Show, don’t tell, Jason Blume’s lyrical AID

In this lyric writing series we give music teachers guidance on supporting their pupils with lyric writing – the technique of showing your listener a ‘scene unfolding’ rather than simply telling your audience how the singer feels.

American songwriter Jason Blume, who’s had hits with Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, says whilst there are no rules to songwriting, ‘there are tools’ to help you craft that perfect hit.

And all you need is a simple AID – action, imagery, detail.

Action:

Use verbs (action or doing words) to help illustrate what is going on in your song. For example, instead of saying ‘I miss you and I’m sad’, try and ‘show what missing someone and being sad’ looks like :

  • ‘I wipe the tears falling from my eyes’
  • ‘I clutch a tear stained picture of you’
  • ‘I drove by where we first met’
  • ‘I couldn’t walk through the door where we said our last goodbye’

The action words are ‘wipe’ ‘clutch’ ‘drove’ ‘walk’.

And instead of saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m in love’, why not show what a person in love does?

  • ‘I wrote our names inside a heart, engraved upon a tree’
  • ‘I hand picked and carried home 100 flowers for you and put a vase in every room’
  • ‘I sing your name like a favourite song’

The action words are ‘wrote’ ‘picked’ ‘carried’ and ‘sing’.

Write a list of action words down before starting on your next song and try and use at least 5 of them in your next song to show what your feeling.

Imagery:

Blume says ‘whilst you cannot see heartbreak you can see the images and actions that convey that a person is heartbroken’:

  • ‘She fell to her knees, laying flowers on his grave’
  • ‘He kisses her photo’
  • ‘His tears hit the floor like a waterfall of pain’

The images are ‘knees’ ‘flowers’ ‘grave’ ‘photo’ ‘tears’ ‘floor’ ‘waterfall’. Blume also states that by including ‘tangible items’ and nouns in your lyrics like ‘furniture, clothing, a car, a house, a specific place, food, you enable your audience to enter your song.’

Along with your list of action words, try and write down a list of images and every day nouns to try and include in your next song.

Detail: 

This is the third part of AID that will help you to show your listener what is going on in your song. This time we’re searching for adjectives (describing words) and adverbs (describing verbs) to help the listener visualise your song more clearly. For example, if we were to go one step further with some of our examples from the Imagery section above and add a bit more detail to the floor, or the grave, you have something like this…

  • ‘She falls to her knees on the cold, muddy ground and lays white lilies on his grave’
  • ‘He tenderly kisses the photo of their wedding day in his old rocking chair
  • ‘His bitter tears slowly hit the wooden floor of his kitchen, like a cascading waterfall of pain’

Even with a few additional adjectives and adverbs, the scenes are much clearer to visualise; you can hear the creak of the old rocking chair, you can taste the bitter tears that fall onto the floor and see him in the kitchen, you can feel the cold muddy ground that she falls to – instantly you have transported your listener directly into the scene of your song, as if they are there with the singer, watching over what is happening.

So next time you’re stuck for lyrics, all you need is a little AID to help you on your way.

Enter your songs into our Young Songwriter 2018 competition before the 8th April.