As a teen, I’d scrawl several songs a day—mostly when I felt glum. But my hillbilly voice constrained my song writing. I could scarcely sing outside four notes in the key of E minor—the saddest key of songstresses.
And my singing instructor, a Frank Sinatra look-alike, hid when his student overheard me croak Barbara Streisand. Yet, he gladly showed off my studio-recorded tunes to his students. You see, when I crooned in studios, I changed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, from Willy Nelson to Rihanna, from Marge Simpson to Justin Bieber. Yet, when my brother played my studio songs to a music agent, the agent scoffed, “She needs singing lessons.”
Yet a decade ago, I sung like the angels—in my dreams. During a dream, I sang a dazzling Christian ditty that my dream-self wrote. When I awoke from the dream, I started singing the hymn while jotting down the lyrics. The ditty was spot-on for my voice. The song could’ve been a number one hit. But I had not a single recording device. So, I scrambled to stumble upon my old synthesizer. Nowhere. Sadly, I caved in and went to bed, that beautiful song forever gone.
The good news? Songwriters don’t need to sing. You can learn to write ditties through simple rules cited in Pamela Phillips Oland’s book The Art of Writing Great Lyrics:
- Songs are like stories: they have a beginning, middle, and end. They have dialogue from one or more characters.
- Songs should sound like straight-talk, not Shakespeare’s schoolmarm: “If you twist your words around just to get a rhyme, you’ve immediately turned your song into a poem. Rewrite the sentence so it sounds more the way people really talk and come up with a rhyme for the new end word” (4%).
- Don’t stuff big words into songs: “Sometimes we want to show off our vocabularies by using important-sounding words and phrases, but what these actually do is cut the songs off from their potential audience” (10%).
- And song words should sound pleasing, not jarring: “You must consider the sound of a word and decide whether it works well in a song or whether it sounds ugly when sung” (9%).
- So, play with sweet-sounding syllable accents: “Use the dictionary to check which syllables are emphasized or accented” (5%).
- And make sure the stressed vowels don’t choke the throat: “If you’re a singer, be aware that you should be emphasizing the vowel sound and not the consonant” (location 10%).
- Adjectives can make your songs satisfying: “Your choice of adjectives … can turn an ordinary song into a fascinating song, a mediocre idea into a heart-stopper” (7%).
- And try crafting original lingo: “We also have to invent metaphors and similes” (location 11%).
- Most importantly, many songs express themes of love: “Read anything and everything to do with relationships …. Then when you write songs, you will have a literate and interesting gift to give your listeners” (9%).
The next love-song I’d write would be titled Coffee Brews Cusses, Not Kisses. Yes, caffeine kills a romantic mood. As does my best Beyoncé.
Thus, hone the art of writing ditties to let your lungs to be met with bouquets, not boos—and to watch your wallet burst with dough.