I have long believed that singers become better interpreters of a song if they understand how that song is put together. That means studying the lyrics just as text, ideas, rhetoric, rhyme, metaphor, form, unfolding of character and narrative, message, and so on. Lyricists draw on a history of a language, its social context, literary heritage and forms (high brow and low brow), and singers enrich their understanding if they study these things too. And then there is the music. This also has many components, rhythm, pitch variation, harmony, musical texture, architecture, motivic development – and there is a history of musical styles, forms and assoiciations that composers draw on. And beyond that, the singer also needs to develop a deep appreciation of the relationship between words and music. The articles and book summaries I have put together on this website under the category of Songwriting are an important part of a singer’s learning.
The book noted here – Jimmy Webb’s Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting (Hyperion 1999) – is a really useful part of that literature. My notes are a mixture of summary, quotations, and (in square brackets) my personal responses. The book is packed with really useful advice about songwriting technique, and the songwriting business, from a seasoned professional. Jimmy Webb (see Wikipedia entry) has had many hits, such as ‘By The Time I Get to Phoenix’, ‘Wichita Lineman’, Up, Up and Away’, and ‘MacArthur Park’, colloborated with big name singers and writers, has been inducted into several songwriter Halls of Fame, and is the only artist ever to have received Grammy Awards for music, lyrics, and orchestration. I don’t actually find his music or lyrics very engaging, and I don’t think his songs rank among the ‘greats’ of 20th century songwriting. And you’ll see in some of my square-bracketed comments that I strongly disagree with some of what he has to say about composing, or his dismissive remarks about classical music. However, this is still a ‘must read’ for any singer or songwriter. Read more ›