventing your creative mind from creating of it's own accord. Once you just put your fingers on the frets and stop *trying* to play music, and simply create your expression through this stringed instrument, far more good ideas come from "just jammin" than from actually trying to pressure out a song, and I know most of you know what I'm talking about. Same thing for the writing of lyric, just start expressing how you feel and what your mood is, your innate creativity that made you passionate about this in the first place will create when the opportunity is present and unperturbed. The words will flow with such ease, the metaphors and similes, the crescendos and decrescendos, vibrato, the words will write themselves because you are expressing from the heart, from your true self and that is what music is about. You will easily write you best music when A) you least expect it, B) it takes little effort and less actually trying - music is from the soul, to the soul - so when it pours freely from one's soul as it is writing itself, using the most accuracy and clarity in it's own expression such that it is easily taken in by those in your target crowd and the souls they contain. Music is brutal, honest, unprocessed emotion and can only retain it's true power when concieved from one soul to others.
    Point D Part 2 Just... stop re-reading your lyrics and stop writing songs and instead simply harness that which you are recording with - take in your computer or pencil or voice recorder as an extension of thine own being, then simply write. About anything you feel, it's *feeling* we're trying to capture, not words. Just indulge in the way you feel and become enveloped by it entirely, such that you are now it's master. It has become you, therefore you can dictate what to do with it, and you will choose 'nothing'. You will just be, and allow these feelings you are so intimately understanding at that moment to simply exist. Allowing them to remain and linger will more easily allow your creativity to utilize your data source/storage as an extension of your own person, willing it to take down these ideas that have been accurately assigned to your feelings seeing as how they were able to linger for such a period and your mind was able to put precise wording and idea to them. And then you will just put your balls to the wall and write as though you never have before and it will be 100% genuine, and - furthermore, actual music of which the idea has been forgotten and your passion will grow ever greater only making you better at your trade.
    Point E (Part 1): "Don't be afraid to take risks or try new things with your lyric..." Just as important as the others, again music is from the soul, from the heart, to the souls/hearts of those willing to hear it. While it is this way, it must be so unyieldingly. Any lyricist that denied an idea based on the idea that people might not agree, or people might see differently, is simply a writer. It takes alot to be considered an artist, more so to be labeled a musician, and yet more still to be appointed the title of a professional musician. Some of those qualities requisite of the professional, or even the musician title, are an unrivaled passion for their art. The mentality that there is live with my music, and there is death without it. Those who rate their personal instrument higher than most everything they could possess. One's guitar is his lifeforce, at least if he is serious about becomming a legendary musician in these days where one-hit-wonders and pop music reign the chart tops. Such infiltrators have softened up our expectations, have flooded the scene with large amounts of mediocrity making it hard for those with actual talent, love and passion for music, those who not only perform exceptionally, but recognize good music and appreciate that it still exists in this mess of pass-time or hobby bands, the ones that practice an hour a week and don't utilize solos, and use the same three frets for the whole melody of a song and plug their noses and talk instead of actually sing their lyrics. Music these days is about money - completely, and it shows in the music that we hear anymore. Well, music should never be about money, and professional musicians won't refuse it, but you are damn sure they will bring real music to be paid for.
    Point E (Part 2) The real musicians out there, mainstream or guest-opening-act or resident local band - they play music and express artistically. They feel inside them - the musical inclination. The feeling that makes you clench your fist to hold that not just a moment longer; the feeling that makes you play the same song three times at three different venues - and the solo is always different, much more personalized to the crowd. It's that feeling you get when you impulsively pull people onto the stage with you because you know they get it, you know they appreciate your real musical talent. That feeling at a concert with a great musically talented band that unites all of the people watching as one, administering a guiding hand to each and every one showing them all exactly the way you feel and why and allowing them to feel that feeling, not just hear about it, but experience it themselves. This is the reason music exists, and this is why you can not hold anything back in your music. You gotta give it everything, take those risks and use those lyrical anomalies that might get you some static - as long as you are expressing yourself without any hinderance or any miscommunication or any misprojection - they may not at first, but they will respond to your being a real, passionate, talented musician rathan than some eighteen year old kid with father-figure issues and a stuffed up nose. They'll come around indefinately, don't hold back.
    Some of the advice isn't very good. If you follow A then you willl have lyrics that totally lack feel. The rest was pretty good though.
    Even though you may not agree with these techniques, a very interesting article... definitely worth lookin in to. Good work.
    Interestning artcle, that's exaclty the problem I've got now...Thanks
    Did you know that the song "Breath" by Disturbed is based on the view of the rapist in an actual newspaper article that David Draiman read before writing that song?!?
    writing from the point of view of a rapist is completely cliche. everybodies done it. don't bother
    OpeN WidE
    writing from the point of view of a rapist is completely cliche. everybodies done it. don't bother
    i dont think he said "write from the eyes of a rapist." that was just one example of writing in a different view than yourself. I think this was the best article ive seen in a while. Too many dumb history articles and stuff. Get back to the tips and stuff like this guys.
    fender rocker16
    big words hahah thats retarded. you dont need big words to have a good song. the rest is good though.
    and if you cant make a line fit properly, just throw in some swear words!!!
    This is full of great ideas. I actually keep a notebook on me all the time. I sleep next to one too, because very often, on that threshold between sleep and wakefullness, you know, where none of your thoughts make sense, I find that some weird stuff pops in my head, and I have gotten some of the best tidbits out of my sleepy stupor. That "threshold" is right when you are about to knock out, and you are actually partially dreaming. Dreams are the first things that occour in sleep. Try it, keep a notebook nearby, and i promise something will come to you in your sleep sooner or later. And if you don't write it down, it'll be gone forever. Great job, I think this article deserves five stars.
    Steph Bets
    thats actually pretty good article. another tip: write as much as you can, about what ever. and read heaps of stuff.
    good article, i really agree with the ideas comin when you goto sleep thing . . .
    Geldof the Grey
    Very nice... but you should employ the same writing techniques into your columns as you do with songs and make this twice as long... I know I'd read it! 4 *'s