I’ve noticed some questions arising on songwriter’s forums about lyric meter and what exactly it is.
What is Lyric Meter? Lyric meter is the resulting rhythm of a lyric line based on the placement of stressed and unstressed syllables within that line. That collection of syllables is repeated throughout sections of the song resulting in familiarity.
The Natural Rhythm of Language
Each language has its own particular rhythm or meter to it when spoken. We don’t pay close attention to it because it’s just a natural part of our daily communication.
In order for us songwriters to be successful in crafting great songs, we need to start examining the “language” of our language. For example, read the following phrase out loud,
“Songwriting is the ability to combine words, music, and rhythm into a cohesive work of audio art”.
Now read it out loud again and pay attention to where the accented syllables land. Here are where they landed when I read it out loud.
SONGwriting is the aBILity to comBINE WORDS, MUSic, and RHYthm into a coHESive WORK of AUDio ART.
You may not have had the exact combination of accented syllables as I did but I bet it was pretty close. The point of this exercise is to help you become more aware of the natural rhythm of our language as you craft your song lyrics.
Some words just wouldn’t fit as well as others. They might look alright on paper but when sung to a melody they might come out clumsily. Maybe it’s because not enough consideration was given to the placement of accented syllables.
Not only do stressed syllables affect the rhythm of our language, but timing is also a key factor. Go back to that sentence above and look for the natural breaks, or pauses you took while reading it.
You most likely paused right after saying, “words” and “music”. The commas following those words cause that natural break in the flow.
These breaks or pauses need to be accounted for in our lyric writing, too. Emphasizing certain phrasings and pauses can have a dramatic effect on how the lyrics and melody are delivered and received. They are all interconnected.
The stressed syllables are musical as well. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? We don’t normally equate reading a sentence with melody. That is just another aspect of our language that we have taken for granted. Read the sentence out loud again.
Notice when the syllables are stressed the voice rises slightly in tone. All of these factors and nuances in language need to be taken into consideration when writing song lyrics.
I’m going to give you a lyric writing exercise at the end of this article. It will involve re-writing the lyrics to a famous song. It doesn’t matter what the topic is you choose to write about.
The important thing is to match the syllable count in each line exactly as it is in the famous song. And not only that, you need to match each stressed syllable as well. And while you’re at it, try and make each verse relate to the choruses theme.
Below is an example of what I’d like you to work on. For copywrite reasons I can’t write the words down to the famous song but I can give the title. It’s “Yesterday” by the Beatles.
Sing along to the lyric I’ve written below using the melody of “Yesterday”. You will see that I’ve matched the syllable count as well as stressing the exact syllables that are stressed in “Yesterday”.
All those tasty dishes on display
It’s so hard for me to stay away
Oh, how I love this food buffet
These aromas so invitingly
Gonna fill my plate up rapidly
Oh, food buffet you’re calling me
When it’s time to go, I’ll say “no”
I want to stay
Here’s where I belong
Nothing wrong with food buffet
Hopefully, this gives you an idea of what this exercise is all about. It will force you to pick words with the correct accented or stressed syllables. This will be especially helpful when you’ve written a verse and then attempt to write a second one on one of your songs.
The first verse will have an established pattern of syllable count and stress pattern in each line that you will want to match with your second verse. The number of words in each line is not important, it’s the syllable count and stress locations that are key.
For example, the second line of Food Buffet reads, “All those tasty dishes on display”. That’s six words. Well, a seven-word line like, “I could eat here almost every day”, would fit just as well. Each line has nine syllables and each line has the same location of stressed syllables.
Some of you may point out that “every” looks like 3 syllables. However, it is orally communicated as “ev’ry”, a two syllable word, for the most part.
OK, are you ready to give it a try? I will provide the first verse in case you are having trouble coming up with a topic. See if you can craft a second one and if so, post it in the comment section below. By posting you give up any copywrite claim, lol. This is just for exercise purposes.
I could eat it almost every day
I don’t care what all the doctors say
O please bring me some Creme brulee
Alright, I want to interject a mini-lesson here. See that second line, “I could eat it almost every day”? I had originally put, “I could eat it every single day” in there. Now, that could work. Each line has nine syllables, and each has the correct stressed syllables.
Well, the reason I chose “almost every day” is that it provides the benefit of vocalic alliteration (that’s a link to my article devoted to alliteration).
That slight change makes it just a little easier to sing than “every single day”. Pay attention to those little details and you will come out with much-improved lyrics. OK, now back to lyric meter!
When you’ve finished with Creme Brulee, here are some titles that you can write more verses to.
Skies are Gray
Chunk of Clay
Month of May
Practice like this really helps you focus in on how you’re constructing your song lyrics. Find some other hit songs you like and do the same thing. This is also a good exercise to prepare you to write parody songs if you ever decide to go that route.
I hope this article has been beneficial to you. It just takes practice and lots of writing to improve. Go for it!