Free Guides

The Relationship Between Lyrics and Rhythm

Sep 04, 2021

What is the relationship between lyrics and rhythm? It’s pretty common to separate “music writing” and “lyric writing”, but they’re actually inherently connected.

Lyrics have a natural rhythm. Think about it, when you speak a sentence, there is an emphasis on certain words and syllables.

Let’s take the following sentence: “Go away, you monster”

You don’t say that like this: “Go a-way, you mon-ster

You say it like this: “Go a-way, you mon-ster”

Just try to say it like the first example. Pretty awkward, right? 

Some sentences have emphasis based on context and precisely what the person is trying to communicate.

Take the following example: “I don’t like vanilla ice cream”

Let’s look at different ways to say this and the slightly different connotations they have.

I don’t like vanilla ice cream”: This is emphasizing who doesn’t like vanilla ice ice cream. 

This is probably in response to someone saying something like “Who doesn’t like vanilla ice cream?”. You’re making the point that you don’t like it. 

“I don’t like vanilla ice cream”: This is emphasizing the fact that you actually don’t like vanilla ice cream. Rather than emphasizing who doesn’t like vanilla ice cream, it is clarifying that you actually don’t like vanilla ice cream.. 

This would likely be in response to someone saying something like “You like vanilla ice cream, don’t you?” If you responded with “I don’t like vanilla ice cream” instead of “I don’t like vanilla ice cream”, it would come across like you thought you were better than the person who is so pedestrian as to like the plainest of ice creams.

“I don’t like vanilla ice cream”: This is clarifying specifically what type of ice cream you don’t like. There isn’t any confusion over the fact that you don’t like something, it’s what specifically you don’t like that has caused confusion. 

This is likely in response to someone confusing what type of ice cream you don’t like, or thinking you don’t like any ice cream, such as “I thought you don’t like ice cream”

The rhythm of your melody should generally match up with the natural rhythms within your lyrics.

It’s important to consider both the natural emphasis of the syllables of words, but also the emphasis you want to communicate. 

Let’s take the following lyrics:

You’ve got the wings to fly

So carry on your way

No need to stay with me

I’ve had my day

The syllable count is 6,6,6, and 4, but there’s more to it than that.

When you speak these words, where are the natural emphasis? 

You’ve got the wings to fly

So ca-rry on your way

No need to stay with me

I’ve had my day 

Now, depending on context, you may say it like “You’ve got the wings to fly” or some other minor differences, but it would be awkward to accentuate “the”, “to”, or the second syllable of “carry”.

The point isn’t that “you’ve the to”, it’s “got wings fly”. That may sound silly, but the more important words are the ones accentuated. 

Do you see the flow there? Let’s look at the strong and weak syllables:

























For the final line, I mix up the structure. Which syllables are stronger and weaker in that sentence is a little unclear but, in the context of the song, all 4 are treated as strong. 

But do you see the flow that’s here? Look at the most important word in the “weak” columns. It’s probably “You’ve”. Now look at all the words in the strong column. “Wings”, “Fly”, “Stay”, “Need”, and so on. 

The emphasis is on the right parts, both by importance of word and natural flow of strong and weak syllables. 

There are all kinds of patterns you can use, so you certainly don’t need to use the Strong, weak, Strong, weak pattern I use here, but it’s important to be consistent and intentional with the placement of strong and weak syllables within a line. 

Your weak and strong syllables can be paired with other factors, such as appearing on down (strong) beats vs up (weak beats) and high notes (strong) vs lower notes (weak). 

If you combine a strong syllable with a down beat and a high note? Dang, that syllable will be highlighted. You can mix and match these 3 strong vs weak “levers” in order to give a texture to your vocal. 

Start Songwriting right now...

Get my free guide on 10 different ways to start writing a song!