Lyrics or melody?

Hi all

I haven’t really thought about it up until recently but more often than not, I find myself not really following the lyrics in the music I am listening to and it’s just the melody, rhythm and beat.

Is this common?



When I listen to Julie Fowlis I can’t follow the lyrics at all :wink:

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I usually do listen to the lyrics, feeling that if you don’t then you might as well be listening to an instrumental. The songwriter(s) and musicians have created words and music to be heard together which for me suggests that to get the full experience you need to listen to the lyrics as well as the music. I might not focus on creating a personal meaning imparted by the lyrics every listen, but I will likely have created one and can recall it. Whether, the meaning I create is the same as the writer’s is usually unknown because most songwriters don’t explain the meaning.

try listening to my bloody valentine :slight_smile:

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For me very much the music - but good lyrics certainly add something, so the complete package is best. My response in this link says more (and the rest of the thread may also be relevant):

While digging that out I remembered this thread on a similar theme:

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Yes and The Cocteau Twins.
Funnily I can recreate exactly in ear worm forms the resemblance of lyric to any of their songs.

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Great lyrics are rare and virtually absent from contemporary music. The Beatles at their best, Dylan, Carol King ,Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Lucinda Williams wrote some great lyrics as did some of the great lyricists for Broadway shows such as Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart and Stephen Sondheim. Fortunately, there are many . I have simply named some of my favourites. Still, most popular songs are not blessed with great lyrics.

That said, I can willingly listen to songs with striking or beautiful melodies, even with unmemorable lyrics.

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All of it is important for me, lyrics and the rest. Should be a marriage.
I like good words - some difficulty when they aint.

Guess it’s got to be both. I’m a huge Lou Reed fan and his lyrics draw me into his story wouldn’t necessarily call his stuff melodic though.

Like the OP I too have been guilty of focusing on melody (the tune if you like) at the expense of the lyrics.

But as the resolving ability of my system has improved I am better able to comprehend exactly what is being said in the lyrics of a song, and this makes a huge difference. Being able to not only fully comprehend a lyric but hear how the words are being expressed suddenly brings those messages to life. The song suddenly makes sense, and that can be incredibly powerful.

Having said that, IMV, it is the combination of an engaging melody and powerful lyrics that produce a truly memorable song.

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Guilty m’lord

I put it down to listening to pop songs in the 70’s on AM radio, and mostly guessing at lyrics.

Also as a guitar player I suppose again music comes first, but when I really like a song that I want to sing along to, I will look up the lyrics, which can be amazing, or occasionally disappointing. Particularly some of my made up lyrics of 70/80’s stuff was much more fun than the real lyrics.

I have tried to follow lyrics of many Kate Bush songs with utter confusion. It’s probably a left brain thing.

You’re not alone with this.
I find myself following the music rather than the lyrics - they are almost an afterthought in my brain. Although I am getting better at allowing the words to filter into my brain.

I blame it on being (in a time long ago) a grade 8 clarinetist who played in many school bands, orchestras etc.

Funny story, at the stables we kept our horses at there was a tradition of going to the Christmas late night service in the village. On the first occasion we went there was a power cut so carols by candlelight - I didn’t know more than the opening line of any of them - I’ve played them hundreds of times just never sung them.


You know, somebody once wrote an entire opera addressing this question:

But for me it’s all about the “sound” of the lyrics, more than what they mean. Interestingly enough, the Apple TV documentary on the Beatles a few months back revealed that Paul and John treated lyrics that way.


When younger I really just enjoyed the rhythm and beat and could hardly recall the lyrics from any of the songs I listened to. I was mainly into heavy metal though! As I’ve got older, with a more revealing system and into a much wider range of music, I am starting to appreciate lyrics more. Roon helps too when I want it to. But it’s still often a losing struggle (Lou Reed excepted). I just don’t think my brain is wired that way. Don’t know if it’s the same but I find it hard to focus on poetry

THat’s funny. I was just about to say that Richard Strauss wrote an opera abut this, but then I saw that you had beaten me to it!

That early-ish mono (I think) EMI recording under Sawallisch is wonderful (I have it on a much treasured old set of LPs, which is no longer available).

For a newer recording, anyone interested might try to seek out Karl Boehm’s set on DGG. Boehm was a friend of Strauss, and conducted his music better than just about anyone else. (DGG have an unfortunate habit of deleting classic recordings, so this one might prove rather hard to get, sadly.)

occasionally lyrics can stun you but more often i treat the voice as another instrument - a wonderfully flexible and subtle one that can convey the message of a song without the need to know the words - so i am quite happy listening to songs in other languages without following the translation (if available) though i may glance at it to get the gist and often treat english lyrics n the same way


It’s doesn’t matter that’s shes singing in gaelic it’s the sound of her voice plus the backing.
We’ve followed Capercaillie and Runrig for years and love the gaelic songs.
Even if we don’t understand it


It’s not either or. Lyrically A Day in the Life by the Beatles has to be up there with the best yet Jeff Beck’s instrumental interpretation on the Ronnie Scott’s set is off the planet!

It’s all good!

I know. My comment was intended to be tongue in cheek. :slightly_smiling_face:
I had the pleasure of seeing Karen Matheson perform at my local theatre a few years ago. :+1:
And Moya Brennan in the same year too.

I’m listening to her as I read this! That is spooky.
She has such a beautiful voice, she could sing a phone book and it would sound like an everlasting love song.

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