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Earthgirl's avatar

Do you think someone can be a good lyricist if they aren't a musician?

Asked by Earthgirl (11189points) March 8th, 2012

Obviously most poets have a basic up to advanced understanding of rhythm and meter. How important do you think understanding musical structure is to writing great lyrics?

I’ve noticed that the phrasing the singer employs makes a big difference in how successfully the lyrics work with the melody. A singer can draw out syllables and play with inflections and so on to make the lyrics work. One example is this Alela Diane song. Just listen to the way she sings the word roam 3 different ways!

I was watching a show about Oscar Hammerstein the other night and they said that in certain ways the simplest lyrics can be the most difficult to write. The temptation is to embellish and wax poetic. The example of a simple song that they gave was People Will Say We’re in Love
It would be a dream come true for me if I could have my words set to a song, but I have no musical ability at all!!!! What do you think?

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12 Answers

dappled_leaves's avatar

Maybe you can find some inspiration in people like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan, who are deeply respected for their lyrics, yet often not for their singing voices. Cohen began as a writer – if he’d had more success, he might not have become a singer at all.

Also: I love Alela Diane! Great choice.

Earthgirl's avatar

dappled_leaves When is she ever going to come back to the US!!!! I am so mad I discovered her right after her New York concert. Now she’s tramping all over Europe and never comes here!

Buttonstc's avatar

Witness the combo of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. There are many historical examples of poet/musician writing combos. I think the key to a long lasting partnership of this type is finding someone with whom you’re compatible.

But there is really no reason why a lack of musical ability would prevent one’s songs from becoming successful song lyrics. How well they fit into songs is more dependent upon the musician involved than the poet anyhow.

And obviously there are some people like John Denver who have the ability for both. Just reading the lyrics of the songs he has written reveal how much he was a poet at heart.

Earthgirl's avatar

Buttonstc I love singer songwriters because they have to be both poets and musicians. Many times the melodies are simple though. Even so, I love it. John Denver, can I confess that when I hear the song Country Road I almost invariably cry, lol?

linguaphile's avatar

There coaches who are excellent coaches, but can’t play—I think that’s about the same as an excellent lyricist that can’t play music, maybe?

Sunny2's avatar

I think it’s important to have a really good sense of rhythm, but you don’t have to be a musician.
Music is often set to the words of poetry. Or a composer may work with a lyricist to put music and words together, like Rogers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe.

jazmina88's avatar

sure. and they can work with those who write the music.
The words are poetry.

Buttonstc's avatar

It is here we must begin To seek the wisdom of the children And the graceful way of flowers in the wind

For the children and the flowers Are my sisters and my brothers Their laughter and their loveliness Could clear a cloudy day

Like the music of the mountains And the colours of the rainbow Theyre a promise of the future And a blessing for today Though the cities start to crumble And the towers fall around us The sun is slowly fading And its colder than the sea

It is written from the desert To the mountains they shall lead us By the hand and by the heart They will comfort you and me In their innocence and trusting They will teach us to be


The above is from Rhymes and Reasons and is one of my favs. I’m not even sure of the exact tune in some parts but the poetry of the writing is just so beautiful.

ragingloli's avatar

Maybe. Rappers are an example.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I think you can come at it from either way. Taupin is one example of writing the lyrics and John put them to music. Keith Richards came up with the riff for Satisfaction one night, recorded it and forgot about it until he listened to the tape, then built a song around it.

john65pennington's avatar

Ragingloli hit the nail on the head as a good example.

wundayatta's avatar

Either you are a musician or you work closely with one or I don’t think you can write a good song. That’s because words and music must work well together. You can’t marry them with a shotgun. They have to be wooed and sweetalked into being one with the music.

There are many many different ways that musicians and lyricists write together. But the key is they have to fit together. The New Yorker this week has an interesting article about how Rihanna’s hits are made.

Which comes first? Music or lyrics? In the story above, the music comes first. They lyrics some from internet news.

In a musical, maybe it is a back and forth process. Do you rhyme or not? How do you play with the sound of the words? On and on it goes.

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