Verse Ideas

Writing a song well is a real challenge. You need all the help you can get. Where you start your song determines where it is able to go next, so start your song where you’ll have the most help.

 

A title (or hook) gives you a great deal of information immediately. For starters, it suggests ideas and concepts. Think of, for example, the DNA – the implicit or suggested concepts – in the title, “Heartbreak Hotel.” What does its title suggest? What is it?

 

1. A place you can check into or out of.
2. A place you can stay for a while, but no one really lives there.
3. Perhaps a place that, if you check in, your heart will be broken.
4. Perhaps a place that you go after your heart has been broken.

 

Ask questions like these, and watch the ideas tumble out.

 

Who would live there?
What would go on there?
What would the place look like?
What do the rooms look like? Are there pictures on the wall? Whose?
When would you check in? Or out?
Where is it located? What else is in the neighborhood?
Why would you go there? Maybe to find someone like you, and start over again? Would you be surprised to find your old lover there?
How do you get there?
How do you feel about being there?
Why would you leave?

 

Yep, the ol’ “who, what, when, where, why, how” routine. Works wonders, opening the blinds.

 

So there’s a great deal to be learned from a good title by reading its DNA. Wheelbarrows full of images and ideas, to dump out onto the lawn and sort through. That’s already enough to recommend starting with a title.

 

But a title has even more to offer.

 

A title helps you to construct the section that contains the title: always try to place the title in prominent (spotlighted) positions, where it is most likely to be noticed: title first, title last, title both first and last.

 

A title helps you to organize the flow of the ideas that populate your other sections. It gives you a target for the other sections of the song to aim at – something to lead up to and develop from.

 

A title is a wonderful brainstorming tool to develop ideas, and then to organize them into effective sections. It makes the process efficient and fun.

 

 

Recoloring with Verses

As you select your title, look at the possible places it could go. Conversely, when you know what you want to say, you need to find a title that allows you to say it. Either way, the title must be flexible enough to be developed—to connect with each verse as it moves forward through the concept. And the verses carry the responsibility for moving the title from color to color.

 

When I found out that my mother had terminal cancer, I wanted to write something for her. I spent two days with my co-writer, Scarlet Keys, trying to figure out what I wanted to say, and then coming up with a title that not only distilled the idea, but was flexible enough to move from idea to idea. The title we got is “Time to Let Go.”

 

It took a while to find this title, because we needed something that could change its colors. That was the reason for selecting it. As a final statement to an ailing parent, “Time to Let Go” contains three perspectives:

 

It’s time for you to let go of us.
It’s time for us to let go of you.
It’s time for you to let go of this life.
 
Once those territories become clear, the actual writing is almost a matter of filling in the blanks.

 

A first verse, setting up the title for the first time, should establish a situation or emotion to lead naturally to the title. Look at this:

 

Children
You have them,
And hold them, for a little while
Help them to walk,
Follow behind
Till they’re riding a bike
Then watch as they wobble away
Teach them to drive, they get further each day
Until you know
It’s Time to Let Go (Title)

 

The verse speaks to parents, following them as they let go of the children by degrees, until they know…

 

Now, look at the complete chorus. Read the verse again, and see how the additional lines in the chorus support the verse’s perspective.

 

Children
You have them,
And hold them, for a little while
Help them to walk,
Follow behind
Till they’re riding a bike
Then watch as they wobble away
Teach them to drive, they get further each day
Until you know
It’s Time to Let Go
You know you can’t hold on
To an angel that’s ready to fly
Destined to soar
That’s what wings are for
No more tears, it’s here and you know
It’s Time to Let Go

 

The entire focus of this verse and chorus is set by the verses: “It may difficult, but, O parents, you need to learn to let go of your children.” Each of the chorus lines supports that statement.

