How To Keep Your Phrasing Interesting

Man vs Row

Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

Phrasing is the rhythm of the lyrics (and the spaces in-between) as they fit into the melody. You could say it’s the “bounce” of the words.

Phrasing could be melodic and slow, like the chorus on “Drink A Beer” recorded by Luke Bryan and written by Chris Stapleton and Jim Beavers. It could be more like a rap, like the verses of “Boys ‘Round Here” recorded by Blake Shelton and written by Craig Wiseman, Thomas Rhett, and Dallas Davidson. Or it could be somewhere in between.  (And I’m not talking about lyrical CONTENT here.  I’m not telling you what subject matter to write.  I’m just talking about the rhythm and spacing of the words, whatever those words happen to be.)

It’s hugely important to keep your phrasing interesting.

(Back when I was starting out, I had a pro songwriter- the son of my church’s music minister- listen to some of my songs.  He said, “I can tell you grew up Baptist. The songs all phrase like Baptist hymns.  You need to make your phrasing more interesting.”  My reaction was… “what’s phrasing?”)

Play with your phrasing. Mix it up. If you’re not great at writing uptempo songs, try writing faster, more interesting phrasing within your slower tempos. Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford did this well when they wrote “Dirt Road Anthem,” which went on to become a #1 country single for Jason Aldean. The tempo wasn’t that fast- the song felt really laid back. It’s the rapid-fire phrasing on the verses which really gives the song its energy (instead of giving it a power chorus or a fast tempo).

You don’t want your lyric to have the same “bounce” all the way through.

Mix up the phrasing between your verse and your chorus. This will help you vary the melody between the verse and chorus, too. That’s really important. Also, make sure your verse doesn’t have the same bounce to every line.  Mix it up there, too.

Right now, rap-like lyrics are pretty popular in country music, but who knows how long that’ll be the case. My best advice is to just keep it interesting, whatever you do.

What do you think?  What are YOUR thoughts or questions on phrasing?  Do you have trouble mixing it up?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

God Bless,



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6 thoughts on “How To Keep Your Phrasing Interesting”

  1. That’s great advice. My only thoughts are personal. And those thoughts are these. Quality always wins out eventually. Fads are short term. I don’t see rap phrasing lasting in country music. Neither do I see the 1-3 prevalent beat it’s used with lasting. I refer to these songs as Bro Country as some others also do. The only reason it rose to popularity was because of the immense success Florida Georgia line had. I’ve always referred to Nashville as the land of the lemming. A lemming is that animal that follows all the others even over a cliff to its death. In Nashville as soon as someone has some significant success with something new, far too many others start doing it as well. They’re chasing the money. That’s what hat acts were when George Strait first hit the scene. When you compare a song like Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” or Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” to the 1-3 beat of Bro Country, with their rap style phrasing and the same tired subject matter of tailgates, bottle of wine, dixie cup, sugar on your lips and gotta’ get me some of that
    it’s very evident which songs are superior in quality. I was watching The Voice the other night and one of the contestants sang “Help Me Make It Through The Night”.
    The crowd of mostly younger attendees went wild. I seriously doubt that most of them had heard that song before. Quality lasts. Fads fade.

    1. Good thoughts, Jeff. Yes, just to be clear: I’m not telling anyone to write rap lyrics… or not to. I’m not giving any content recommendations at all in this post. I just want to challenge songwriters to keep an eye on the phrasing of our songs- not to be lazy, and to do our best to keep things interesting for the listener. But always do what’s best for each particular song.

  2. Oh, I know you’re not suggesting writers do rap lyrics. I was just stating my personal opinion on the staying power of songs currently in vogue.

  3. I try to make my lyrics challenging as well as the vocals along with it. Sometimes I push myself where it takes weeks of practise to learn them properly. Making phrasing more interesting I feel has more soul! 🙂

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