How to Write Great Song Lyrics with Sensory Writing

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One of my great loves is Film making and all it entails (acting, cinematography, film score etc.). In fact, it was while directing/starring in a movie several years ago and compiling the music for the project that I fell in love with Music Production. So I was more than thrilled when I was recently invited to a Creative Arts Workshop as a guest speaker to discuss how actors should develop a character from the pages on a script.

After my presentation was done, I listened to another speaker discuss Directing and how the role of a Film Director was to transform the words on the pages of a script to pictures on the screen.

It was while listening to this speaker’s presentation that I started to realize how this truth also at times influences my songwriting. Just like a great Director transforms words on the pages of a script to pictures on the screen, a great songwriter should pen lyrics that put pictures in the mind of the listener. The idea is to have your songwriting engage as many of the listener’s five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste) as you can. This type of writing in called Sensory writing.

Below are some lyrics I wrote just as an example for this post:

I love the way she smiles

I have to stop and stare

I love the way she looks

None can compare

Okay… fairly decent lyrics, but not that engaging. So in order to draw the listener in, I’ll re-write the lyrics but this time engage some of the five senses:

Her smile is like the break of day

In a trance, I stop and stare

I love the way the sun kisses

Her long soulful hair

Now that’s a whole lot better! Like the words off a script, I’m setting up the scene in the listener’s mind. This creates a much more visceral experience for the listener.

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Let’s just analyze the first line of the re-write:

Her smile is like the break of day

Can you picture the start of a sunrise? Also, break of day (dawn) is the beginning of the day. So to someone, that lyric can mean “her smile starts my day.” break of day also means the start of a new day which subconsciously can mean to someone else “when she smiles, I feel anew, renewed or reborn.” break of day also means the start of another day, which subconsciously can mean to someone else (who may have been heart broken in a previous relationship) “her smile shows me I have another chance at love.”

The use of Sensory Writing for this one line conjures up so many attributes/emotions:

  • New beginnings
  • New love
  • New hope
  • Second chances
  • Start of something great
  • You light up my world

That sure beats the flat, and quite frankly, one-dimensional line “I love the way she smiles”.

As the songwriter, my core message for this song was love, but because I employed Sensory Writing, I opened up the song for people to read into several facets of that love, based on their own interpretations and experiences.

Of course this is not a hard and fast rule to songwriting. Not all songs require you to include ALL the five senses. No one likes overkill! I will say you should try as much as you can to use Sensory Writing and watch how much more alive and impactful your songs become!

1 Comment

  1. Fade says:

    I love this post! I’m going to share it with some of my friends

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