Songwriting Theory: Beginning and Ending of the Line

Beginning and Ending of the Line

A very effective way to add contrast between the verse and chorus of a song is to vary where the lyric line begins or ends.
This is something that we all do all the time without realizing it.  Part of what I think is a huge value add to songwriting is learning a little piece of theory and then internalizing it so it is just part of your imagination.  Understanding the underlying mechanics is also a big help with things just are not flowing the way you want. It allows you to analyze what’s happening and spark a new direction.
The next few installments on songwriting will explore different aspects of a song and how they affect the feeling of stability or instability.
So lets begin looking at how the lyric falls at the beginning of the lyric.  Where does the line start in relation to the beats in the measure?  Where does the line end? This has an amazing impact on how the lyric is perceived. All this is in relation to harmonic rhythm of the chord progression.
So what are the options?  There are actually many. Here are some:
  • Lyric starts on beat 1 of the first measure
  • Lyric starts shortly after beat 1 of the first measure
  • Lyric starts well into the first measure or even after that and the line ends (with the rhyming word) on beat 1 of the next measure
Below are three examples  demonstrating the bullets above:
Each has a very different impact in terms of how declarative the statements feel.  They key is the difference between feeling stable and unstable. The first example and the third feel very stable. The first example starts on the beat and ends on the beat.  The third example is very stable and ends on the beat and also the beginning of the next measure which is also a chord change.
The second example feels very unstable as it starts after the first of the measure and sort of floats over the rhythm of the chord changes and the meter.
This is useful when you think about how these devices fit with the emotional content of your song.  All these devices serve the content of the song.  That is your message.
An important point to keep in mind is that stable doesn’t necessarily mean good or desirable and unstable means bad or undesirable.  It is a matter of the way it feels in terms of strength and “at rest” or not.  Same kind of concept that a V7 chord feels very unstable as it wants to go to a I chord.
There are many ways to use this concept.  The most obvious is to contrast the verse and the chorus of your song.
So folks this is a short article with a simple idea to play with.
Next week we’ll take a look at how stanzas of lyrics made up of same length lines feel very stable.  And stanzas made up of different length lines feel very unstable.
As always keep writing.

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