The Benefits and Dangers of the Magnifying Glass in Song Analysis

Putting a magnifying glass on a song allows you to understand its internal structure, but this can negatively affect your ability to truly understand it.

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Magnifying Glass and MusicWe use the analogy of the magnifying glass in musical composition anytime we mean that we need to dig down into the structure of a song to see the bits that aren’t immediately obvious or noticeable.

When you study music at a university or college you can become consumed with musical analysis, the kind that requires you to dissect a composition into its various components in a bid to more fully understand the work.

I am a fan of music analysis because I believe that there is much that can be learned at the “molecular level” in songwriting. Even though many of the world’s greatest songwriters do what they do instinctively, that should never mean that there is little to be gained by using a magnifying class to more fully understand why their songs work.

There’s nothing like watching a sprinter explode out of the starting block, every muscle powering that well-tuned body down the track. There is a lot of training involved, but there is also a lot of natural talent and ability, not to mention the fact that they were born with a body that makes it all possible.

The fact that the sprinter may do a lot of this activity on an instinctive level should never mean that we can’t slow the tape down and parse every millisecond of their 10-second run in a bid to make ourselves better runners. You might even look at the internal muscular structure of the runner’s legs in an attempt to see what finely-tuned muscles do when they’re under stress.

In music, the magnifying glass allows us to look at every melodic interval, every chord tone, every word of lyric, and every other element, in a bid to more completely understand why great songs work.

But there is a danger with the magnifying glass. When we look at something very closely, we lose perspective. If you’re trying to see how a sprinter’s internal muscular structure contributes to their success, you may miss noticing how arm movement relates to leg movement.

In music, you can spend a lot of time looking for the “killer chord progression”, the “killer melody”, or the killer anything, and not notice that the strength of a song comes from the proper balance of everything. Sometimes (and I might even say often), the success of a piece of music comes from the balance between all elements, and that’s something that a magnifying glass is not often able to show.

Sometimes the more intensely microscopic your analysis of a song is, the more likely it is that you’re going to draw the wrong conclusion regarding the reasons for its success. The magnifying glass has the ability to help you understand, but has just as much an ability to distort reality.

A magnifying glass can help you identify important internal parts of a song more accurately, but you’re likely to discover that a song succeeds because of the balance that exists between several elements on a macro, not micro, level.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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  1. Pingback: FEATURED LINK: The Benefits and Dangers of the Magnifying Glass in Song Analysis | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

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