Song Doctor Blog
Read how to write better songs
One of the ways to contribute to your song's rhythm is to intentionally stack the patterns of stress in your lyric's syllables. Oh yes, words are unspeakably groovy! The very word 'rhythm' comes from the Greek word for 'flow' (so does rhyme fyi, but that's really no surprise).
If you're writing songs in English, this particular language puts little stresses on particular syllables. The stressed syllable sounds a bit higher, louder and longer.
For example a word like banana is heard as ba na
The middle syllable is the stressed one, nudged higher, longer and a little louder.
You lean on it. The syllable - not the banana!
Hearing where the stresses land becomes important for lyricists to take note of. Otherwise, you can put the wrong em-Pha-sis on the wrong sy-Lla-ble. That reduces intelligibility, feels forced at worst, or just contribute to a sense of 'off'. Not a sensation you want to create for your audience.
Professional songwriters will often line words up so there are stress/unstress schemes within song sections, much like rhyming templates. Not to be bound by some arbitrary rule-a-rama, but to align all the macro and micro elements of song structure to mesh like a mother! Thus, the song rolls off the singer's tongue and into your heart.
Finding where the stressed and unstressed syllables are in a word is pretty solid. Say it out loud. Or get a first language English speaker to, if you're not sure. (irl or online).
Finding where the stressed and unstressed words in a sentence is a little trickier because the meaning in context can change how certain words are stressed.
It's the difference between Help! I need somebody
and I really need your help
or I really need your help
and I really need your help.
This figuring out where the stresses land is calling scanning. The reason you want to do this is to match the stresses in the lyric with the stresses and important 'positions' in the song's music. Not all positions are equal!
Songs will often exaggerate the natural 'music' of speech. So both rhythm (how long a note is and where it lands in the bar) and pitch (how high or low the note is) plus volume contribute to underlining the importance of particular words and syllables. It also depends on what you're trying to say in your song.
But take a leaf out of Dolly Parton's large song book, especially this one covered by Whitney Houston.
The sentence I will always love you becomes.....
The emphasis on I ( long, high and loud, mate!) and you (long, loud and given lots of decoration) is extremely underscored musically. One is in no doubt which words the songwriter wanted our focus on.
So there are actually two kinds of stress to notice. One is the cadential stress - what happens in words when we speak them naturally and the other is rhetorical - what are the important words in the context - here it's I and You.
Give prominent musical positions and attention to the natural accents and the critical words in your lyrics and you're off to the races! Or risk squashing the banana!
Talk more soon and I'd love to know what you'd like to read about so please send in suggestions and I'll have a go at covering them.
best wishes and good health!
ps applications are now open for Next Level Songwriting Retreat Jan 22-25 2021
pps if you'd like to get up close and personal online with your songwriting project, I'm now working with Soundfly as one of their mentors.