Get the words right

How to convey your emotions of the song to your audience.

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Great singers are always aware that the most beautiful aspects of the written and spoken word is how it lends itself to interpretation. When writing and singing songs, the title, melody, harmony, and lyrics are all going to contribute to the impression that will be with whoever is listening. As the singer, you want to ensure that the feeling of the track is
conveyed in both the music and lyrics. Without cohesion between the music and lyrics, the song will be hurt.

Matching lyric and melody communicates your ideas smoothly and naturally, giving your listeners easy access to the feelings you created when you wrote your song. It gives them an entry to your intent.

There are many different ways to go about writing
the words for your music. It doesn’t matter if you
write the lyrics or the melody first for a song. When
you write lyrics first, it will help you create your
melodies, because you’ll already know what your
lyric’s rhythms are. There are cases where your lyrics
and music are playing leapfrog—one piece of lyric
generating a larger piece of music, which in turn,
creates more lyric rhythms to match. And, of course,
there are always those situations where you have to
write that pesky second or third verse after most of
the rest of the song is finished.
How the lyrics should be set to the music depends
on the strength of each beat in the melodic line.
The 4/4 two bar phrase on this page will illustrate
the strength of each beat relative to one another.
The strength of the beats, from strongest to
weakest is 1, 3, 4, and 2. But what if we change up
the wording a little bit, like changing “long days,
long nights” to “day time, night time”? Look at
the four bar phrase. Even reading it in your head it
sounds different, but say it out loud. This illustrates
the power of secondary stresses, the relationship
between a phrase with a strong/secondary emphasis
in the words.
So what happens in cases when we need to set
lyrics to music that is already written? Lead singers
and band lyricists will be very familiar with situations
like this. Check out the diagram below. The bar is
in 4/4 time and is populated primarily with eighth
notes. Because we’re dealing with eighth notes, we
have three levels of strength: beats 1 and 3 of each
bar are strong, beats two and four of each bar are
secondary stresses, and the upbeats (&) are weak.
So look at the measures. The first and second bar
function in a pretty straightforward fashion. But look
at bar 3 and you’ll notice that the last two notes are
on upbeats. Since there is no note on the fourth
beat, and no note beginning on the downbeat of
bar 4, these are both anticipations. They both gain
a little more strength. Let’s focus on this third bar
then. When setting the lyrics, we have to consider
where the syllable is going to fall. The third beat
is, of course, strong, so put a strong syllable there.
The final note is strong, too, so put a strong syllable
there. The only question is what to do about 3.
Should it be strong, secondary, or medium? Let’s
look at all three possibilities.
DUM DUM DUM — hard day’s night
DUM dum DUM — daylight shines
DUM da DUM — first in line
I prefer the middle syllable being a secondary
stress, since the anticipation makes it stronger, and
especially since it’s a surprise after all those regular
eighth notes in a row.
So we now have a good sense of how the setting
should work. But we can’t forget about the story. At
any point in a track – in the lyrics for the bridge, the
verses, the pre-chorus, wherever – always make sure
you can get the answers to these two questions:
1. Where did I just come from?
2. Where do I go from here?
Where did the first chorus come from, for example?
What situations, people, actions, perspectives or
attitudes preceded it? You’re looking for ideas that
lead naturally into the chorus’s statement. Keep in
mind that when putting the lyrics together you’re
crafting a narrative. The listener is not going to have
the same insights into the meaning of your track
so it can be easy for a listener to get left behind if
you’re not careful.
Even with all the right words and a Pulitzer
worthy narrative, if the structure of the words
doesn’t conform to the shape of the music then
all of your power will be lost. There are simple
tricks to building power in your music and lyrics.
By separating or isolating a note by itself, it
automatically gains prominence and power. Notes
that are preceded by rests but followed by notes of
lesser value gain power in this same way. But if that
following note is longer, the first note will act as a
pickup, lending power to the material that follows it.
Lyric writing is an integral skill for any songwriter.
The melody and harmony will give your song its
sonic power. But that is only a part of the equation.
Good lyrics will be matched to your music. Good
lyrics will communicate your intent. Good lyrics will
let your words sing naturally. And good lyrics will
make your song greater than the sum of its parts. So
what’s stopping you from taking your writing to the
next level?

Posted under Singing advice

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