Skip to content

approaches II - music first

I should note that by the term 'music' I am referring to the tune of a song here, the part that the singer sings. I will discuss 'beats' - or rather chord progressions - in some later post.

Lyrics have their own rhythm and meter and thus determine the scope of the tunes they can be linked with. In reverse, if you have music that you try to find matching words for, the tune defines the number of syllables and stresses per line. Both approaches can be seen as either guidance or restriction. The task remains the same in principle: you try to find either notes or words for a given meter.

As soon as you have written one verse the next one is determined in the very same manner. Writing lyrics to match someone else's music is no more restricting than writing the second verse after the first. Nevertheless, many lyricists shrink back from the task. That leaves just a few who address it, which has been my advantage.

With one exception ALL my partners who perform their songs or even have published a CD and thus actually earn me a few royalties (little enough!) are musicians who send me their compositions to have me find matching words. The actual melody is either represented by some odd MIDI instrument or by a singer singing nonsense text. I prefer the latter because it's closer to normal singing or speach and makes it easier for me to identify the intonation.

Often you cannot match tune and words one-to-one. Here and there a note/syllable needs to be added or omitted. But as long as you observe the stresses and the endings of lines this should be fine. The meter is defined by the number of stresses, not by the number of syllables. The melody might have other restrictions, though. It might get difficult to sing if there are too many syllables squeezed into one line, for example. Therefore, it is good to show some restraint when it comes to suggesting musical changes.

All the lyrics I have written for the blues-rock band MotorPlanet over the years - more than 40 - were written in that manner, also the Hot Mama songs, the lyrics for Julie Carpino, and for Larry Blustain. The latter were the most demanding. I actually had to read printed notes for the first time since school to get the stresses and number of syllables right.

songs by Larry Blustain
(I wrote the words for "with my eyes closed", "teardrops on the Seine", and "when you're here")