The First Line

songdna

Lyrics are heard, not read. A VERY important distinction! Our brains process information differently through our ears, than through our eyes. When we hear a lyric, each line builds onto the next one. Knowing what to put first, and what to put “next” makes a tremendous difference toonto how your listeners perceive your lyric.

I recently had a student working on a song about Autumn.

A crunch beneath my feet
Autumn colours surround me
With a quick jump and a leap
I am in a pile of leaves and feel free

Not bad! I love the sounds of the leaves crunching, and how the song character leaps into the leaves.
We can, however, make an even more powerful verse by reordering the lines…helping them influence what comes next.

Let’s talk about the opening line for a second. Imagine a listener hearing it (and only it) for the first time…

A crunch beneath my feet

What is it about? Is she in snow? Is she stepping on spilled Cheerios? Aa cockroach? We have no idea. There’s no context. Your listeners are uninvolved and have to wait to find out what is going on.

So, what are your “context giving” lines of the section?

Autumn colours surround me

Yes! Very much so! This line lets us know we’re in Autumn (the main idea of the entire song!)

Also: I am in a pile of leaves and feel free

With that line as an opening line, we don’t know we’re in aAutumn, but we do know we’re in leaves. Either of those lines would make a MUCH better opening line. Imagine your listeners hearing this…

Autumn colours surround me
A crunch beneath my feet

…ahhh, you aren’t necessarily saying “I’m stepping on leaves”, but it is heavily implied because of the autumn colours reference, which is essentially shorthand for leaves! By saying “colours” in the opening line, it gets transferred to the second line, so you’re “crunching” on colourful leaves! For experiment sake, let’s try out your other line as an opening line…

I am in a pile of leaves and feel free
A crunch beneath my feet
With a quick jump and a leap
Autumn colours surround me

What we’re seeing is a cumulative effect. Each line gives meaning to the next line. Notice how “autumn colours surround me” is MORE than just the autumn leaves…because of the jump and leap, the colours surrounding are leaves thrown up in the air. It’s a very active line now. However, notice we also lost the “colour” of the leaves in the opening line. Also, we lose the “feel free” release at the end (although it is a very playful beginning). What if we did this…

I am in a pile of autumn colours
A crunch beneath my feet
With a quick jump and a leap
Leaves surround me and I feel free

…or…

I am in a pile of autumn leaves
A crunch beneath my feet
With a quick jump and a leap
Colours surround me and I feel free

…or…

I am in a pile of colourful leaves
A crunch beneath my feet
With a quick jump and a leap
Autumn surrounds me and I feel free

Those are very similar stories, but the opening line creates subtle changes for the rest of the section. I kind of like the first one the best. I think it maximizes all the information.

Thoughts?

Let’s go back and put your autumn colours first again…

Autumn colours surround me
A crunch beneath my feet
With a quick jump and a leap
I am in a pile of leaves and feel free

Not bad! You’re taking a nice walk and have this urge to jump into leaves!
Here’s another version…

Autumn colours surround me
With a quick jump and a leap
A crunch beneath my feet
I am in a pile of leaves and feel free

…we’ve lost the “walk” but gain the sound of you landing in the leaves!

Any of these stories are viable, you’d choose the one you like best. But it all starts with that opening line!


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