Pat Pattison has the dubious title of being a professor of songwriting. But don’t let that put you off. He is one of the great teachers of songwriting, and in particular lyric writing. In this extract, he talks about creating coherence in a song, using structure to underline the tone of a song. It’s one of the themes he covers in the book “Writing Better Lyrics”, using examples to illustrate how structure can leave a listener waiting for more or stop them dead in their tracks.
If that sounds like hard work, you can easily skip his advice. But if you are interested in how and why some songs are more engaging, more memorable or more effective, check the interview and book. Although a lot of what songwriters do is totally spontaneous, there are ways to direct that spontaneity to greater effect. This is particularly true if you are the melody writer as well as the lyric writer. But even lyricists can do with understanding these principles.
If a melody is unresolved, what sort of effect does that have? And what sort of lyric would best serve this effect? Working against a melody’s structure is not the best idea. Most of the world’s most enduring songs illustrate this principle, from U2’s “One” to Abba’s “The Winner Takes it All”. When the words, melody and structure are working towards the same goal, the result can be incredibly powerful.
Are there rules in songwriting?
Pattison argues that instead of rules we should talk about tools. There are techniques that improve a song that he covers in the book. Through exercises, he guides the reader through the phase of understanding the impact of words and structure and then actually writing better lyrics yourself.
If you have done OK so far without understanding any of this, it’s worth reading if only to pick up extra tools with which to play. It’s particularly helpful if you often find yourself using the same meters and rhymes in lyrics and want to break out of a repetitive rut.
“Writing Better Lyrics” on Amazon UK.