 

Here’s the second verse:

 

Parents
They love you,
Protect you, the best they can
Sing you to sleep,
Help you to stand
Until you run like you can
And think about running away
You’ve got your own plans, though you wish you could stay
You know
It’s Time to Let Go

 

The focus of this verse shifts to the children, and how they feel, knowing they have to leave home. Now, watch the chorus take on this new color:

 

Parents
They love you,
Protect you, the best they can
Sing you to sleep,
Help you to stand
Until you run like you can
And think about running away
You’ve got your own plans, though you wish you could stay
You know
It’s Time to Let Go
You know you can’t hold on
To an angel that’s ready to fly
Destined to soar
That’s what wings are for
No more tears, it’s here and you know
It’s Time to Let Go

 

If a title appears with other lines in a chorus, each of the lines should be able to absorb the additional meanings supplied by the other verses. In this case, every line in the chorus accepts the perspective of the child having to leave home.

 

Now comes the third section, a rather hefty bridge:

 

Now the circle turns again
And I’m your grown-up child
You’re grown so frail, but as you fail
I see how strong you are
I’ll help you and hold you
Through all that’s to come
And I’ll stay here beside you
Till your journey’s done, and you say

 

Once again, the focus shifts. This time, the child is speaking to the parent, who will soon be leaving. Now, watch the colors shift in the chorus. Again, read from the top of the bridge through the chorus:

 

Now the circle turns again
And I’m your grown-up child
You’re grown so frail, but as you fail
I see how strong you are
I’ll help you and hold you
Through all that’s to come
And I’ll stay here beside you
Till your journey’s done, and you say

 

It’s Time to Let Go
You know you can’t hold on
To an angel that’s ready to fly
Destined to soar
That’s what wings are for
No more tears, it’s here and you know
It’s Time to Let Go

 

This last chorus raises the bar higher, as each chorus line absorbs the perspective of the bridge and makes a final statement to the ailing parent.

 

Here’s the whole song:

 

TIME TO LET GO
Scarlet Keys/Pat Pattison

 

Children
You have them,
And hold them, for a little while
Help them to walk,
Follow behind
Till they’re riding a bike
Then watch as they wobble away
Teach them to drive, they get further each day
Until you know

 

It’s Time to Let Go
You know you can’t hold on
To an angel that’s ready to fly
Destined to soar
That’s what wings are for
No more tears, it’s here and you know
It’s Time to Let Go

 

Parents
They love you,
Protect you, the best they can
Sing you to sleep,
Help you to stand
Until you run like you can
And think about running away
You’ve got your own plans, though you wish you could stay
You know

 

It’s Time to Let Go
You know you can’t hold on
To an angel that’s ready to fly
Destined to soar
That’s what wings are for
No more tears, it’s here and you know it’s
It’s Time to Let Go

 

Now the circle turns again
And I’m your grown-up child
You’re grown so frail, but as you fail
I see how strong you are
I’ll help you and hold you
Through all that’s to come
And I’ll stay here beside you
Till your journey’s done, and you say

 

It’s Time to Let Go
You know you can’t hold on
To an angel that’s ready to fly
Destined to soar
That’s what wings are for
No more tears, it’s here and you know it’s
It’s Time to Let Go

 

Try looking only at “destined to soar.” In the first chorus, it refers to the child’s future from the parent’s perspective. In the second chorus, “destined to soar” refers to the child’s future from his/her own perspective, set up by the final verse line,

 

You’ve got your own plans, and though you wish you could stay
You know

 

It’s Time to Let Go…

 

The final chorus is a quotation, in the voice of the departing parent, set up by the final lines of the bridge:

 

And I’ll stay here beside you
Until your journey’s done, and you say

 

It’s Time to Let Go
You know you can’t hold on

 

Any of these chorus lines will work from any of the three perspectives. None of the verse lines could perform that “global” job. A stern test for any line auditioning to join the “Chorus Line.”

 

Start your song with a title whenever you can. When you start with a concept, a riff, a chord pattern, find the title as early in the process as possible. The quality and flexibility of the title you select will play a major role in the effectiveness of the song. No matter where you start, deciding on the title as early as possible will pay major dividends.

 

 

About Pat Pattison
Pat Pattison is a Professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches Lyric Writing and Poetry. In addition to his four books, Pat has developed five courses for Berklee’s online extension school. For more information on Pat, please visit: http://patpattison.com/