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lyric writing Apr 01, 2022

Does vocabulary matter as a lyricist?

The Short Answer: Yes.

If we simply think of what vocabulary really is at its heart, it’s simply having access to more words to use. 

It allows us to not be limited to overused and generic words, but be able to be more precise in our language. 

Let’s take the word “Want” for example. 

Sure, we could just say “I want Ice Cream”, but how precise is that? 

Well, I want to write a book trilogy some day, but I may never get to it. Why? I don’t want to write one that badly compared to other things I want.

I also want to make music. I work on that almost every day, and would start to lose some life purpose without it.

Pretty big gap in meaning considering they both would be proper uses of the word “want”

But what if we have access to more words that are generally synonyms for “want”.

Need, crave, prefer, require, wish, ache, aspire, covet, long, lust, thirst, pine, yearn, hunger. 

“I want ice cream” is a fairly dull statement. “I need ice cream” may seem a bit over-dramatic. “I crave ice cream” shows a true desire to accomplish the task of devouring approximately 7 pints of ice cream.

What about “require”? If you require ice cream, that implies you are demanding it to be given to you from someone else.

If you simply “wish” for ice cream, that probably just means it’s a wistful thought before fully falling asleep. Not something you’d make hardly any effort to accomplish.

If we take a little dive into the word “Hatred” we will find that there are some other words like “Hostility”, “Resentment”, “Bitterness”, “Malice”, and even “Rancor” that may cover all different types of feelings relating to hatred.

I don’t know about you, but there are certainly times I’ve been bitter towards someone, but using the word “Resentment” or “Malice” would seem wrong. 

The gap between bitterness and malice is wide. 

So, of course words matter as lyricists. And that means a vocabulary does too, given the more words we have access to, the more likely we’ll be able to use a word that precisely fits what we’re trying to say. 

Not only that, but it also raises the probability of finding a word that means exactly what is intended, and it also fits into the natural meter and emphases of the melodic phrase as well.

But, what if our current vocabulary isn’t very good?

Are we toast?

No, I think there are 2 habits we can get into that will help us increase our vocabulary naturally, while also making our vocabulary less necessary for our lyric writing at the same time.

If we write lyrics in a way where we don’t need to know the right words off the top of our heads or via deep pondering, while also increasing our natural vocabulary, that’s the best of both worlds.

So, first, simply get in the habit of no longer shrugging off new words you hear.

If you hear someone say a word and you don’t know what it means or you’re not completely sure of what it means, find out. If you’re in a conversation with them and it would be rude to look it up on your phone, just ask them.

If you overhear it from someone else’s conversation, hear it on the TV or a podcast, or you’re such good friends that you can be blatantly rude to them and pull your phone out while they’re talking to you, just grab that wonderful interweb-connected device and google the word right then and there.

You might be surprised how fast and how much this little habit can grow your vocabulary.

But what about in the meantime? 

The good news is that my process of iterative lyric editing actually involves going through each word of our lyric and seeing if we can upgrade them by searching for a better synonymous word. 

If you’re doing iterative lyric editing over the line “I just want something new”, you may decide that “want” is a weak area of the line and search for synonyms for “want”. Then, you see the word “crave” and think that’s a much more visceral and precise word for what exactly you’re trying to express. 

“I just crave something new” is certainly more precise and evocative than the super-status-quo “I just want something new”.

For more on this, check out the video!

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