Pat Pattison is a professor and the author of Writing Better Lyrics, a book that has been a staple for songwriters for nearly 20 years. He has written three courses for Berklee College of Music’s award winning online school: “Tools and Strategies,” “Writing Lyric to Music,” and “Writing from a Title.” They are available at http://patpattison.com/patsonlinecourses. I recently worked as Pat’s editor for the 2nd edition of this well-loved book. Pat was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy teaching schedule to answer a few questions. (A portion of the interview appears below… a more in-depth version is posted on WritersDigest.com)
Writing Better Lyrics has been a go to guide for songwriters for nearly 2 decades. What did you set out to accomplish with the new edition?
Songs are your best teachers. I try to learn something from every song I hear. I try to see what’s working, and why – where the song connects with me – where it makes me feel something. Then I look under the hood to see how it was put together, to extract tools that I can pass on to my students. I’ve learned a lot since I published WBL, and I’ve tried to pass those new ideas along in this edition.
I usually ask authors about their favorite books, but I think in this case I’m curious about your top 5 record albums of all time.
Pirates, Ricki Lee Jones
Hearts and Bones, Paul Simon
Der Rosenkavalier, Richard Strauss Jr.
Revival, Gillian Welch
Continuum, John Mayer
What can a writer working in any genre learn from looking at song lyrics?
Think of melody as nouns, chords as adjectives, and rhythm as verbs (from Bernstein’s lectures). Watch how they support and transform each other. The same melody with major chords sounds different when minor or other chords are substituted. Melody and harmony together are activated by rhythm and tempo, again creating many options for expressing an idea effectively. All writers are interested in coloring ideas in different ways, and making them move forward at tempi and, if not rhythm, flow.
The effective combination of melody, harmony, rhythm and tempo with lyric and its structure can create a force to be reckoned with. It can change lives. It can topple empires.