Counting Syllables

Disclaimer: I don’t have any cuts or any songs recorded, these are just my views and my tips on the different aspects of Songwriting

Syllables

Now if you are not 100% sure what I’m referring to in regards to syllables, check out this Wikipedia Article to find out what I’m talking about.

On a few websites I visit and on Twitter (most recently thanks to @RavenousRaven ) I’ve been reviewing the occasional song or lyric.  One thing I’ve noticed with non published writers (like myself) is the lack of verse forms, both in rhyme and in syllables per line.  Now this might not sound like much, but those two things CAN make a verse work much better.

From the performers point of view, trying to match syllables through a verse will mean that the melody will be the same between verses.

Look in a print music book or sheet of a song you love, 9 times out of 10 multiple verses will be printed under the same melody line.  The melody between verses are the same.. (or very similar).  THIS comes down to syllable count.

In practice

When I write a song I usually count the syllables of each line (or if I’m using a program like Verse Perfect it counts for me).  I will count the syllables on each line and write a the number in brackets on the right hand side of the page.  Then I will try to match up the number of syllables (or in a worst case be 1 syllable different) between the same lines in different verses.  When I first started to write songs I didn’t really take this in to consideration.  In two songs I posted on my blog (both in first draft), “If Only” and “Summer Rain“,  have a look at the syllable counts:

If Only
Verse 1: 5,8,9,8,9,8
Verse 2: 5,5,8,7,9,9

Chorus 1: 2,11,12,10,8,4,7
Chorus 2: 3,12,12,9,9,4,7

Summer Rain
Verse 1: 13,10,8,14,8
Verse 2: 15,11,7,12,8
Verse 3: 15,11,9,13,8

Now I know ‘the numbers’ aren’t perfect and that is something I will work on in the next draft.  But as you can see they are pretty close.

By having the same melody between verses, when the listener hears the second verse for the first time they have already heard the melody and chord progression so it will sound familiar.  By also working a rhythmic beat in to your lyrics as well, this will make the lyrics even sound more familiar.

Now in saying all of this, rules/guidelines are made to be broken (especially in Songwriting!), that’s what can makes a song unique.  One instance might be in a final verse which has a different syllable count for the final line leading in to the Chorus (or a bridge).

By practicing writing lyrics using a strict syllable count, your writing can improve.  Why?  Well I’ll ask a question… how many ways can you say “I love you”?  (and each way would have a different number of syllables (from none to essays or novels).

If you have a line that requires you to show your affect to a person:

6 syllables “You’re everything to me”,
7 syllables “We were made for each other”
8 syllables “I can say love in many ways”
9 syllables “You and me, we have a connection”
10 syllables “There’s not body else I want to be with”
11 syllables “You’re the only one who makes me feel alive”
etc

And yes that was an exercise for myself!  Not only does each line above offer a different syllable count, each line also offers a different Rhyme.  Subsequent I’ve got 6 lines to use in some songs.

In Summary

Keep and eye on the syllable count between the same line numbers in your verses to help each verse sound familiar to the listener.

Extra note

Whilst writing this post, Verse Perfect didn’t count the syllables 100% correct for me… words that were plurals were being classed as two syllables when they were in fact only one.

Check out my other pages ‘On Songwriting’

13 thoughts on “Counting Syllables

  1. I was wondering why it was so important to set the accented syllables of a song’s lyric to the accented notes and accented beats of the music. I can see how using the rhythmic pattern of notation in the first verse as well as all the additional verses of the lyric can make each and every verse of the lyric sound even more familiar. I mean: if you not only use the same number of syllables in the corresponding lines of the additional verses, but also continually set the strong and weak syllables of the lyric to the same strong and weak notes which are set to the same strong and weak beats. Rather than using only the same number of syllables in the corresponding lines of vers–but setting the strong and weak syllables of the lyric haphazardly. But is “sounding even more familiar” the only reason why accented syllables should be continually set to the accented notes and accented beats? Does it really make that much difference? Free verse–with or without rhyme–is simply verse written without any regard to where the accents fall. But writing the song lyric in free verse is frowned upon for that same reason. For instance, what about the corresponding measures that incorrectly contain too many accented syllables, contrasted by corresponding measures containg too few accented syllables, etc.? Especially a complex melody at a fast tempo with numerous verses. I’d much rather just duplicate the number of syllables, but continue to ignore where the accents fall. We basically have to duplicate the same number of syllables, anyway.

    • Remembering there are no rules to songwriting, I wrote this as a suggestion 😀

      But is “sounding even more familiar” the only reason why accented syllables should be continually set to the accented notes and accented beats?

      In some ways yes. Songs are (most of the time) written to a beat, which the lyrics should naturally fall in to. If accents were ‘off beat’, it might sound out of place.. then again, pending the effect, it might be what you want.

      Does it really make that much difference? Free verse–with or without rhyme–is simply verse written without any regard to where the accents fall.

      Free Verse still does move along to the beat.. as above, moving stresses to off the beat can be used for effect.

      As for if a song is frowned upon, it depends on the genre.. mostly likely if you want to make a ‘pop’ song, but other genre’s it will be accepted.

      For instance, what about the corresponding measures that incorrectly contain too many accented syllables, contrasted by corresponding measures containg too few accented syllables, etc.?

      If it works it works. Some songs can use some form of tension for build up.

  2. What about the bridge part of the song? Do I have to count the syllables to match other part of the song or by itself.

    By the way as for as the info about the syllables in the verse, can it be at least close; not the exact same number of syllables? like 5,6,5

    • The bridge is usually treated separately from the verses in all forms: Rhyme scheme, Chord progression, Verse structure. So no, it doesn’t have to match the other parts of the songs.

      In your example, the 5,6,5. If you are referring to across the verses, ie. 1st line Verse 1 has 5, 1st line Verse 2 has 6, 1st line Verse 3 has 5, that is fine, it should play fine. Look at old sheet music for songs, a number of instances there are what appears to be ‘ghost’ notes which are used in 1 verse of a song.

    • Hi B.C.,

      With Rap, you can get away with different syllable count. In saying that, rap songs would still have a base ‘formula’, to use the term, where the length of each line, musically/beats, will be the same. Syllables can vary between between verses.

      I guess I should have mentioned when writing this piece I was thinking more in regards to your ‘pop’ style of song.

    • The key which suites the singers voice 😀 Chord progression wise, major chords are used to create a ‘bright song’ or positive, minor chords can make the songs feel more darker or not so positive.

      I’m not a professional song writer (as I say at the top of this page, ‘I don’t have any cuts or songs recorded’.. by others, I just enjoy writing songs which I perform myself). I’m currently working on writing and recording an album.

  3. I am new to writing. song lyrics .ijust found out
    about. the same. syllables .but what i can’t find
    out about. is does the chourse have to have the
    same amount. of syllables in the lines luke versr
    i know there. separat but like a verse the lines have to have the sa
    same like. verse. 1)with 7lines it would
    be like line one 7syllables line. 2)7
    Line3 (8an so on verse. 2would set up the same
    what a bout chourse???

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