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Writing Better Lyrics

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Pattison presents a unique, in-depth approach to the process of lyric writing. Songwriters will examine 17 extraordinary songs and learn the distinct elements that make them so effective. Pattison then presents more than 30 lyric-writing exercises designed to achieve the same results. From generating lyric ideas and managing repetition to developing verses, it's all here. Songwriters will: find warm-up exercises that revolutionize songwriting imagery; use a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus to generate ideas and find snappy rhyme; create meaningful metaphors and similes while avoiding cliches; develop verses by using or breaking conventional rules; experiment with point of view in every lyric to make a song stand out

192 pages, Paperback

First published September 15, 1995

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Pat Pattison

11 books38 followers

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5 stars
538 (46%)
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420 (36%)
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155 (13%)
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37 (3%)
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14 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 86 reviews
Profile Image for Mike.
508 reviews107 followers
October 4, 2013
Writing Better Lyrics is just fine. But for a more condensed experience of the book, I would say just follow these rules:

(1) Freewrite at the same time everyday for 10 minutes. Pattison believes it ought to be anchored to an object, but I think this can come with time. Stay engaged in your senses, of course, but just let the total nonsense write itself on the page.

(2) Form and content must be in sync. In other words, prosody. If the song's about someone who is nervous and uncertain, make the structure unstable. If the someone is brashly confident and the story resolved, make it feel this way too. These things ought to be intuitive.

(3) Play around. Here's the best way to do so that accounts for a lot of the info in the back half of the book.

- Draw a 3 x 3 table. Above each column, write "Line," "Rhyme," and "Stresses."

- In each 'Rhyme' cell below, write 'A' 'B' 'C' and 'X'. This will designate what line will rhyme with what other line.
- In each 'Stresses' cell below, write '3' '4' '5' and '6'. This will designate how many stresses are in each line.
- Circle (at random if you wish) one of the letters in all the rhyme cells for all the rows.
- Circle (at random if you wish) one of the numbers of stresses in all the stress cells for all the rows.
- Build a lyric that abides those rules.
- Feel free to add rows, change numbers of stresses, change rhyme schemes, and be mindful of near rhymes. Really, truly play.
- Read back and see if it pulls you forward, feels too long...follow where the play takes you. Switch them around if you have to. Read them backwards. Again, PLAY.


So honestly, that's the super-super-abridged version. It doesn't cover everything and there's plenty to 'dip in' and salvage, but as a read from cover-to-cover it's repetitive. The lyrics chosen as examples are not only terrible, but admitted to be terrible by Pattison himself, even when they are supposed to be considered improvements. With the exception of the always-excellent Leonard Cohen, of course. His lackadaisical style is not for me, and the analysis gets repetitive also. Not to mention seeing the same lyrics over and over is tiresome although necessary.

That being said, the ideas are worth looking into once in a while. Good ideas, dubious execution, better suited for a quick scan to pull the exercises and some reference material. I say this because, as for the advice within, most of it is advice you can get elsewhere in different fields. The "no-free" zone is the equivalent to improv's "yes, and"; the "form and function" thing is there from poetry to jazz to drama; a lot of the things about lyrical motion are almost like intuitive information: known, but tough to express. Somethings you read, you'll think "I knew that; that's what that is!" Which is not as earth-shattering as finding that cure-all to your lyrical woes.

Another problem is that Writing Better Lyrics is more about writing better rhyming poems. When it comes to writing lyrics to music, Pattison asks that you check out another book of his, or perhaps his course on Coursera. I, for one, find it pretty useless to write lyrics without music, so I feel partially like I was cheated out of one of the most crucial components of what writing better lyrics takes: the music itself. For all this talk about prosody, Pattison shoves the writing-lyrics-to-music material into another sphere altogether.

That being said, it'll still help me write better lyrics without music, I'm sure. So all in all I still like it, but you know, not as much as I could have.
Profile Image for Lee Sinclair.
Author 3 books7 followers
March 3, 2011
This book focuses on writing lyrics which was exactly what I needed to write some song lyrics for my book. It covers topics such as verse development, perspective, dialogue, meter, & song form. Songwriters may prefer more comprehensive books but this is great for anyone wanting to write stronger lyrics.
Profile Image for Paige Gordon.
Author 2 books33 followers
October 8, 2018
This was without a doubt one of the most challenging books I've read in a very long time. I took the time to really work through every single exercise in it and although it was ridiculously difficult and frustrating a times, I can clearly see that I am already a better writer because of it. Pat is a gifted teacher and a genius at lyric writing and dissection. This book is absolutely essential reading for anyone wanting to improve their songwriting and is one I know I will be referencing time and again throughout my own journey. So, so, so good!

Favorite Quote: "Don't be afraid to write crap - it makes the best fertilizer. The more of it you write, the better your chances are of growing something wonderful."
Profile Image for Petko Bossakov.
53 reviews8 followers
August 11, 2016
I bought this book after finishing a free songwriting course by Pat Pattison on Coursera. As he says, there are "no rules, only tools", and he offers a great deal of songwriting tools in this book. Written in a laid back, easy to understand language, it teaches some useful techniques that I have been using since.
Profile Image for etta.
104 reviews
May 20, 2020
I’m FINALLY done this book!!! It took me 6 weeks and I’m now super behind in my reading challenge but it was really interesting and I learned a lot so no regrets. Would def recommend.
Profile Image for Sabne Raznik.
Author 12 books30 followers
February 26, 2014
This is Pat Pattison's best of the various books he has written on songwriting. (It is also the most expensive, so I rented it rather than buy it. I rather regret that now because it would be a great resource to own.)It covers a little of everything having to do with that art. Much of it can also applied to any kind of writing one does. If you are looking for one handbook for songwriting or to improve the technicalities of your poetry, this is it. It also has many ideas for your writer's group.
1 review1 follower
Currently reading
August 25, 2010
Newest edition of a great book from my lyric writing teacher at Berklee. Has a lot of great insights for any kind of writer.
Profile Image for Christina.
86 reviews1 follower
January 4, 2014
This is a pretty good book for writing exercises, but I'm not really sure how good it is for writing songs.
Profile Image for Mike Walter.
163 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2022
I’m taking a songwriting class and this is the textbook. I read it the last two days on the beach and it was awesome. A thorough (maybe at times too thorough) look at writing lyrics.

I loved the philosophy of “know the rules so you can break the rules” and also Pattison’s advice to write everyday, no matter what and with no regard to quality. As he says so eloquently: “Don’t be afraid to write crap. Sometimes it’s the best fertilizer.”

Even if you don’t dream of writing a great song (like I do) if you love music, I’d recommend this book. Sometimes it’s good to learn how the sausage is made
57 reviews
March 7, 2020
Reading the lyrics of a song is one of the most intriguing things I've ever done in my life. As I read their words, I think to myself, how did they organize everything to be this cohesive. This book, Writing Better Lyrics: The Essential Guide to Powerful Songwriting by Pat Pattison put me a step closer to learning the secrets behind songwriting. From this book, I learned the basic structure of how well structured rhymes and descriptive words construct the scenario for the song. I also learned the importance of being in the flow, letting your ideas to spill out at a fast speed. Now I have a greater appreciation for lyrics and how it impact on the quality of the song.
Profile Image for Kristin Murray.
121 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2021
The author does a great job of taking a potentially dry topic (technique) and makes it easy to read, understand, and fun to try yourself. He has a great sense of humor, lots of examples, and exercises to try as you read. I own the second edition and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to improve their lyric writing.
Profile Image for Nalanda.
36 reviews14 followers
May 30, 2020
ช่วงบทแรกๆ สามารถประยุกต์ใช้กับการทำ creative writing ได้เลย ส่วนช่วงต่อมาจากนั้นเป็นเรื่องเชิงเทคนิค แน่นอนว่าจะต้องมีความรู้พื้นฐานด้านทฤษฎีดนตรีอยู่ก่อนบ้าง บทสุดท้ายที่พูดถึงวิธีการทำงานแบบ co-writer คือเป็นคำแนะนำที่ดีมาก
Profile Image for Bill.
237 reviews3 followers
July 6, 2020
While there was a lot of great, helpful, reallly technical exercises that give any reader an in-depth look into how an expert songwriter approaches crafting lyrics.

The main reason I knocked off a couple of stars is first, it is a long read - especially the last quarter or so of the book, which is a deep, deep dive into pace, stress, and rhyme pattern.

Also, for yours truly, I come from a more punk background, so a lot of the “develop the characters and the story, keeping in mind their experiences and points of view” went a bit more in depth than I really needed, but then again, the more you know, the better.
3 reviews1 follower
March 24, 2022
Este libro es esencial para todos aquellos que se quieren dedicar al arte de componer canciones. Pat explica al detalle la importancia de la retórica, el “just show, don’t tell” y la métrica. Ténganlo a la mano como su biblia musical.
Profile Image for Barack Liu.
470 reviews16 followers
April 13, 2021

324-Writing Better Lyrics-Pat Pattison-Music-1995


" Writing Better Lyrics ", first edition in 1995. It mainly discusses the method of writing lyrics. Which involves the creation of lyrics inspiration, to the creation of lyrics, and so on.

Pat Pattison, born in the United States. He studied at the University of Minnesota, Indiana University. He currently teaches lyrics writing and poetry writing at Berklee College of Music. Representative works: " Writing Better Lyrics " and so on.

Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: Object Writing: The Art of the Diver
CHAPTER 2: Rusty's Collar: A Lesson in Showing and Telling
CHAPTER 3: Making Metaphors
CHAPTER 4: Learning to Say No: Building Worksheets
CHAPTER 5: Clichés: The Sleeping Puppy (A Case Study)
CHAPTER 6: Productive Repetition
CHAPTER 7: Verse Development and Power Positions
CHAPTER 8: Travelogues: Verse Continuity
CHAPTER 9: Stripping Your Repetition for Repainting
CHAPTER 10: Perspectives

“ Like this pearl, your best writing lies somewhere deep within. It glows in fresh, interesting colors no one ever imagined in exactly that way before. Your most important job as a writer is to master the art of diving to those deep places, for there and only there will you find your own unique writing voice. ”

The things written by two people are different. It seems that the output is different, but what actually reflects is the difference in their thinking. The superficial differences between people often come from long-term, small experiences, and differences in choices.

" Remember this fundamental fact: You are absolutely unique. There never was, is not now, nor ever can be anyone exactly like you. The proof lies in the vaults of your senses, where you have been storing your sense memories all your life. "

I have heard this statement many times. In fact, there are no two leaves that are the same, and there are no two people who are the same, but how to make the difference between oneself and others and make use of value is something that needs to be considered.

“ Here, I want to focus on the most important part of all creative writing, and therefore surely of lyric writing: the art of deep diving — finding your own unique voice and vision. ”

The words were written by a person certainly have something to do with the flexibility of his skills. But more important is that, because each person's inner spiritual world is different, leading it to the show out of the external character differences.

" The best diving technique I know is object writing. It's direct and simple. You arbitrarily pick an object — a real object — and focus your senses on it. Treat the object as a diving board to launch you inward to the vaults of your senses. "

Just as we learn to paint from copying, the author here suggests that the method of learning lyrics writing starts with describing specific things in the real world.

" If I asked you to describe the room you're in, your answer would be primarily, if not completely, visual. Try spending a little time alone with each sense. What's there? How does the kitchen table smell? How would the rug feel if you rubbed your bareback on it? How big does the room sound? (What if it were twice as big? Half as big?) How would the table taste if you licked it? No, it's not silly. Remember this, it is important: The more senses you incorporate into your writing, the better it breathes and dances. ”

Synaesthesia is a commonly used rhetoric. The basic rules, many people know, in actual writing, how to mobilize various sense organs and use synaesthetic rhetoric to describe, in fact, it is not as natural as they believe. Real on occasion, if not deliberately exercise, then we are likely to forget this in actual use.

“ Dancers and divers develop it most fully — they look onto a stage or down to the water and see spatial possibilities for their bodies. It makes me dizzy just thinking about it. ”

In addition to objective descriptions, the emotions of the observer must also be integrated. Bring yourself into the writer's perspective, as if you are on the scene, you can feel a certain real feeling, and then it is possible to express it as much as possible.

“ Two beings inhabit your body: you, who stumbles groggily to the coffeepot to start another day, and the writer in you, who could remain blissfully asleep and unaware for days, months, even years as you go on about your business. ”

We have an inner self and an outer self. The outer self is responsible for handling daily chores, while the inner self is closer to how you feel, ignoring time and space even more.

“ That's how most people stop morning writing altogether. Any good coach will tell you that more is gained practicing a short time each day than doing it all at once. Living with it day by day keeps writing on your mind and in your muscles. ”

Whether it’s fitness, writing, or other exercises, it’s extremely important to keep training every day. Training for a short time every day is better and more meaningful than training for a long time. But the more times, the more self-discipline and perseverance are actually tested.

“ Always with your senses, all seven of them. All within ten minutes. Don't worry about storylines or “how it really happened.” No rhyme or rhythm. Not even full sentences. No one needs to understand where you are or how you got there. Save more focused writing for your songs. ”

Daily training does not directly bring wonderful sentences, but it is the biggest role so that we are ready to produce a wonderful sentence. Preparation is to increase the probability, not to guarantee the result.

“ So practicing using sense-bound writing is a good thing. It's a powerful tool for involving your listeners in your song. It will often generate song ideas or interesting lines. ”

This means that when we write stories, we must consciously adopt this technique, and imagine how readers feel when they see the text they have written so that we can get closer to the reader's feelings.

Profile Image for Brandon.
11 reviews
February 25, 2016
It's been years since I read this cover to cover, but it was helpful then. I've since given sections to friends in need of a little push.

Over time, I've realized that, for me, this book (and many other 'self-help' pieces) pushes me to simply be active. It's often less about what exactly I am doing and more important that I am just doing something.

Or it could be said like this, when I'm unsure of what to do, sometimes I just want to be told what to do. In that regard, this book offers a prescription. Whether or not it's the best is almost secondary, as it was successful at getting me to write more lyrics, which is often the practice required to write better lyrics.
Profile Image for Grace Usleman.
Author 1 book12 followers
March 25, 2018
I currently feel so enlightened that even though this ENTIRE book was about writing better lyrics, I have no words to describe my newfound lyrical and musical curiosity and development. Though I doubt I’ll ever get to attend one of Professor Pattison’s songwriting classes at Berklee, I really hope to continue learning and utilizing the lessons in these pages. Super worth the read and the time spent annotating and working on the exercises. Any songwriter NEEDS to read this, not to teach them exactly the way to write, but to provide extremely helpful tools and examples on what one can create within their own experiences.
Profile Image for Garrett Cash.
653 reviews1 follower
May 7, 2014
Does a fine job with exercises to improve lyrics writing, but a lot of it appears counter-productive to originality. I can't say I agree with everything he says, especially concerning what he thinks to be cliche. Plenty of the greatest songs of all time from The Beatles to The Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin use the "cliches" that he points out, and I think nothing of them.
Profile Image for Ian Kolaja.
4 reviews
January 5, 2020
Highly recommend this book for songwriters of all levels. It's great if you're looking for more tools to help you finish songs, and it really gets you thinking about structure and the way that it can be used to help propel your lyrics. I see myself referring to this book a lot in the future as I continue to write songs.
Profile Image for Luigi.
Author 2 books17 followers
October 30, 2012
From one of Berklee Music's finest. Not just a read, but a workbook that not only inspires you to write songs, but to write good songs. Having studied with Pat and planning to do so again, I recommend his books and if you get a chance to do one of his papers or seminars, you won't regret it.
Profile Image for Katie Hilton.
81 reviews10 followers
April 6, 2013
This is an excellent resource I will be referring to for years to come. It will soon take the shape of a 'well-loved book'--worn pages and dogged ears and such.

I would highly recommend this as a resource for any wannabe songwriter.
Profile Image for Priscilla.
2 reviews6 followers
December 28, 2014
Will read again

Good book for reminding yourself about the technical side of writing and shows great examples of how editing can work and improve a song. I'll probably try and grab a paper copy sometime!
5 reviews1 follower
May 2, 2018
Writing Better Lyrics is a fantastic book for every musician. It goes into deep detail on everything one could know about songwriting, and gets ideas flowing almost immediately. I suggest this book for any aspiring songwriter.
Profile Image for Dawn Lennon.
Author 1 book27 followers
September 11, 2018
I didn't finish this book because I believe it is meant to be used as a lyric writing resource. It is truly full of terrific themes and examples about effective lyric writing and examples galore. As I work through my own efforts in songwriting, I'll be able to return to this book.
2 reviews
October 21, 2019

Probably the best book on the subject. Every songwriter should read this book and keep it as a reference. Doing the methods proposed in it will make you abundant with lyrical material and imbue a system in you for thinking about how lyrics create emotion.
Profile Image for Alex.
54 reviews5 followers
August 7, 2021
Good for beginners. Lots of discussion about rhythm and POV in writing in general. Great guide for poets too.

Something about the formulaic look at songwriting feels a bit archaic, though.

Read this for an intermediate playwriting class in undergrad. Kind of random, to be honest.
12 reviews2 followers
July 18, 2011
Songwriters will enjoy this book to perfect their craft. No business aspects, just a good look at rhyme structures, and creativity advise for songwriters.
Profile Image for Bliss.
69 reviews3 followers
March 11, 2012
This and Jimmy Webb's Tunesmith offer the most useful information that I've come across in any books about songwriting.
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