On January 30, 2014, NPR published a short report called “4 Ways to Hear More in Music.” Recently at Full Sail, I hosted a workshop for students that covered basic poetry and memoir-writing concepts. One student asked if writing a form poem was like writing music, and that got me thinking.
This is a common topic, one that came up when I was in school, too. You’ve likely seen it or heard it: poems don’t often make the best songs, and song lyrics don’t often make the best poems. However, song lyrics can sound “poetic.” Why is that?
This NPR piece links up to this idea perfectly without directly addressing this particular topic. The NPR piece covers four ways in which people can better appreciate music by understanding its basics in a more clear way. With this knowledge, they can see why they like what they like and what connects and separates two musicians they like or dislike from each other.
To briefly summarize the article, the author, Anastasia Tsioulcas, brings up rhythm and meter, melody, harmony, and color and texture. The examples of each are of the Classical genre, but these concepts definitely apply to pop, rock, rap, and so forth as well.
To bring this back to writing, I often ask my students to analyze stories for the elements we are currently discussing in class. The idea is that, through analysis, they will be better able to develop an “ear” for these concepts, notice them in other stories they read, and incorporate them into their own work.
Now, to the “feeling” part. Both writing and music invoke feeling. Like music, poetry, especially (but all types of writing, really) brings in rhythm and meter. Consonance and assonance (repetition of consonant and vowel sounds), syllable count, and the very words used evoke feeling. Then, there is rhyme and stanza rhythm and the uses of white space to add to all of this.
Poetry needs to create its own color melody, harmony, color, and texture. Can a poem have a melody? Can it have a harmony? I think that the words themselves provide color and texture, which are basically expressions of tones and how feeling is evoked.
Music, of course, incorporates notes, melody, harmony, chords, progressions, varied instrumentations, and many more elements. Lyrics fit inside or in front of all of this. I’ve often heard musicians asked whether they come up with lyrics or melody first, and while responses vary, I’ve seen most say that both come at once or that the process is organic and hard to describe.
At some point, we let all analysis fall away and just write.
No matter what’s being written, detail and an emotionally evocative subject and character will bring in the feeling and overall effect.