Song Analysis Worksheet: The Worksheet
Here is a Song Analysis Worksheet I’ve created after reading a great deal of books about song writing. It basically helps reverse-engineer your favorite songs, the ones that give you the chills, and see the mechanics of how it might have been created by the artist. In return, you can learn to apply some of the techniques to your own material, or just have a clear image of how the song is creating its magic. Some people think songwriters are genius and there is just no way they can write like that, or that some people just have it or they don’t. With this type of thinking, It’s no wonder that yourself, the inner critic, is the biggest creative block for writers and can lead them to never even start. Well, you are wrong. The best way to learn anything is through mimicking and an understanding of the fundamentals. The focus is on lyrics.
Here is a not so quick run down. Right off the bat realize it’s every songwriter’s goal to create an experience in the heart and mind of the listener.
Title: This is usually the hook the song is written around. It’s the “aha” moment, or payoff, that ties the whole song together giving it a purpose. Thats why a lot of songs are written around them. All things lead to the hook and support it in different ways. It’s also an entrance point to the subject matter. It tells the listener how to enter the song. When writing, a title can be used to free write on. The title/subject material acts as an anchor and the free write is the kite that lets you explore the possibilities of the song. you can ask questions as far as possible directions the song could have went in and see which the writer chose and apply the same sort of questions to your own material.
You may notice some song titles fall in a verse in the song or isn’t repeated or mentioned at all. In these type of songs the title acts as coloring of the material. It gives a dimension to the content and shades it a certain way. Its like overcast(mood) for the world(song) you just created.
A cool exercise is to write your own free write to an existing title of a song, or free write around a phrase pulled out of a song. Don’t worry, it’s just artistic stealing, and all your favorites do it. It’s called inspiration and it isn’t magic.
Hook: The title isn’t the only hook in a song. There are several different types that are repeated and may stick out to you more than anything else. It’s different for each person. Ask what moves you the most about the song. Take note of these things. Some things to listen for are rhythmic hooks, lyrical hooks, musical hooks, melodic hooks, and sound-effect hooks.
POV: It’s important to know who’s talking and who they’re talking to. Especially if you are playing off the empathy sense and writing a song from an unusual point of view like how the tree feels about the forest, or the role of the hero in a water world. Another factor is that listeners always assume “I” in the song refers to the singer and thats not always the case. Notice the use of POV in your favorites songs from now on.
Tone: This has a lot to do with the overall vibe of the music but can also be handed to stylistic choices like word choice, and a balance of poetic language with more conversational, direct statements. No one wants to here an entire song of flowery language and detail, but at the same time no one wants the song to be a giant chorus with lack of detail or coloring. vocal delivery plays a great part hear too.
Verse: how is the song introduced in the first verse? How does each following verse go on to add more knowledge, or different dimension of the chorus(big picture). To make sure you don’t leave any important information out, and so that you don’t assume the listener already knows what you mean focus on the FIVE W’s. Who, What, When, Where, Why and throw in a how. Verses are very much focused around “what.”
Chorus: The chorus gives the verse and other sections purpose. From the song you should be able to draw out one key phrase that the song was probably written around. Now that it’s visible, notice how the verses color the chorus a certain way. The chorus is written first a lot because it’s usually a bit more general, not as descriptive and more emotional. The verses are what add depth to the chorus and color it a certain way. A million songs can have a similar chorus but putting the external physical detail(verse) before the internal thoughts and emotions(chorus) will always make the song unique to the writer.
A song without a purpose is like a joke without a punch line
Theme: A lot of times people feel the need to explain or analyze there writing (don’t make any jokes about this post, analysis is my OCD). Writing doesn’t have to explain anything, or preach. Sometimes there is no moral to be had. It’s simply well enough to just invite people to wonder at what you write about. To simply just showcase something without defining it. To break big indescribable ideas like love, loss, friendship, God, or family and friendship down into smaller pieces, details, and build it back up with them. I like to look at theme in songs as an Idea + opinion.
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song
Images: Pretty self explanatory. Notice how they show you rather than tell you things. Certain words and phrases will have you picturing things in your mind without you even knowing it. Proof we are naturally, subconsciously creative.
Powerhouse Words: (specific nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs) These words are what makes the difference between a bored listener and one that’s wondering what you’ll say next. Choosing these words carefully can liven up your lyric and make it breath. Listen to The Shins for a good example.
Sense Detail: Simple. Notice how they involve the senses which makes you experience what they, or the “I” in the song is experiencing. For example, don’t say it rained. Say how it felt, or sounded or use poetic language of simile and say what it was like or some artsy shit.
Rhyme: A worthy mention I guess. A dull cliche rhyme can be a turn off to a song. Rhyming should sound like it was naturally and the only word that could have fit in the spot anyways. Rhyming dictionaries save lives here. Notice if the song has fresh rhymes or if they sound natural. It’s still possible to make a cheesy rhyme work but it’s best to avoid it.
Structure: structure of verse, chorus, bridge and intros and outros in a song play a great deal in the payoff of the experience. You can’t give them everything at once. Notice instrumentation, when something like a tambourine comes in, or drops out. Also the overall order of repetition and the tension/release theory. A song should have a sense of movement and a roller coaster feel for it to stand the test of time. If it’s catchy as hell, make it short so they’ll keep playing it. Also notice some songs have 2 verses before the first chorus or just a refrain - repeated line at the end of each verse.
Notes: Whatever you want to add. I like to add here the weight of verses. If you have to many internal abstract feelings and thoughts in the verse it comes off as light and flimsy and ruins the payoff of the chorus. It also ends up sounding more like telling rather than showing in the verse
On the other hand, if you have to many external details, physical qualities, the section will be heavy. If this happens in the song there may be details that just don’t relate back to the hook/title or big picture of the song and will draw attention away from the message. Add a little air to the heaviness by ending the verse with some abstraction to better transition to the chorus. This is all a Pre chorus does in essence. prepares the seamless transition between sections for a better balance.
The ultimate goal is the goose bumps. You can’t plan to write it at all. It just happens when the conditions are right, so focus on the conditions and the fundamentals. Once you acquired the involuntary response of the chills you are golden. The intimacy of connecting on a level greater than words and higher than music is a rough responsibility but honesty helps a great deal. The thing is, It’s subjective for everyone so, happy searching and writing!