Question from a songwriter: “I have trouble coming up with the first line of a song. I try not to write the first line as something obvious and cliche but I can’t seem to figure out how to keep it from being too vague.”
Answer: A strong opening for your song is essential – it may make the difference between keeping a listener tuned in or losing them. You’re right about not wanting to be vague! Here are a few ideas…
1) After you have a first draft of your song, check to see whether your second verse is stronger than your first. This can happen as you get deeper into the song and know more about what you want to say. Try opening with your second verse and writing a new one to replace it.
2) If the song is addressed to “you,” what is the one big, emotional statement you want to make to that person? Try starting with that if you’re not using it somewhere else in the song. If you are already using it, try backing up a step and imagine the line that would come just BEFORE you said that.
3) Work from your chorus. Read the chorus out loud, then try to find a line that answers the question: Why am I saying this? Start with that!
4) An effective opening line pulls the listener right into the middle of the action or situation. Look for the moment that seemed to trigger the situation you’re writing about. Start by describing that – what was said, what did you do?
5) Choose an action word or visually descriptive word that conveys the situation and build a line around that.
As you can see from these suggestions, it’s often a good idea to revisit your first line AFTER you work up a draft of your song. In the meantime, use a line that gets you started and worry about adding strength to it later. Turn off your inner critic and just write what you feel. Rewriting is where you’ll use ideas like the ones listed above. Once you have a solid opening line, you’ll probably need to rework the rest of your first verse but it’s worth it!
by Robin Frederick
This post is based on my songwriting books: Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting, Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV, Study the Hits, and The 30-Minute Songwriter. Find out more about all of my print and eBooks on my Author page at Amazon. In each book you’ll find dozens of useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.