Pat's Lyric Tips

Roadmaps: Matching Lyric and Melodic Phrases

My uncle Ed and aunt Edna call me from Maine to invite me to Thanksgiving dinner. Yum. Aunt Edna is a fabulous cook. I love her cranberry and almond stuffing. 

 

It isn’t too long a drive up to Maine, though it’ll take at least a couple hours. Uncle Ed says, “Take I-95 all the way. It’s quick. Just get here. We want to see you.” Of course Aunt Edna wants me to have a nice, scenic trip. “When you get to Portland, take 1-A along the ocean. Take your time. It’s a beautiful drive.” 

 

And of course I know that the first question they’ll ask is “So, what route did you take?” Whichever answer I give, one of them will stiffen a little. It’s kind of a competition between them. What to do? 

 

I can’t follow both routes.

 

First, watch this video: http://bit.ly/2mRPhtQ

In the lead song from Lady Antebellum’s self-titled hit album, “Love Don’t Live Here,” they invite us to take a journey. The song contains roadmaps, telling us how to proceed, where to go next, what connects to what, when to pause for a rest, when and where to stop.  

Listen to the song here: (http://bit.ly/1oEXkSB)

 

Let’s look at their verses. (I’ve omitted the pre-choruses and choruses),

 

Verse One:

 

Well this heart of mine/has been hardened like a stone

It might take some time/to get back what has gone

But I’m moving on/and you don’t hold my dreams

Like you did before/ and I will curse your name

 

Verse Two:

 

Well I heard the news/that you were back in town

Just passing through/to claim your lost and found

But I’m over you/ and there ain’t nothing that

You can say or do/to take what you did back

 

(Pre-Chorus/Chorus)

 

Verse Three:

 

Well baby you can try/to tell me how it is

And try to justify/ everything you did

But honey I’m no fool/ and I’ve been down this road

Too many times with you/ I think it’s best you go

 

(Pre-Chorus/Chorus)

 

Look at the first two lines of verse one, the beginning of our trip,

 

Well this heart of mine/has been hardened like a stone

It might take some time/to get back what has gone

 

Let’s focus on the lyric and its roadmap. How does it divide its own ideas?

 

The first line of verse one is a complete idea,

 

Well this heart of mine/has been hardened like a stone

 

(The “/” indicates that melodically, the line subdivides into 2 phrases.)

 

The second line is also a complete idea,

 

It might take some time/to get back what has gone 

 

Line 2 repeats the melody of line 1, again subdividing into 2 phrases. Thus, the melodies of lines 1 and 2 set up a roadmap: they repeat same melody, indicating that there are two separate, independent musical ideas. 

 

But look at the last two lines of verse one,

 

But I’m moving on and you don’t hold my dreams

Like you did before and I will curse your name

 

Line 4 repeats the melody of line 3, again subdividing into 2 phrases. Thus, the melodies of lines 3 and 4 set up a roadmap: they repeat same melody, indicating that there are two separate, independent musical ideas. 

In these lines the melody and lyrics are at odds. They want you to get off at different exits. While the melody still defines a 2-idea group, the lyric ideas are arranged either as

But I’m moving on and you don’t hold my dreams like you did before 

and I will curse your name

or perhaps as

But I’m moving on
and you don’t hold my dreams like you did before 

and I will curse your name

 

Either way, the melody and the lyric create different roadmaps, and the result is confusion. Which map are you supposed to follow? It’s harder to pay attention to what’s being said.

 

Here comes verse two,

 

Well I heard the news/that you were back in town

Just passing through/to claim your lost and found

But I’m over you/ and there ain’t nothing that

You can say or do/to take what you did back

 

Again, as in verse one, the first two lines work fine-- the musical and lyrical roadmaps work together. But again, in the next two lines, the melody and lyrics are at odds. While the melody still defines two separate ideas, the lyric ideas are arranged as

 

But I’m over you/ 

and there ain’t nothing that you can say or do to take what you did back

 

As in the last two lines of verse one, the melody and the lyric here create different roadmaps, causing confusion and diminishing the impact of the ideas.

 

OK, so what can we do about it?

 

The goal, of course, is that the lyric and melody work together – that they create compatible roadmaps, supporting each other and making the combination stronger than either the lyric or melody alone.

