Paying attention to meter in lyrics is arguably the most difficult
part of writing memorable lyrics. Meter is the stresses on the syllables
of the words in each line of the verse and chorus.
For instance, in the line "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled
peppers", all of the "P" words are stressed on the
first syllables of the words. The words "a" and "of"
are unstressed syllables.
By paying attention to the stressed and unstressed syllables in
each line of the lyrics, the lyricist can begin to write stanzas
that have consistent meter. Now just add the burden of writing words
with a certain meter that also pay attention to internal and end
rhyme and other poetic devices such as metaphor, point-of-view and
personification and then you'll see why writing meter in lyrics
is so difficult.
When figuring out the meter in a song, many lyricists will pull
out a pencil to mark the accented syllables with a slash mark and
the unstressed syllables with a u-shaped unstressed mark. See the
diagram above. The stressed syllables are marked with a hard slash
and the unstressed syllables with a soft "U".
Many professional lyricists will study the music lyrics of others
by pulling out a lyric sheet and marking off the meter. This is
good practice so that one can get used to the rhyme of the words
as one writes them.
Depending upon whether the lyrics are written first for the song
or the music is first will in many ways determine how a lyricist
approaches writing the meter. If the music comes first, then there
most likely is already a certain meter established that the lyrics
must conform to and if not, then the lyricist will have to figure
out the meter and the composer later will write the music to fit
the meter of the lyrics.
The best exercise for writing meter for lyrics is to either print
out a bunch of popular lyrics or buy a book filled with lyrics and
start marking up the syllable stresses in pencil. It may be easier
to start off with hip hop lyrics
since much emphasis is paid to meter and rhyme in this genre. With
rap music lyrics in general,
there is a definitive beat and rhythm that will make it easier for
some beginning lyricists to follow.
No matter, which genre you choose, though, professional songwriters
pay close attention to meter when writing songs. Sometimes error
in meter can be spotted in professionally written lyrics since there
was not a good way to write around the flaw without sacrificing
other elements such as the meaning of the song. In these cases,
sometimes you can hear a singer vocally covering up the error or
emphasizing the error in order to make it a stylistic device within
In general, though, its best not to write lyrics with flaws in
meter, hoping the singer or band will cover the error musically
or vocally. Rewriting and using a Thesaurus for word choice options
help many lyricists overcome meter problems. Remember, the two most
popular references for lyricists are the Thesaurus and a rhyming
dictionary so make sure you have the two tools of the trade at your
disposal when writing music lyrics.