Writing Lyrics

by Diane Grant

Did I talk about this before? It’s still on my mind.   I teamed up with a composer, Andy Chukerman, and have been writing lyrics for a play that he’ll put music to. We’re transforming my romantic comedy, The Piaggi Suite, into a play with music. Andy says that a musical has a formula that a play with music need not have. “It’s new,” he says. “It’s fresh.”

So I’ve been traveling into new territory.

Writing lyrics hasn’t come easy. I don’t know why. I sing. I write poetry. But for this exercise, the words have incubated for a long time. My admiration for Paul Simon, which has always been great, is now huge. And how did Billy Joel come up with “car” and ‘guitar” (easily) but “Zanzibar?”

So, of course, I used the rhyming dictionary on the Web and have spent hours looking at it, just because it is so much fun. There are words of one syllable that rhyme, two syllables, three syllables, words that almost rhyme but not quite, words that sounds like others, etc.

Here’s just one example:

Words and phrases that rhyme with love:   (89 results)

1 syllable:

dove, glove, gov, of, shove

2 syllables:
above, all of, belove, deneuve, free of, golf glove, kid glove, kind of, labov, labove, lot of, most of, o’glove, one of, out of, part of, proud of, rid of, rock dove, sick of, some of, sort of, speak of, suede glove, talk of, thereof, think of, vanhove, void of, write of

3 syllables:
abreast of, a lot of, barren of, baseball glove, batting glove, bereft of, boxing glove, conceive of, consist of, deprived of, devoid of, dispose of, empty of, fall short of, get hold of, get out of, get rid of, hand and glove, hand in glove, in awe of, in front of, in terms of, let go of, made use of, metal glove, mourning dove, patient of, take hold of, talk out of, the end of, the likes of, the rest of, tired of, undreamed of, walk out of

4 syllables:
a couple of, admitting of, allowing of, destitute of, impatient of, innocent of, neglectful of, permitting of, pull the leg of, suggestive of, think the world of, unworthy of

5 syllables:
indicative of, intolerant of, reminiscent of, symptomatic of, under the thumb of, undeserving of

7 syllables:
uncharacteristic of

Example from “MOST LIKELY YOU GO YOUR WAY” by Bob Dylan:

You say you love me
And you’re thinkin’ of me

 1 of 100 examples  >

89 Results!  I wish I had needed to use uncharacteristic of.

(Whoever wrote this particular rhyming dictionary was crazy about Bob Dylan and used his songs all the time.)

However, in order to rhyme something, you have to have other words for words to rhyme with. How to say in song what you want to say? What do you want to say?

I asked for advice. A colleague from ALAP, Eugenie Trow, advised me to write everything in prose first, then go for the rhyme and rhythm after. The composer said to use dialogue already in the script.

There’s advice you can buy – books on Amazon like Successful Lyric Writing by Sheila Davis, Writing Music for Hit Songs by Jai Josefs, Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison.

I found a terrific book online called Teach Yourself Songwriting by Sam Inglis. He talks about hooks, those lyrical phrases that repeat in the chorus or open the song that catch you – that hook you. Like The Beatles singing Let it Be, or Kate Perry’s You’re Hot, Then You’re Cold, Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You. The hooks have to fit the rhythm, the melody, and the mood of the song. They’ll tell you what the song is about and if they’re good, they’ll stick with you.

Start with the hook, he advised, and go from there. Listen for them in music and conversations, look for them in the news, hear them in your head.

So, I started listening for the hooks.

This is one of my favorites:


Hooks were just the start but I now have 8 finished lyrics and hope they’re good. Sugar, yes, please.

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