Lyrical composition

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This is an introduction to Lyrical composition.

All the elements should work together to support the message that you wish to convey. What are those things that make up the everything?

  1. Number of Lines
  2. Line length
  3. Rhyme scheme
  4. Rhyme Types
  5. Harmonic rhythm (of rhymes)
  6. Chords
  7. Melody

All of these work together the way that a film score works to help along a narrative. The major concept is Stable versus Unstable. What's your idea, what do you intend to say? If you feel stable (positive) you will support the idea with nuances. If you feel unstable (tension) about the concept, then you will want to create an unstable vibe.

Odds and Evens

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To reinforce an idea, a stable setting may be used, and to leave unresolved or suspenseful, an uneven or unstable setting may be used.

  1. An even number of refrains creates a stable vibe. An uneven number of refrains creates an unstable vibe.
  2. A pair of evenly matched lines is stable, whereas a long second line highlights the stressed syllable at the end of the line, and a short second line leaves us wanting more (unstable).
  3. An ABAB or AABB symmetrical rhyme scheme is stable, while ABBA or XXAA is unstable.
  4. Similarly the repetition of rhyme words can be unstable (uneven) and stable (even). Alternately a consonant rhyme can be unstable while a perfect rhyme can be stable.
  5. Four stress syllables is balanced and complete, i.e. stable. Three stress syllables is unbalanced.
  6. An end on a tonic chord is stable, an end on a fourth or seventh is unstable.

The number of lines, length of lines, rhythms of lines, rhyme scheme, rhyme types, and chords/melody/harmony can all be used to support and enhance what you're saying. An unstable structure and a stable structure will give different results. Even a collision between one set of structural ideas and another can make an unstable vibe.


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Rhyme moves emotion. With a rhyme scheme one can make you feel happy and stable or one can subvert your expectation and make you feel inconstant. Remember we're working to avoid cliche. Also, beware the weak stress: "see" versus "lonely". Use a dictionary and look for the long stress mark and use that.

The emotional spectrum of rhymes

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1.) Perfect rhyme (identical vowel sounds, identical consonants after the vowel if any, rhyming syllable begins differently): Fully Resolved (and crisp acceleration)

2.) Family rhyme (identical vowel sounds, consonants after the vowel are phonetically related if any): Strongly Resolved

A Chart of Phonetics and Consonants
  • Plosives Partner sounds
  1. b, d, g Voiced (least possible sound when added)
  2. p, t, k Unvoiced
  • Fricatives Partner sounds
  1. v, TH, z, zh, j Voiced
  2. f, th, s, sh, ch Unvoiced
  • Nasals Partner sounds
  1. m, n, ng Voiced

3.) Additive Rhymes(identical vowel sounds, consonants after the vowel add a little sound if any): Moderately More Resolved

  • Adding least possible sound creates a stable connection
  • Adding more creates a less stable connection
  • Examples: free/speed, glow/stove, fit/grits, fine/resigned, cry/smile

4.) Subtractive Rhymes(identical vowel sounds, consonants after the vowel subtract a little sound if any): Moderately Less Resolved

  • Examples: speed/free, stove/glow, resigned/fine, smile/cry

5.) Assonance Rhymes(identical vowel sounds, ending consonants belong to different phonetic families): Strongly Unstable

  • Examples: life/tide, blood/rush, fool/rude, fire/smile

6.) Consonance Rhymes(different vowel sounds, ending consonants are Identical): Fully Unstable

  • Examples: friend/wind, defense/innocence, one/gone, one/alone, scars/fears, filled/crawled

A perfect rhyme scheme that doesn't work...

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Fire, transpire, desire, conspire...for a song about a heartbreak.

An imperfect rhyme scheme that does work...

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Fire, blood, fear, bland...for a song about heartbreak.

For Rap

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Rhyme columns, placing rhymes in lines. Think about rhyme placements as though they were harmonic rhythm, they become the flow. Simple lyrics can be very moving, while uninteresting, which has the listener attentive to the bassline.


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Stressed Syllables

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Mul-Syl-Ble are the higher pitches in "Multi-Syllable". The middle one "Syl" is the primary stress, and has the highest pitch. "Mul" and "Ble" are the secondary stresses.

One-syllable words will be stressed if they have meaning (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs). Grammatical words (Articles, conjunctions, prepositions and personal pronouns) are lower in pitch and may become emphasized, but not stressed, unless showing a contrast.


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In 4/4 time, the downbeat (1st) and third beat are the stressed beats. Simply, the primary stresses should fall together. The primary stressed syllables should fall on the 1st or 3rd beats. A secondary stress syllable should fall on a secondary stress beat like the 2nd or 4th. To diminish a secondary stress syllable, simply move the secondary stress syllable to after the stress beat.


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The personal tonic; Harmonic Function

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People whine and tease on minor thirds, they use "a" and "the" on their tonic. To emphasize positively, or ask questions we use a fifth. We threaten on a dominant below the tonic. The preacher, auctioneer use the fourth (subdominant) because it's really going somewhere and unstable. We express surprise and warning on the seventh degree of our scale.

The emotional spectrum of the notes of the scale

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  1. Tonic, "do" (most stable)
  2. Octave, "do"
  3. Perfect Fifth, "sol"
  4. Third, "mi" (a little stable)
  5. Sixth, "la" (a little unstable)
  6. Second, "re"
  7. Fourth, "fa"
  8. Seventh, "ti" (most unstable)[1][2]


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The emotional spectrum of the chords of the scale

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  1. Chord 1 (most stable)
  2. Chord 6
  3. Chord 3
  4. Chord 4
  5. Chord 2
  6. Chord 5
  7. Chord 7 (least stable)[3]


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A metaphor is a collision of two things that are seemingly unrelated and now we've got all these textures. "Falling in love" and "Las Vegas", all number of things happen in Las Vegas, but what we're going to write about is "Falling in love"... One way to approach metaphors is to start by writing similes, like these: "He made my skin feel like I was winning" and "her smile was like a light show". The simile can then be abstracted into a metaphor. If you want the listener to understand how you feel when you are touched by your lover (the first simile), you might tell them how you feel when you win at Blackjack:

I watched the dealer reach; his hand slid across the cards and gently turned one. My heart raced and sweat beads formed on my brow. A brief glance showed me I had the winning cards; I clenched my fists and bit my lower lip to avoid screaming in joy.

Hopefully, it is obvious that the previous has nothing to do with cards.

Find, create, extend and reverse metaphor. Finding metaphor is a great way to start a song, and is a great way to dig in and find an interesting way to express something, particularly feelings.