Song Doctor Blog
Read about how to write better songs
Some words punch above their weight in song. Where there’s little time and space in the real-time audio experience of a 3 minute track, not every word in a lyric is going to get the spotlight. But some words need to
Yes, there’s the title – the rule of the thumb being it’s often repeated, potentially the most repeated word or group of words in the lyric, and for good reason. Er, it makes us remember the name of your song and tends to encapsulate the point of the song – the takeaway. But other types of word have a different function.
Action verbs express something that someone or something can physically do – like kick, scream, run, dance, smother, stab or kiss. Yup, these verbs are active! That’s in contrast to verbs that describe a state of being – particularly any derivative of the verb ‘to be’ – am, is, was, are, were, be, been, being. They’re called linking verbs and useful for sure.
But in song lyrics, it’s useful to minimise their appearance in favour of action verbs. While I was aware of this as a concept, I wasn’t quite so aware of the recommended relative balance to aim for – which is why I’m bringing it up! Rule of thumb here is for every linking verb you use, colour the rest of your song with five action verbs and your song will spring into life.
Action verbs bring direction and momentum. They contribute to your audience’s connection with the lyric because they contribute to imagery – we can see someone kissing or stabbing. We can readily imagine someone jumping off a bridge or diving into the ocean.
Action verbs make us feel like we’re present in the drama or narrative of the song, like we’re part of the experience.
Action verbs also make the point concisely. This is highlighted when you boil down a sentence to a noun followed by an action verb eg love hurts. Now there’s a song right there.
So the tip is when you’re editing, comb through your verbs and pump up the action. If you’re stuck, don’t forget the online or real life thesaurus. Or just type ‘action verbs’ into your search engine and see what treasure surfaces. Even substituting just one linking verb for an action verb could do wonders for your words.
Talk more soon.
Shout out to reader Glenda Rogers who forwarded this very cool podcast episode of Strong Songs on ever inventive duo, They Might Be Giants and their technique of creating ‘microsongs’. Check it out!