Different Lyrical Styles

Different kinds of songs require different lyrical styles to complement them. Your background, age, experiences, or education may give you a head start in some styles, but don't let that stop you from becoming adept at lyric genres with which you have had limited experience. Just as an actor can learn an accent or develop a character for a movie part, you can learn a new lyrical style and expand the kinds of songs you are capable of writing.

Pop Lyrics

Modern pop lyrics are usually either trendy or timeless. Last year's slang will do you as much good as a pair of parachute pants. If you don't know what parachute pants are, they were a form of clothing that was extremely popular for about a year (or fifteen minutes, depending on where you lived) and then, quite suddenly, no one would be caught dead in them.

Is “pop” really a genre?

Pop is short for “popular.” What's popular changes from time to time. Pop lyrics and music tend to be highly accessible versions of whatever the popular genres are at a given time. A rock, hip-hop, or country song can be a pop song, if enough people get it.

Trendy lyrics aim at the teen market (which buys the most CDs and has the newest, coolest slang terms). Examples of trendy lyrics include the Avril Lavigne song “Sk8er Boi” or, for its time, The Beach Boys classic “I Get Around.”

Lyrics in the timeless style must not only transcend barriers of time, but also economic status, ethnicity, and geography. Tough? Yes! Worth it? You bet! A timeless song can keep royalty checks coming for the rest of your life and beyond. A list of timeless lyrics might include “Unforgettable,” “Evergreen,” “Crazy,” and “Freebird.” Simple elegance and natural flow define the timeless lyric.

Pop lyrics can be about most subjects, but love and relationships are the all-time big sellers. A pop lyric should be accessible to a large market so, aside from the newest “teenspeak,” try to avoid language that's regionally or demographically specific.

Rock and Alt

A good rock lyric is emotionally charged, dynamic, and forceful. Rock is about energy, so think powerful, think active, think passionate, and rock on! General rock topics include feeling boxed in, rebellion, wanting to have fun, passion, comeuppance, and angst or depression. Most rock lyrics have a tight, rhythmic meter and are easy to follow. This doesn't mean writing for third graders, it means getting to the point.

Alt songs may be deeper, moodier, or more meditative and cover a broader range of subjects in addition to the general rock topics. In rock or alt, an uptempo danceable song or a love ballad that isn't too wimpy will usually be where the money is.

Be careful with lyrics that deal with rebellion, angst, or depression. You wouldn't want your song to be unfairly blamed for a riot or a suicide. When dealing with these subjects and emotions, use an approach that let's the listener know he or she is not alone in feeling a certain way.

Country Music

Country songwriting has expanded to include other musical forms. It's the level of lyric writing and storytelling that sets country apart. Many great country songs have been based on stories the songwriter heard as a child from family or friends. Established country songwriters also recommend reading short stories and watching movies, sitcoms, talk shows, or news stories to get story ideas.

Modern country lyrics cover many topics, so there's no need to start writing stories about cows and whiskey and cheating spouses; Nashville has more than enough of those already. Hallmarks of a modern country lyric are a conversational tone, a sense of humor, and reinforcement of basic values like hard work, faith, and honesty.

Jazz and Rap

While numerous and wonderful exceptions occur, jazz is usually more about the melody and the sound of the words than the actual lyric. Not that you can't have a great lyric in a jazz song, but make the melody and meter top priority. Pay careful attention to vowel sounds in a jazz lyric. Jazz treats the voice like an instrument and vowels influence the tone of the voice.

Because of its droning, nonstandard melodic forms, rap requires very close attention to meter and rhyme. The rhythm of the lyric carries the song along. Instead of melodic/lyric prosody, try finding metric/lyric prosody. In rap, the lyric is the song, so make it tight and interesting and be extremely careful in your word choices. If you're serious about writing rap, you may wish to study the different lyric styles of the East and West coast rappers as well as other sub-genres.

Write understandably, but never “dummy down” a song. If you feel the lyric is beneath you, your writing will reflect that and hurt the song. A better way is to see the challenge in learning how to write simple lyrics that can communicate complex ideas.

  1. Home
  2. Songwriting
  3. Elements of a Lyric
  4. Different Lyrical Styles
Visit other About.com sites: