I have noticed now and then, problems with pace in offerings at the lyrics critique board. I hope to help others see the immediate problem and will offer up a few hopefully easy remedies to help you as a writer of lyrics to be more consistent and accessible. I am still plagued by this, but as stated earlier I will offer up some solutions that I use as well to recognize and work towards something that can be edited and can help you work with music and or musicians when trying to finalize your lyrics into a song.
What Is Pace?
Pace is the overall speed in which the words are delivered. As an example, based on syllable count, and on presentation the following line would be,
" I see the shades of a breaking day I say goodnight to the stars I have awakened once again without you in my arms "
|1||1||1||1 2||1||1||1 2||1||1||1||1 2||1|
|1||1 2||1||1||1 2||1 2||1 2||1 2||1||1||1||1 2|
Now imagine trying to keep rhythm with that or establish that as a beat pattern on a percussive instrument. I can't even imagine many would want to strain their vocal chords with that line as is. To be aware of pace, one should immerse themselves in reading classic poetry from ancient poets to modern day, even lyrics from any genre of music would help as well. Pace in it's most simplest, easiest and basic definition is the foundation of how fast or slow the duration of any poem or lyrical offering is. As you can see from the line above, that it is " stream of conscience " where there is no break nor punctuation to help the reader/listener take in the information at their pace and comfort level. Some less than ethical groups and some overreaching political positions have used this technique. Not saying that all uses of that technique are bad, but please be aware, that if you attempt such a technique it will be under suspicion and most likely dismissed as " art ", " conceptual " or at worse " propaganda " it's a very razor thin line that separates the good and bad uses of that technique.
How Do We Fix That ?
It starts with presentation, the " enter " button is our friend and we can use that to keep lines in their proper places and a consistent pace. First let's fix the above line,
" I see the shades of a breaking day
I say goodnight to the stars
I have awakened once again
Without you in my arms "
Much better, it is comfortable to read and one can accept the imagery and message, possibly enjoy it more ( even though it is " syrupy " by my standards...lol ). Apart from wanting to solo and invent a lot of music for the first presentation of the line, the new improved lines would require more creative work on making a bass line, the rhythm section and possibly a melody or soling with the bass and rhythm to bring it all together into a more memorable and or commercially appealing song. The marking of the syllable count is a tool though not necessarily one that the readers/listeners really need to see listed, it might prove confusing when they read and try to critique. There are forms of poetry out there that require precise use of syllables and syllable count to stay in the form, Haiku and others of that poetic form are great teachers of editing and if you read my visualization essay, I suggest that form of poetry as a tool to help you give the reader/listener more to see with less detail and elaboration ( a great discipline to learn ). Villanelle and both the English and Italian Sonnet forms have established rules in regards to rhyme structure as well.
Lyrics are a form of poetry but not the only poetry form out there, experiment. Try using other forms and their structures for part of the lyrics, as a suggestion only, a Sonnet for the verses broken up in places by a looping chorus that has a different rhyme scheme to keep the reader/listener's attention focused on the work at hand and possibly remember your lyrics more. Another fix is the easiest and sometimes forgotten tool of public reciting. Not saying you have to go out in your hometown and do " open-mic night " with other poets and musicians ( although it has improved my writing by leaps and bounds, perhaps a new essay topic later ), but read what you have written out loud, recite it to the walls, my dogs have heard many " first " versions of anything I write, they are not judgmental and listen very well, pets are a great audience. Just listen to what you have written. Do you find yourself speeding through one line, then slowing down in others, maybe even running out of breath as you recite that one line?
Not everything one writes will have perfect pace. It requires listening to how it sounds recited and how each line works with each other. Your best goal is to get the writing somewhere close to the middle, where the singer and or the band playing the music can take what you have, and have a little room to enhance it with their performance. If you are a lyricist only, as I used to be before the guitar and ukulele lessons and explorations I have taken on,, it shows that you are a team player and can work with vocals and music to enhance the experience and make it beneficial to all who participate, and the final goal of making it memorable and or commercially appealing and a " hit " with those who listen to the final offering. It comes down to what I always say have an open mind and experiment,experience, and expand your abilities and those who work with you. Try writing as many different versions of each song. That will help you establish pace, a rhyme scheme, and maybe even some cool new saying out of it ( who knows right ? ). Depending on the genre sometimes you can have pace dictate that as well, is it slow and deliberate like some Reggae and Folk songs, or is it fast like an Alternative or Western Swing song? Pace, and maintaining some control over it will improve your writing and make you a better communicator as well.
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About Jon Hanover
Colorado based songwriter Jon Hanover comes from a strongly musical family. This one time lead singer and front-man for a Hardcore thrash band in the 80's now writes creative lyrics and music for guitar and voice, and he has been known to pick up the ukulele.
His lyrics are influenced by Elvis Costello and other under the radar Pop song writers. For Jon lyrics are a form of visualizing through text and language, and regarding his own songs, another extension of his broadly expressed creativity.
While he himself has no formal training in lyrics writing, Jon does believe that writing songs is a lifetime in the learning and formal training is no barrier to a serious study of the art form. The best way to improve is to approach songwriting openly and honestly with a drive to understand the art of creating a song. It is this joint thirst to understand the songwriter's craft along with an enthusiasm for communicating those ideas and observations to his fellow aspiring songwriters that lead Jon to join the Songstuff Site Crew as one of our article writers.
Jon aims to help other songwriters improve their lyrics writing, simple as that.