Creative Lyric Writing Secrets: The Power Of Parallel Lyrics

Tommaso Zillio

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Have you ever wondered how some pop songs seem to have a certain magical, hypnotical quality? The songs that everybody seems to know by heart, word for word. Think "Bohemian Rhapsody", "The Sound Of Silence", "Yesterday", "Wish You Were Here" and so on. Why does everybody remember these songs? Would you like to be able to write lyrics that memorable too?

One of the ways to write memorable lyrics is to create interesting rhythms and repetitions. Despite expectations, this is something that does NOT come naturally to most people - so much that the vast majority of aspiring songwriters simply stop trying after a short while.

And it's a pity because this is a skill like many others and can be taught and learned. It's an obstacle only when people expect this to "happen by itself", like I did when I was starting. Little did I know that I just needed to pay attention to some specific patterns to develop an ear for them, and then being able to use them without even thinking... I wish somebody told me this when I was starting, it would have saved me several years.

Well, at least I'm telling you now: you can LEARN how to write great lyrics that people will remember and sing to themselves... and then THEY will wonder why you "have it" and they don't.

So keep reading for some of the best songwriting lyrics patterns that you can reuse immediately in your songs:

Repeating The Structure Of A Line

Let's examine a little masterpiece of lyrical writing. You all know the song: "Every breath you take" by Sting and The Police.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you

See how the structure is "Every THING you VERB", repeated 4 times. This is technically called an "Isocolon" (="similar clauses").

Notice also how the last line is different, to signal that the verse is finished.

The last line also gives closure to the sentence: "Every breath you take" alone is NOT a complete sentence, but "Every breath you take [...] I'll be watching you" IS a complete sentence. So Sting is making us wait for the end of every verse, creating tension by repeating the "every ... you ..." structure rather than finishing the sentence.

Notice also how all this makes writing songs simpler. You just need to come up with ONE lyrical idea, then you repeat it while changing it partially throughout the song.

Repeating With A Twist

Take the Metallica's song "The Memory Remains", specifically the lyrics:

Ash to ash
Dust to dust
Fade to black

Yes, part of it is a biblical quote, but see how carefully this little nugget has been structured. The first two lines are again an Isocolon because of their parallel structure: "THING to SAME THING". The third line has a similar structure, but not identical: "VERB to THING". In fact one can argue that the word "to" in the last line has a different meaning than the one in the other two.

Overall what these lyrics do is establish a pattern, and then break it. This makes your brain pay attention, unconsciously and automatically, by suggesting a sense of surprise: "uh, what's going to come next?"

Repeat And Grow

This is similar to "Repeat with a Twist", but in this case we DO NOT break the pattern: instead we extend it. Take these lines from "the Great Beyond" by REM:

I'm breaking through
I'm bending spoons
I'm keeping flowers in full bloom
I'm looking for answers from the great beyond

The pattern is "I'm VERB-ing SOMETHING". Note how in the first two lines "something" is just a single word, while it's made by four words in the 3rd line and six words in the last one. That is to say, the pattern "grows" and creates a crescendo: it's an "Expanding Isocolon".

It's worth noting that this idea is almost never used in the opposite sense, that is, with the patter shrinking rather than growing. In fact I have no example in mind (but if you have one, feel free to post it in the comments below)

How To Learn These Patterns

If you want to learn to use these patterns, start with this simple exercise: find three examples for each one of these patterns in songs you like - and post them in the comment section below. You see, you are going to find them much faster than you think (they are THAT common).

Once you have a few examples in mind, your mind will be able to grasp the "rhythm" behind them at an intuitive level... and then you will be able to use them without even thinking.

If you can't find your inspiration and come up with a blank every time you want to write a song, find out here how to stop writer's block