Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Song Writing: Lyrics

A huge part of music today is the story you tell, not only with the sounds and harmonies played, but the actual words that are sung. This aspect of music has been a part of its structure in many compositions since opera or minstrels, where words mattered.

In a way, lyrics and poetry are sometimes intertwined with differences such as melodies and musical context, because rhythm is already a part of what makes poetry so compelling. However there is another dimension of the rhythm aspect which is being in sync with the tone of the music.

Is Poetry the Same as Lyrics

 

According to Matthew Zapruder from bostonreview.net:

To say that this means song lyrics are less literary than poems, or require less skill or intelligence or training or work to create, is patently absurd (and, in the case of rap music, patronizing). But that does not mean that song lyrics are poems. They might sometimes accidentally function like poems when taken out of a musical context, but abstracting lyrics from musical information is misleading and beside the point.

While there are many similarities and artists sometimes present their lyrics as poetry there are some differences that make them both shine in their own way. Now, if you were to take poetry and turn it into lyrics for a song, it may not be that difficult, although some changes may have to be made, it would mostly be taking some words out more than adding words. However if you were to make the lyrics of a song into a poem, most of the times it would not work, because the whole structure of a song gives the words context, this can be from the way a singer sings certain words, the way silence is used to allow the music go through the words as sun light in the woods, and the overall mood and feel that embraces the vocals.

Writing a Song

 

Knowing these differences, it should also be noted that working through lyrics is sometimes a very similar process as writing poetry, but there are many ways in which we can approach writing them.

First of all is the order, when you think about making a musical composition with lyrics, you think about two dimensions: music and lyrics, but which one comes first when going through the process of composing. It can go both ways or at the same time, but the truth is, that the final product will be different depending on the focus, because if the idea is to write something and then add some sort of soundtrack to what’s been written, the focus is clearly on the vocals, however if you have a full instrumental song, and then add the lyrics, it’s most likely the voice will follow a pattern outside of its own.

It can also be made simultaneously, as if the voice and the lyrics were just another instrument, and go as far as to come up with words while playing the music. This does not necessarily means that the order will determine if vocals are more or less important, however it can be a factor in that outcome.

A good tip for a beginner songwriter is just to not be afraid to try things, to make mistakes, and always remember: it’s a work in progress, everything is malleable until you feel there’s nothing else that can be done.

Creative writing is never easy, specially when it has to fit a musical context, but with enough practice, translating words into another instrument, will become easier and will show a whole other part of music that can be very interesting and fun to play with; trying different orders, and rearranging sounds and words in order to make the puzzle work and feel natural.

 

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