Finding meaning in music

Does Your Song Still Have Meaning If You Remove the Lyric?

Music, apart from the lyrics that might be going on, tends to convey meaning to us. In other words, you can listen to an instrumental and usually find yourself feeling something, even if you’re not sure what that something is, or what the song is supposed to be about.

Obviously, we use lyrics to know what songs are about, and by understanding the lyrics we generate an emotional response. So a love song generates feelings within us, because we understand the lyric, and are willing to go along with it.

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But let’s say we listen to an instrumental, or a song in a foreign language. Can we feel something even though we don’t know what is being sung?

In 1963, the Japanese song “Sukiyaki” (Japanese title “Ue o Muite Arukō”) hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Everyone loved it, and perceived meaning, even though they had no internet to find out what the song was actually about. (Read the Wikipedia article for more.)

A good test of this is to listen to “In trutina”, from Carl Orff’s famous work “Carmina Burana.” The video linked here includes a translation of the Latin lyrics. Listen first to the piece with eyes closed, or at least not looking at the screen, and then listen again while reading the words.

I’m thinking that you’ll be able to come up with at least the general category of the song: it’s not a song describing a battle or a vicious disagreement!

That we’re able to process music and find meaning in it is part cultural, but it’s also in large part due to our DNA: it’s part of being human to be able to do this.

In your own songwriting, it can be very useful to play through your song, and simply hum the melody without whatever lyric you’ve added. In other words, let it just be an instrumental. What do you hear?

Is the music, on its own, conveying what you’ve hoped it would be conveying? All good songwriting is a partnership of the various elements you’ve created. Those different elements need to support each other.

Removing the lyric from the equation helps you hear the song you’ve written for what it is. Do you like what you hear? Is it helping or hindering your lyric?

Gary EwerWritten by Gary EwerFollow Gary on Twitter

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