I thought I’d start this article with an analogy. Verses are to a song as vegetables are to a meal. And, just as we should all eat our vegetables, we should make sure our songs have interesting, well-balanced verses. To that end, I’ve put down a few things to keep in mind if you’d like to improve your verse lyrics.

Improve Song Verse Lyrics

1. Grab people’s attention right away with a killer opening line

Never underestimate the power of a great opening line. It’s often the first time listeners will hear the singer’s voice and it goes a long way towards setting the tone of the entire song. See how much information you can pack into those first few words. Never assume you have time to build up slowly to the “good stuff” in your verse. Plan on grabbing your listener right away and not letting them go until the song is over.

2. Use concrete details in your verses/”Show ’em, don’t tell ’em”

The old expression that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is never truer than in your verses. Let concrete imagery and details do your heavy lifting in terms of setting the mood and telling the story. My favorite example is where you can either talk about a beautiful, sexy woman who is evil or you can simply describe her as “a black heart in a green dress.” Hopefully you get my point.

3. Be certain every line of your verses furthers the story line

One of the common mistakes we make as songwriters is to cover the same material line after line in our verses. The danger in doing this is that you’ve spent way too much time saying the same thing in the only area where you can actually advance the story. My recommendation is that once you’ve written your song, go back to your verses and ruthlessly ask the question “Does this line provide new information or just re-state what the lines before have said?” I think you’ll find that this approach will make your verses more interesting and your songs more expressive as a whole.

Improve Song Verse Lyrics

4. Make sure your phrasing and rhyme scheme match from verse to verse

A big part of what makes a song memorable (and learnable if you’re hoping to have it cut) is symmetry. It’s worth going out of your way to make sure your phrasing and rhyme scheme is the same in each of your verses. In other words, the lines should have similar numbers of syllables and the way you choose to rhyme your verse’s lines (first and second vs. first and third for example) should be the same. This way you’ve given your listener (often without them knowing it) another way to remember your song’s lyrics. The easier a song is to remember/learn, the better. It’s a big part of what makes a song catchy.

Conclusion

The wonderful/stressful thing about songs is that you’ve only got around three minutes to create a world, invite people in and then – just like that – it’s over. Well-written verses can do a lot to make your song’s story both interesting and memorable. Hopefully the above tips will help you bring your verses to the next level.

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21 responses to “Four Ways to Significantly Improve Your Verse Lyrics”

  1. joe o'connor says:

    hi Cliff,
    Your posts, are great and to the point.

    So now about a post about coming up with great melodies??
    Tips??

  2. Rich hayes says:

    Great advise, written by a good cook who knows his vegetables.

  3. Would it be tighter were I a fruit writer?

  4. Peter Wood- Jenkins Publisher : Writer says:

    Hi Cliff I was knocked out by your previous post about Writers getting Demos done

    before the song was finished. Every New writer falls for this assumption that his song orl

    songs are finished If only they would sleep on them for a few months, they may be able

    to see where they can vastly improve their song or songs

    A great idea is to work on several songs at the same time it’s amazing what can reveal its self

    and one songs hard work can also improve another saving wasted money

  5. Excellent advice! Thank you!

  6. Rebecca says:

    Hi Cliff,
    Could you do a post on coming up with ‘show don’t tell’?
    How do people come up with imagery?!
    What triggers / tools/ systems can be used?

    • Great suggestion Rebecca. In the interim, I’ll use the best example of “show don’t tell” that I know. You can either “tell” your listeners about your song’s character who is a woman who is “evil but sexy” or you could “show” them by writing that she’s a “black heart in a green dress.” Hope that helps!

  7. Kristina says:

    Hi Cliff,

    You wrote “In other words, the lines should have similar numbers of syllables”. Do you mean that the amount of stressed syllables should be similar? Or the whole amount of stressed and unstressed ones? Could you explain please? )

  8. Igor Silvestar says:

    Great tips Cliff … as always – and right on the money!

  9. Robb says:

    Thanks Cliff, really on-point!

  10. Danette says:

    This seems like a natural place to share favorite first lines . (I hope you don’t mind, Cliff.)

    My all-time favorite is “Wake up, Maggie. I think I’ve got something to say to you.”

    Anyone else want to share?

  11. Amy Kinast says:

    Danette, good idea! Lately my fave is:
    “First, when there’s nothing…” (Flashdance…What A Feeling). Most of the song I sing “da da da” until “What a feeling!” then “take your passion, and make it happen.” My apologies to songwriters Irene Cara, Keith Forsey and Giorgio Moroder.

  12. Michael Gitter says:

    Cliff. About three years ago I discovered you. Now, I have a fat binder filled with your columns (and others) . Highlighted , underlined and edited, re-phrased. …Anything I can do to make it digestible and memorable. So many worthy things you have offered . I just want to offer my “thanks” for being an encouraging mentor to those that hope to make the journey in your footsteps. THANKS!
    My work here is done! 🙂

  13. Cliff says:

    Thank you Michael! I’m so pleased that you’ve found the posts useful! Keep it up and stay safe!!

  14. Merle Hoover says:

    Hi Cliff,

    As a songwriter for the last 50 years, I find your insights right on the mark so thanks for the refreshing and useful comments.

    I’m still at it. Tracking new tunes on the road to my fourth Record/CD.

  15. Sting Ray Rivers says:

    Great information. I always look forward to your emails. Keep them coming!

  16. Pedro Olivares says:

    Thanks for the tips.

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