Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity and I’m here to talk to you about music!
There are many different opinions on whether music is helpful or harmful to the creative process. To a certain extent, it depends on what you and your Creativity feel comfortable with.
In my experience, whether music helps or harms your process depends on the day, the weather, the project, your socks and what’s in the oven at the time.
We’ve previously discussed how instrumental music can help your Creativity. Now allow me to wander through some ways I have found song lyrics to be inspiring.
The Influence of Cadence
Whether you are writing lyrics, poetry or prose, cadence plays a big part in the composition and structure of your sentences. Words have a music all their own, created by syllables and word stress. Great prose lilts to a melody in your mind as your read. (We’ll talk more about the details of this in another post.)
Listening to lyrics can inspire you to experiment with different and creative combinations of words to form unique cadence.
For example, Poisoning Pigeon in the Park by Tom Lehrer (a comedic song not at all to be taken literally) has these gems:
When they see us coming, the birdies all try an’ hide,
But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.
My pulse will be quickenin’
With each drop of strychnine
We feed to a pigeon.
It just takes a smidgen!
To poison a pigeon in the park.
The jaunty tightness to these words is further enhanced by the brilliance of rhyming ‘try an’ hide’ with ‘cyanide’ and many others. Just listening to this makes one want to rush headlong into a piece of paper and follow suit!
Other Songs With Addictive Cadence
- Private Investigations – Dire Straits
- Taylor (On and On album, track 4) - Jack Johnson
Exposure to New Words
While we are often exposed to new words in books, there’s something special about coming across a new word in a song.
The first advantage is that you immediately know how to pronounce it. Anyone who has first stumbled across a word in written form, and had to decipher dictionary squiggles in order to sound intelligent when using it, will appreciate this.
Another plus is that music lends new words magic - the swelling strings or gentle piano behind them become like a soundtrack to your very own discovery.
My favourite example of this is Tim Finn’s Winter Light which led to my discovery of the word Fantasmagoria. Listen to the song and see if you don’t fall in love with the word too!
Of course, the ultimate plus is that songs help you remember your new words, which is essential if these words are going to do your creative work any good. Usually you can hum it back into your memory or at least remember what it rhymes with.
Other Songs With Interesting Words or Phrases
- Gossip Calypso - Bernard Cribbins (you have to love a song that can work in ‘oxy-acetylene welder’)
- The Tip of the Iceberg (track 10) - Owl City (there’s something about the phrase ‘sub-zero tundra’ which transports me every time)
Playing With Connections
Often we come across song writers who are fantastic at using analogies or creating connections between everyday things.
A perfect example of this is Owl City. Among my favourites is this verse from Dental Care (track 6):
Golf and alcohol don’t mix
And that’s why I don’t drink and drive
Because good grief, I’d knock out my teeth
And have to kiss my smile goodbye
Start listening more closely to your favourite songs. You’re bound to find amusing and inspiring connections hidden (or not so hidden) in the lyrics.
Then start making clever connections of your own.
Other Songs with Interesting Connections
- If You Were a Sailboat - Katie Melua
Envisioning a Story
Music elicits emotion, which makes it a brilliant storytelling device. The storytelling becomes even more incredible when your get a lyricist like Billy Joel on the job. The Downeaster Alexa (about a fisherman who is struggling to make ends meet) is one of my all-time favourite songs, because of lyrics like these:
And I go where the ocean is deep
There are giants out there in the canyons
And a good captain can’t fall asleep
So if you see my Downeaster “Alexa”
And if you work with the rod and the reel
Tell my wife I am trawling Atlantis
And I still have my hands on the wheel
Just listening to that song conjures up clear images of the sea, the boat, the birds, the waves. Take that picture and write about it.
Look for the stories other songs conjure up and let them grow inside your imagination. Perhaps your next novel is waiting between the lines of a song.
Other Stories in Song
- Sailing to Philadelphia – Mark Knopfler
- The Best Day - Taylor Swift
What song lyrics do you find inspiring? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
A practical note from Jessica: You may notice that not all the songs mentioned here have links. For the older songs we linked to the YouTube versions (as there may not be too many easy ways to find that music anymore), but with the newer songs we’ve either tried to direct you to the performer’s own website or to an official music video. Where that hasn’t been possible, we leave you to find your own way to the music rather than send you through to a copied version.