So, you’ve decided to pick up songwriting — or maybe you’ve already been writing songs for a while — but you wanted to up your game before you start that next song? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Today we’ll be looking at five common songwriting tropes and how you can avoid them to be a better songwriter.
While rhyming is a great and commonplace technique you can find in a song, trying to make a rhyme work too hard can really hurt your track. It’ll end up looking like you picked up a rhyming dictionary without thinking and, worst of all, the song will probably end up an incoherent mess that doesn’t even get your point across.
Instead of trying to find a word that rhymes with orange next time (hint: sporange is the only one, and it’s a rarely used alternative form of sporangium), you can either try to avoid rhyming or use slant rhymes.
What’s a slant rhyme? Well, it’s kind of a like a rhyme, but it only kind of works. For example, let’s come back to our orange. A few slant rhymes that would work with this are “forage, porridge, door-hinge, or chorus”. With slant rhymes you have a lot more options than before and a much smaller chance of forcing rhymes. If anything, they sometimes sound even better than a perfectly accurate rhyme. They’re a useful tool, so be sure to remember them the next time you’re having trouble with your rhyme scheme.
Phrases like “live and let live” or “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” may be expected on a stereotypical basic white girl’s wall, but they’re just plain dull and overused in a song. It’s not fun for anyone, and it’s like having that one friend who gives you pleasant platitudes but can’t give you any actual empathy or support; sure, the sentiment is there, but it’s just being a lazy friend — or songwriter in this case.
Instead of using these overused phrases, you can either try to avoid them entirely, or use this expectation to your advantage by subverting that expectation. An example of this would be taking the old phrase “live and let live” and turning it into the song that is “Live and Let Die” by Paul and Linda McCartney. It’s a great way to set someone up for a surprise that makes the song that much more memorable.
Often tag-teaming with our friend above, lazy metaphors are another way to end up with a song that’s well-intentioned but ultimately falls flat. Examples of this would be describing the sun as a bright yellow ball in the sky or comparing clouds to cotton candy; sure, maybe that description was original at some point, but that time has long since passed.
A good way to avoid this is to throw away any metaphors that come to mind too easily. If it only took you five seconds to think of how something was as loud as a lion, chances are that this isn’t a unique metaphor at all and is cynically expected. Instead, really take some time to sit down and think of something. Try to really dig deep and think of something original and unexpected, like saying that something is as loud as a green grocer cicada (It’s one of the loudest insects in the world). By doing this, you’ll keep your audience listening and engaging with your track.
Repetitive chord structures
You’ve gotten comfortable and feel pretty good about your songwriting, but to your horror you come to realize everything sounds the same. How could this be? One possibility is that you keep using the same chordal structure or key for every song. Maybe you’re a fan of the classic four chord progression (I-V-vi-IV) or you just like how a certain guitar lick feels on your hand so you use it in everything.
Whatever it is, it’s something you’ll want to avoid, unless you want to be known as that one person who writes the same song just with different words.
An option to avoid this is to work with another artist. You’ll both be challenged to work outside of your comfort zones and learn new ways to make songs using chord structures you may have never thought to use. Even better, you’ll both grow in this way and continue to make fresh music that both showcases your ability to write lyrics and make music that evolves over time.
While it’s good to get out of your comfort zone and not use the same tricks repeatedly, it’s also important to avoid using too many tricks in one song. Maybe you decided you wanted to add three different bridge sections, an outro, an intro, several cool solos, and everything but the kitchen sink in your latest track.
In the end, you come out with nothing but a hodge-podge of good ideas that amount to a garbled mess that your listener can’t understand — even if they want to.
It may be tempting to cram as much as you can into a song, but when you feel the urge, try to think of the acronym KISS – or Keep It Simple, Stupid. Really sit down and think, “Do I really need that extra bridge section?” And, if you really can’t figure out if it’s too much without sitting down and thinking, try to bring in a friend to give it a listen. See how they react and if they can get what you’re trying to say in the song. They should be able to help figure out if there’s pieces that seem disjointed or unnecessary in your track, and the best part is the constructive criticism will be coming from a friendly face!
There you have it, five common songwriting tropes. If you found this helpful or had any other ideas, feel free to let us know in the comments or even share the article with some of your other musical friends. Have fun with your newfound knowledge, and happy songwriting!