By Danielle Angeloni, MusicWorx Intern
Who would have thought that out from the depths of my childhood closet, analyzing Green Day song lyrics, would grow a passion great enough to inspire a career in music therapy? Swimming in teenage angst, I knew two things for certain: “Good Riddance” was one of the best songs ever written and I was going to pause and restart the track on my yellow Sony walkman as many times as it took to write down every song lyric. Nothing was going to stop me then, and nothing can stop me now from telling you just how beneficial a tool songwriting and lyric analysis are for clarifying, processing, and expressing emotion.
Validating Emotions through Lyric Analysis
Understanding human emotions requires high level of cognitive functioning, self-awareness, and resilience. Emotions are like onions- lots of layers and most of us don’t enjoy stabbing into them. When we are feeling an emotion, hearing another person’s story and aligning it with our own is like putting on a pair of protective goggles before doing the dirty work. As humans we take solace in hearing someone speak, sing, or rap about feelings and situations similar to our own.This type of validation whispers to our being “it is ok to feel this way” and strengthens us to take the next step towards unpacking why we are feeling one way or another. Some triggers that cause emotion are more obvious than others- like a teenage breakup for instance. Others are more convoluted and take years to understand.
For those unfamiliar with the process of lyric analysis, odds are you’ve done it before without knowing it. If you’ve ever looked up the lyrics to a song and tried to understand what the writer was saying, why he/she said it, and how you relate to the message, then you have initiated lyric analysis. In the clinical setting, lyric analysis can be a more formal exercise. The client or group of clients listen to a song while reading along to the lyrics and highlighting words or phrases that catch their attention.
Lyric discussion prompts include:
- Is this word/line a metaphor or symbol for something deeper?
- What do you think happened in the writer’s life to inspire the song?
- How does the overall vibe of the lyrics make you feel?
Trauma and the Songwriting Process
Songwriting can excavate past traumas and help us process current hardships. Modern methods of songwriting actually encourage mindfulness and emotional clarity. In Pat Pattison’s book Writing Better Lyrics, he teaches an activity called object writing. Object writing calls for the awareness of the senses- sight, smell, touch, taste, kinesthetic, and organic- in order to unleash our subconscious in reference to a random object. Whether it was Pattinson’s intention or not, object writing utilizes the psychoanalytic practice of free association used by Freud. Pattinson’s purpose for this activity is to “get the creative juices flowing,” but from a therapeutic perspective it can also be used in therapy to bring repressed thoughts and feelings into consciousness.The writer is encouraged to write whatever comes to mind in an unorganized and unfiltered way, and to return to the senses if out of ideas.
Prosody is another concept that encourages thorough processing and emotional resolution. When a song has prosody, the lyrics and musical elements work together to convey the same meaning. One of my favorite examples of prosody is John Mayer’s Stop this Train where the drums and tempo sound like a train and the lyrics carry a tired, chugging theme. From a therapeutic lens, writing with prosody challenges the writer to fully express a feeling instead of gracing over or bottling it up. Writers create prosody by manipulating meter, phrasing, rhyme scheme, metaphor, dynamics, and instrument choice.
Recording and Performance as Part of the Therapeutic Process
Just as children reach developmental milestones, clients processing trauma reach milestones in the healing process. Revealing a personal creation to an audience or group carries weight and provides a memorable breakthrough for the client. The audience could be just one person, and still the performance could be paramount to resolving or letting go of an experience.
As part of my internship at MusicWorx, I assist Resounding Joy programs such as with the Semper Sound Band Program. The Semper Sound Band consists of amazing individuals who I greatly enjoy spending time with at weekly rehearsals. The band members are veterans and active-duty military from all over the country, each with unique talents and experiences. In preparation for their performance at the Livin’ Your Dreams concert on September 14th at The Loft @ UCSD the Semper Sound Band has been working on songwriting as a group and original song and lyric sharing. It has been an honor to witness the growth and transformation of the group as they bond through the collaborative process.
So, what is Song-Aid Kit?
As part of my special project for my music therapy internship, I am creating Song-Aid Kit. Song-Aid Kit is a workbook that breaks down songwriting exercises from a therapeutic perspective and provides a guide to writing a song while simultaneously processing experiences and emotions. The workbook highlights the therapeutic benefactors of modern songwriting techniques and includes brainstorming practices, songwriting session plans, and ready-to-go lyric substitution worksheets.
If you are reading this and thinking, “but I’m not a music therapist…will I understand Song-Aid Kit?” the answer is “I hope so!” Song-Aid Kit is written to be approachable from either the client or therapist perspective, and includes explanations for both users. I have two goals for Song-Aid Kit. The first is for someone to one day find Song-Aid Kit in the Barnes & Noble Bookstore music section (either at the store or online…it is 2019 afterall) and say “oh this looks interesting,” spend the $15, and later go on to fall in love with the songwriting process because it is healing. The second is to present at a national music therapy conference and sell my book to music therapists and students.
I had no clinical knowledge or experience when I started analyzing lyrics at the age of 13, but I did not need that to know that music and lyrics help me feel better. It is important to remember, there is no wrong way to write a song! Some of the greatest writers cannot explain their methods and the best songs are honest tellings of raw emotion. So WRITE!!! Listen, feel heard through the lyrics of the writers, and write your heart out. If you get stuck, contact me for a copy of Song-Aid Kit.