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  • Writer's pictureEugenia Sestini

Words and Music

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

My son was listening to Shawn Mendes’ song “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” when he heard a word he didn’t understand.

“What is confessing?”

“To tell the truth about something.”

“I don’t understand, why does he say he has to ‘stop and start confessing’ in the song?”

We went back a couple of verses, and I explained that he is singing about guessing first, then he says he has to stop that and confess – confess how he feels.

“It’s a love story,” I explained, “he wants the girl to know how he feels.”

He was happy with that answer. It is a love story. A story!

Often songs are a lot like stories, with characters, a setting, a problem (sometimes lots of drama) and hopefully a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about poetry and introduced haikus, short poems made up of only 17 syllables. And if you go back to that post, you can see that I mentioned that, while not that many people read poetry (and many seem terrified of it), we are certainly saying or singing poetry every day. I’m talking about… songs.

A lot of the elements of poetry come into play when writing lyrics – literary devices such as rhyme, alliteration, metaphors.

There are songs about any topic you can think of. Songs have been written about animals and colors. Songs have been written about books and short stories. Since we are little, we are learning songs by heart, effortlessly.

This week I want to give you some tools to write a song. To start, think of the theme of your song, choose a topic you find interesting. Your song can be about a story you already know (like the retelling of a story or a tale, for example, Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Romeo and Juliet). Or it can be a story about something that happened to you. If you are feeling especially creative, you can write about a character you have made up.

Think about the literary devices you want to use. Are you happy with just rhyme and repetition? Or do you want to try some alliteration? Maybe a simile?

When it comes to music, you can try singing to the beat of a song you’re very familiar with. You can even keep some of the song’s words if they fit in well with your story-song.

Text painting

For those who are bursting with creativity, London-based music teacher Talia Girton recommends an exercise called text painting.

“You can play with something called text painting, that is, creating music whose characteristics literally reflect the text of a song, or writing text that mimics features of the music. For example, if a song has the word “high,” the music might go up in pitch. If a song has the word “stop,” the music may pause at this point. You can hear an example of text painting in the song “Despacito,” which means “slowly” in Spanish. When Luis Fonsi says the word “despacito” at the beginning of the chorus, the song slows down for a moment. Try putting some text painting in your song, and listen for other examples whenever you have the radio on.”

Happy Writing!

A big thanks to Talia Girton for her contribution! Talia is a music teacher and music therapist who specializes in working with young children. She is the founder and director of The Cycling Music Teachers, a mobile music school that operates in South East London.

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