Seven Easy Steps to Writing Hit Lyrics
Lyric Writing Tips by Molly-Ann Leikin
written poems and I've written lyrics. I've learned if you can do one, you can usually do the
other. As a poet, I've enjoyed the pure creative process, and the occasional publication of my
But I've never made a dime writing a poem. Ever.
On the other hand, I live very comfortably on my lyric royalties. And it beats working.
In my practice as a songwriting consultant in California, I hear almost every other new client
tell me he or she can't write lyrics. To help them, I've developed a seven-step system, and it
If you're a poet who's tired of being broke, and would like to occasionally use your gifts to
write more commercially, this article can help you make that transition. It can also help lyricists
who are stuck, composers who claim they write music only, plus the entire world of left-brain
computer types who ache to create something romantic—like a song.
When writing one, be aware that melodies are open to interpretation - so when you write a tune,
what you feel or intend is still safe in your heart.You don't have to reveal yourself or stand
completely naked in front of the world. But once you put words to a tune, your feelings are totally
out in the open and everyone knows what's in your heart. Therefore, it can be very inhibiting
to write lyrics, which is often why writers get stuck.
But here is the process I use with my clients to make lyric writing simple. I suggest you use
all seven steps. Cutting corners is usually why a lyric doesn't work.
Most poets and beginning songwriters make the mistake of writing acres of lines of iambic pentameter
and then set out to look for someone who can turn that dreary rhythm into an exciting melody.
Almost nobody can, no matter what the words are saying. So don't write your lyrics first.
]Get the tune, then write the words. So let's assume, for this exercise,
that you have a melody but no idea of what to say in your lyric. Don't worry if you don't have
a tune. I'll give you one.
STEP 1. Sing or play the tune of a nursery rhyme. Any of them will do: Baa Baa Black
Sheep, Humpty Dumpty, Ring Around the Rosie - it doesn't matter which you choose. Use this melody
for practice. As you listen to it, scribble down some non-rhyming prose. Ignore the exact notes,
but listen to the feelings. Let your words be a stream-of-conscious exercise to warm up
your imagination. Don't use rhymes or logic. Try to be visual, silly, playful and have fun with
Here's an example of some lines I scribbled down after listening to "Itsy Bitsy Spider":
A former tooth farmer from Fluffy, South Apricot, dug through Exxon's banana shoe hairbrush section
for kangaroo lingerie, after the De La Hoya/Pope Potato wrist rake from Western Tire Cough Drops
slid unnoticed into burping toenails.
STEP 2. Now please write a silly, visual non-rhyming lyric to your tune. Match each note
with one syllable. Fill your non-rhyming lyric with ridiculous pictures. Again, don't be logical,
don't make it make sense. Every line can be about something different. The first might concern
shoe repair, the second, airport parking. In this draft, try to keep all the rhymes OUT. Here's
an example of a nonsense lyric I wrote, to the tune of "Jack and Jill".
Lizards frying Jaguars
All hum Hawaiin shoe trees
Disneyland will hiccup in
The mayor's purple phone soup.
STEP 3. Now write an uncensored list of silly titles that will fit with the stresses
of the first line of your nursery rhyme. No matter how many notes in that line, keep your title
to seven syllables or less. Shoot for twenty or thirty possible titles. Don't write anything
you've heard before. Let your imagination roll. Don't say, "Oh, that's dumb." Write it all down.
You might find one of these nonsense titles could actually turn into a real one later. "I Love
You" is fine, but Jewel's "Swallow The Moon" gets you in the gut. A good title will write the
whole song for you. A mediocre one will leave you stranded in line two.
Here are some nonsense titles I wrote to the tune of
"Jack and Jill":
Santa knit a Hershey Bar
Orange dancing astronauts
Drinking bricks can make you skate
STEP 4. Write a few real titles with the same number of syllables as your silly
ones. Here are some I wrote to
"Jack and Jill":
Sundays with the London Times
Do you ever think of me
Moonlight over Lake O'Hare
STEP 5. Choose one of your real titles. Write the story it tells in prose. Just a couple
of sentences will do fine. Writing the story as a letter might be easier for you. If any lines
come out rhyming, change them so they don't. That way, you'll be able to express yourself with
complete freedom, and without the constraints of rhyme or meter.
When you finish this step, you'll know the beginning, middle and end of your story before you
start to write the lyric. Most songs have two verses, a chorus and a bridge, so allow space for
them in your story. By writing it first, you'll be able to see if you have enough information
to fill a whole song, so you won't get stuck half-way through with nowhere to go. You can always
cut out words and lines later.
STEP 6. Using the information from your story, write a non-rhyming lyric to the nursery
rhyme melody you've chosen. Should rhymes mysteriously appear, delete them.
STEP 7. Now write the "real" lyric, with the story and the rhymes.
I suggest you do all seven steps. Not four, not two. Seven. My clients who don't are still claiming
they can't write lyrics. But many of my songwriters who do are climbing the charts.
The more lyrics you write, the easier it gets. So please do this exercise five times, each with
a different nursery rhyme. Once you learn how to map out a lyric, and write it to a melody, you're
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© 2015 Molly-Ann Leikin
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