Songwriting Tip: Using Colors In Your Lyrics

There are many marks of a clever songwriter. One is the quiet insertion of little details that you might not pick up on in a first casual listen. Take colors, for example. Colors are powerful symbols. They can trigger recognition, evoke memories, and stir emotions. Flags, holidays, religious rituals, even abstract virtues and vices are linked with certain colors. This is fertile ground for the songwriter. You can convey something specific or set a general tone with a little dash of color in your lyrics. Sometimes there is no particular symbolism to it—it just serves an end in itself as good poetry. Here are three examples:

Ilene

Writer: Benjy Gaither

She’s a firecracker on the fourth of July

With her red hair, white dress and big blue eyes

Her kisses are as sweet as apple pie

I hope I never have to hear her say goodbye

***

All I Really Want

Writer: Steven Curtis Chapman

Well I don’t know if you remember me or not

I’m one of the kids they brought in from the home

I was the red-haired boy in an old green flannel shirt

You may not have seen me, I was standing off alone

I didn’t come and talk to you, ‘cuz that’s never worked before

And you’ll prob’ly never see this letter anyway

But just in case there’s something you could do to help me out

I’ll ask you one more time

Chorus

All I really want for Christmas…

***

Storm

Writer: Fernando Ortega

Sometimes it takes a storm to really know the light,

The scent of rain, the weight of clouds pulling down the sky.

Sometimes it takes a storm to know how you feel

To understand indigo and the varnished sun lighting up the fields.

It takes the rain between the lines to know what sorrow finds

The way a cloud divides sometimes, the clearing and the blue

I love you.

I was just passing through and taken by surprise.

Between the black sky and the blue,

Between the black sky and the blue, I love you.

I love you.

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4 Comments

Filed under Songwriting

4 responses to “Songwriting Tip: Using Colors In Your Lyrics

  1. Brad

    The Hinson’s “Two Winning Hands” comes to my mind.

    “That same Jesus you’ve heard of
    Can take a black heart without love
    He can wash it in red blood
    And make it whiter than snow”

    The use of colors does paint (no pun intended) a very strong mental image!

  2. Very interesting songwriting concept! … thanks for the suggestion. Most of my work is lyric based and this has inspired some fresh ideas for me. If you have a moment, please check out my blog where I’ve just posted some new compositions at: http://judson2history.wordpress.com/ I would love to get constructive feedback … Judson

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