Work in groups if possible.
Turn in a written summary of the group’s work (about 3 pages, not including the lyrics). Appoint a representative within the group to present the group's findings to the class. Project the lyrics (PowerPoint or Word) as you discuss them.
1. Analyze the ‘music in the lyrics.’
How are the lyrics different from ordinary speech? Note construction strategies such as rhyming, alliteration, assonance and other schemes. How do the lyrics work as sonic objects strictly by themselves? Note the patterns of rhyme schemes. Do the rhymes call attention to themselves? How & why? Are the rhymes only at the end of lines (end rhymes) or in the middle (internal rhymes)? Are off, eye or near rhymes used? (“Speak . . . break” or “rockin’ band . . . playin’ like a hurrican’”).
Rhymes in lyrics are often unobtrusive and we hardly notice them. They are just assumed as a given part of the craft, separating lyrics from ordinary speech. But rhymes can be used to show off (power!), to be funny and clever, or to intensify expression. How do rhymes work in your example? Notice and discuss clever rhymes, such as rhyming different parts of speech or proper names. No bonus points for rhyming a string of words ending in “ation.”
Alliteration (repeating the sounds of consonants) and assonance (repetition of similar vowel sounds) also seem to mark off lyrics from ordinary speech. Do they suggest musical rhythms or poetic stresses (strong and weak)?
Schemes might include days of the week (“Stormy Monday”), times of the day, seasons, numbers, etc. Sometimes series or pairs of words are used as homonyms. “One, two, three” might become ‘I won too many battles for thee’ or “left and right” might become ‘you left me and right away I started drinkin’.’ (My own made-up silly examples.)
2. Analyze the lyrics in the music.
How does the form of the lyrics reinforce or work with the form of the music in a song? How do the lyrics work as sonic objects in the musical context? (Pay special attention to the timbre and sounds of words and to their rhythms.)
Are there any examples of text painting? (See separate webpage on text painting.)
When do words fail (give way to nonsense words, scat syllables or vocables, or yield to instrumental solos, especially guitar solos)?
3. Analyze the content of the lyrics
Note the point of view, who is addressing whom, and the range of play or ambiguity in the lyric. What is the range of likely possible meanings of the lyrics? Would you say there is a strategy of appeal or exclusion? (Ambiguous lyrics might invite a wide range of people to think, “hey, that’s how I feel.” Some slang or word choices might keep some listeners away.) A social protest?
4. Relate the music to lyrics
How does the melody (see notes on melody), harmony, form, rhythm, etc. support, illustrate, dramatize or deepen the meaning of the lyrics? If the lyrics are nonsense or near nonsense, what do they contribute to the musical experience (this case overlaps with Question 1).
5. Contextualize the lyrics in society or history, if this is why you chose your particular song
Is this innovative in some way? Is this a common or an unusual subject for this genre of music?
A = thorough discussion of all relevant points with a clear written and spoken presentation, including connections to the music
A+ = particularly insightful and concise
B = good consideration of most points worthy of discussion, but some of your ideas are not clear due to poor writing or organization; not much connection to the music
C = adequate discussion of the lyrics but short on details or interpretation
D = not college level work; unclear writing & presentation not prepared in advance
F = 50 points, better than zero!