 

In general, there are two strategies for solving these mis-matches,

 

  1. Change the music to match the lyric’s roadmap, 

  2. Change the lyric to match the melodic roadmap

 

Let’s work on the last two lines of the first verse:

 

But I’m moving on/and you don’t hold my dreams

Like you did before/ and I will curse your name

 

In this case, let’s try changing the lyric to match the melodic roadmap,

 

But I’m moving on/and you don’t hold my dreams

Though you did before/ now I curse your name

 

This seems to be a pretty straightforward solution. Now the melodic and lyrical roadmaps support each other. Each one defines a complete idea. They take us on the same road.

 

But there’s also a little trick for you to file away for future travelling, a third technique: try repeating something from the first line at the beginning of the next line:

 

But I’m moving on/and you don’t hold my dreams

Hold ‘em like you did before/ and I will curse your name

 

It’s a pretty cool way of bridging the gap in the melody by referring back to the last idea, connecting the lyric phrases with a little reminder of where it’s come from.

 

Let’s add it to our two strategies,

 

  1. Change the music to match the lyric’s roadmap

  2. Change the lyric to match the melodic roadmap

  3. Repeat a word from the first line at the beginning of the next line

 

Now let’s look at the last two lines of verse two:

 

But I’m over you/ and there ain’t nothing that

You can say or do/to take what you did back

 

Here it’s a bit more complicated to change the lyric roadmap, because of the rhyme words. 

 

Of course, you could match the lyric’s roadmap to the melody by finding different rhymes and lines. Maybe something like:

 

But I’m over you/ and there ain’t nothing left

No matter what you do/there’s no way I’ll forget

 

Instead of changing the lyric, you could try altering the melodic journey slightly. Perhaps delaying “that” a little by holding out “nothing” a little more, placing “that” between the lines to create a smoother pivot between the 2 ideas:

 

But I’m over you/ and there ain’t nothiiiing 

(thaaat)

You can say or do/to take what you did back

 

This changes the melodic roadmap by blurring the division between the two independent melodic lines, thus matching the “through-written” character of the lyric. 

 

This might be a perfect place to try the third strategy – repeating that:

 

But I’m over you/ and there ain’t nothing that

That you can say or do/to take what you did back

 

This third strategy is a pretty useful tool and works frequently enough that it qualifies as a viable technique for matching melodic phrases and lyric phrases:

 

  1. Change the music to match the lyric’s roadmap

  2. Change the lyric to match the melodic roadmap

  3. Repeat a word from the first line at the beginning of the next line.

 

Here’s the third verse of “Love Don’t Live Here:” 

 

Well baby you can try/to tell me how it is

And try to justify/ everything you did

But honey I’m no fool/ and I’ve been down this road

Too many times with you/ I think it’s best you go

 

The lyrical and melodic roadmaps of the first two lines, again, match pretty well. But in the next two lines, the same problem rears up again:

 

But honey I’m no fool/ and I’ve been down this road

Too many times with you/ I think it’s best you go

 

(At least they’re consistent, mis-matching the roadmaps of lines three and four in each verse.) 

 

The lyrical roadmap is, 

 

But honey I’m no fool

and I’ve been down this road too many times with you

I think it’s best you go

 

This is nothing like the melodic roadmap. Maybe try rearranging the phrases a bit:

 

Too many times with you/ I’ve been down this road

But honey I’m no fool/ I think it’s best you go

 

Or maybe, a little less awkwardly,

 

Well I’ve been down this road/ too many times with you

I think it’s best you go/ ‘cause honey I’m no fool

 

Here, repeating a word at the end of the first line and the beginning of the next won’t work.

 

Creating compatible roadmaps melodically and lyrically is essential to getting maximum meaning and impact from your song. Ignoring mis-matched roadmaps creates a fourth option:

 

  1. Change the music to match the lyric’s roadmap, or

  2. Change the lyric to match the melodic roadmap, or

  3. Repeat a word from the first line at the beginning of the next line.

  4. Keep it the way it is, since no one listens to lyrics anyway

 

Sticking with number 4 is a self-fulfilling prophesy: if you arrange your phrases believing that matching the lyrical and melodic roadmaps doesn’t matter, you’ll be right. No one will listen to the lyrics anyway. 

 

If you try to follow both maps, you’ll end up not knowing where you are. Your listener, in the presence of conflicting sets of directions, will be thinking about something other than what you’re saying, and may never get to taste Aunt Edna’s special recipe for cranberry stuffing.

 

Your choice.

© 2020 Pat Pattison