03
Sep
09

Book I’m Reading: Successful Lyric Writing

Book I’m Reading: Successful Lyric Writing

Often when I look through major bookstores for books on songwriting, I’m not impressed enough by the selection. Many guides out there use up 50% recapping the music theory you learnt in school. You know, major and minor chords, common progressions, the twelve bar blues etc. Another 30% consists of superfluous tips on how to get inspiration to write a song, like ‘write down how you felt the first time you fell in love’, or ‘List ten things in the world that make you really mad…’

So, it came as rather a surprise when I stumbled upon something that I’d find really useful in my local library (and I’m not in big city). Sure, it’s a little outdated, but the author really knows her stuff, and it’s a detailed look at classic lyric and songwriting (from around the 30’s up till the 80’s). Here’s the title and blurb on the front cover:

“Successful Lyric Writing” by Sheila Davis. “A step-by-step course and workbook. A complete guide to writing professional lyrics: the theory, the principles, the song forms.”

If you’re a keen songwriter for popular music in the major genres, but you can’t explain the difference between a chorus and a refrain, then you’ll definitely find this useful. I’m not classic pop or rock -more indie, but I’m still finding it fascinating.

For instance, it doesn’t just map out the song forms… (I’ve heard of the ‘ABAB’ and ‘ABAC’ before) -but it gives the reasoning behind the song forms, citing many examples. In fact there were many classic songs I knew of but hadn’t understood the form of the song. Do you know what form ‘Yesterday’ is or ‘Eleanor Rigby’? Or even ‘The Star Spangled Banner’? Do you know the best forms for story telling, or for expressing one particular emotion?

For a book that just focuses on lyrics, it really is jam-packed, and lyrics are one of my neglected areas. But the stuff on song forms is useful from the perspective of the complete songwriter (lyrics and music).

The book also has practical exercises for you to do -ideally it’s done in a class situation, but if you’ve been songwriting for a while and you want a bit of guidance from techniques used by the masters of song in the Twentieth Century, then this is a great book.

I have no idea if it’s been republished and updated and is commonly used in workshops to this day or not. I just happened to stumble upon it in my library, but it’ll still be ‘googleable’.

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